Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program inspires creativity

Halifax students showcase their newfound skills at We Are the Stars concert.

Students from three Halifax elementary schools and Halifax West High School showed off their skill and smiles at Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program’s final concert on Thursday.

The concert — We Are the Stars — took place at the Halifax Central Library. Symphony Nova Scotia musicians have been “adopting” student musicians for 12 years.

Once a week, for seven weeks, students from Halifax West High School practiced under the direction of one of Symphony Nova Scotia’s violinists, Celeste Jankowski.

“The learning curve was huge,” said Faris Kapra, a Grade 10 student who was part of the high school string ensemble. “It made us become something more than just a high school group.”


For the final concert, students performed a piece called Agincourt by Doug Spata. The song depicts a battle scene and was set in a challenging 7/8 time rhythm, which was new to many students in the group.

Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth elementary school students get ready to perform their original composition. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

“We learned a lot of skills that professionals would use, in both our technique and our style of learning,” said Kapra.

“We learned to go home, learn everything perfectly there, then come to school to really make the music. That was different from what we had been doing,” he said.

Violist Kerry Kavalo worked with 23 students from Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth Park elementary schools.

The students learned basic composition skills and how to create through a collaborative process. In the end, they composed and performed an original piece named West-Grove Tune.

St. Catherine’s elementary school’s Grade 5 class created a narrative tale and a percussion arrangement to perform at the concert. They named their story The Dragon Slayer and Hybrid Dragon.

St. Catherine's Elementary School Students (Photo: Rachel Collier)
St. Catherine’s elementary school students show off the instruments that they used. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

When creating their performance, the class practiced math, language and presentation skills.

They also discussed the complex natures of the main characters of their story and practiced working together.

“The program is good because it changes the dynamics of the classroom from what it usually is for academic purposes,” said Susane Lemieux, the Symphony Nova Scotia oboist who guided the class.

Lemieux noticed that students really had to pay attention while working in a new style.

“It was great to see when they started to get ideas and to speak up,” she said.

The program often depends on schools’ administrative support.

“They could be doing other curriculum work, especially this year with all of the snow days. We really had to convince everyone that it’s worth it,” said Lemieux.

Youth mental health program fundraises to stay afloat

The Spot held an auction on March 29 to raise funds after not receiving a government grant to help with its operating costs this year.

Ash MacDougall sits in a plastic chair, reading sheet music from her lap and practicing the Beatles’ Hey Jude on her flute. Beside her, her friend Avery Muir compliments her progress.

At another table, someone is playing with art supplies. Sounds from an electric guitar and drum set sneak through a separate, closed off room.

Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

This is a common scene at The Spot, a drop-in mental health program for youth held at the Pavilion on the Halifax Common. The Spot, partnered with Connections Halifax, is described as a safe space for youth to create and express themselves through music and art.

“Honestly, I love the people here. The people here are so open. Everybody is going to accept you, no matter what,” said Muir. “You’ll never feel left out or outcast here.”

The Spot recently held an auction where it raised approximately $5,500. The fundraiser was held because The Spot did not receive government grant funding, like it has in the past, to help with its operating costs this year.

Michael Nahirnak, a co-ordinator of The Spot, says the money will probably keep The Spot running until summer. He says he doesn’t know why The Spot did not receive a grant this year, but is not pessimistic about it.

The Spot is a free program so participation is accessible to everyone. Nahirnak says this is uncompromising.

“[Youth] can be a time that issues do pop up in terms of mental health,” he said. “I think we have a responsibility to support youth through that.”

The Spot uses the Pavilion for free, but costs to run the program include compensation for program facilitators, art supplies, instruments, instrument repair, equipment upgrades and refreshments.

Art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
A small bit of art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

MacDougall and Muir, both high school students, have been coming to The Spot for several months. Muir says she feels like an outcast at school, but is able to express herself at The Spot.

MacDougall says The Spot is here for “people who don’t necessarily think the same way as the rest of society.”

Nahirnak says The Spot is always looking to grow. For the future, he hopes The Spot can hire a full-time co-ordinator, do more work with outreach and find its own space.

“I think in the far future it would be great for The Spot to have its own home,” he said. “A one-stop shop that youth can come and be creative and have support.”

The fundraising auction showed there is community support for arts and mental health programming, but Nahirnak says it may not be enough.

“People want this kind of stuff,” he said. “However, the city probably needs to step up a little bit to help us with that.”

Nahirnak says The Spot has plans to collaborate with its partner Youth Art Connection and other charities and ask the Halifax Regional Municipality for more support.

In the meantime, Nahirnak and fellow co-ordinator Heather MacDonald, hope to find a more sustainable form of funding. The Spot will not be hosting another auction in the near future.

The Spot runs on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“Art and music are universal. We promote mental health, but it doesn’t mean you need to have a mental health issue to come,” said Nahirnak. “Everyone is welcome, as long as you’re interested in creating.”

Music on the street with Glen Creed

A familiar face in downtown Halifax, Glen Creed loves to play his accordion on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Dresden Row.

Over the sounds of heavy traffic, Glen Creed plays an old George Jones tune on his accordion for all to hear.

While he used to play the bar scene back in his hometown in Pictou County, Creed now spends his days playing his music on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Dresden Row.

“It’s not something I have to do. I don’t do it for a living. If I make a few dollars fine, if I don’t that don’t bother me a bit. If I play and people enjoy it then that’s what counts.”

Click on the link to hear Creed’s cover of Glen Campbell’s Gentle on my Mind.

As he plays he looks straight ahead, focusing on his music and barely taking notice of the few glances he receives from people walking by. His open accordion case holds a handful of loonies and toonies.

Creed says he began playing the accordion at the age of 12, and hasn’t put it down in 53 years. Growing up, both his father and brother played the instrument, but being left handed, Creed had to teach himself to play. The first song he ever learned was You Are my Sunshine.

Creed has been playing music on the streets for decades. This year marks his 20th year playing on the waterfront on Canada Day. Most days he starts playing around 9 a.m. and goes all the way until lunch.

His old accordion has duct tape covering the many holes in the bellows, and although he has three more waiting at home, he needs to get the reeds fixed in them before they are ready to play again.

“It’s nice to get out. So many people today play all the young people’s music, but the older people like the type of music I play,” he says. “I do Newfoundland stuff, waltzes, polkas, fiddle music and Celtic stuff. It takes them back in time and they really enjoy it.”

While Creed enjoys playing all kinds of music, his love for country music is quite clear. His wide repertoire features many of his personal favourites by George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell.

Glen Creed plays his accordion despite the cold weather. (Photo: Rowan Morrissy)
Glen Creed plays his accordion despite the cold weather. (Photo: Rowan Morrissy)

Even with the long winter that Halifax has been experiencing, Creed is still determined to play despite the cold. His dry, weather-beaten hands prove it.

“The cold air is really hard on them (the accordions). You have days that are really cold, but you just do the best you can, play when you can. Some days are a little too rough, but I just keep on going.”

Video games showcased on a major scale by Symphony Nova Scotia

For the first time in Halifax, Symphony Nova Scotia performed Video Games Live, a concert featuring songs from popular video games, at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.

The conductor raises her baton, signalling to the musicians seated in front of her to ready their instruments. With a flick of the conductor’s wrist, the symphony and choir begin to play an upbeat and lively song from the popular video game Tetris. With bright lights illuminating the stage, images of colourful geometric shapes are projected onto three screens behind the orchestra to amplify the performance.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday people flocked to the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium at the Dalhousie Arts Centre to witness Video Games Live.

Performed by Symphony Nova Scotia, Video Games Live showcases segments of songs from popular video games such as Kingdom Hearts, Tetris, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid.

Colourful lighting, special effects and interactive elements, such as a Guitar Hero competition, are also incorporated into the shows.

Alongside vocalist, Jillian Aversa, and conductor, Eimear Noone, Symphony Nova Scotia performs “Tetris Opera” from Video Games Live. (Video by Jessica Hirtle)

“I kind of like to describe it as having all the power and emotion of an orchestra combined with the energy of a rock concert,” said Tommy Tallarico, co-creator, executive producer and host of Video Games Live.

Sold out for almost every show, Heidi MacPhee, director of communications and marketing at Symphony Nova Scotia, said Video Games Live has received rave reviews from spectators.

“It’s been amazing. People love it. They are just so happy,” said MacPhee.

MacPhee said that Symphony Nova Scotia has wanted to collaborate with Video Games Live for years. This is the first time Video Games Live has performed in Nova Scotia.

“We get requests for it all the time,” said MacPhee. “They’ve performed all over the world and it’s just really exciting to have this calibre of show here in Halifax.”

Tallarico and Jack Wall created Video Games Live more than 13 years ago. Touring since 2005, the concert series has performed around the globe in over 35 countries, including China, Brazil, Mexico, France and Portugal.

A video game composer, Tallarico has contributed to approximately 300 video games in his career. He said he created Video Games Live to demonstrate the artistry of video games, while promoting the arts among young people.

Not only can video game lovers appreciate the show, but Tallarico said non-gamers equally benefit from watching Video Games Live.

“When parents come and bring their kids or grandparents bring their grandkids, they are the ones that are most blown away,” said Tallarico. “They are like, ‘I never knew video games were this incredible. I never knew the music was so powerful and emotional.’”

Music festival takes over Dalhousie student union building

One-night-only festival keeps bands on campus and encourages students to support their local music scene.

A mini, grassroots music festival temporarily turned the Dalhousie student union building into a glowing, smoke filled accumulation of heavy bass, heavy metal, and hearty jams. SUBfest 2015: 25 bands, seven rooms in Dal’s SUB, an event fully student organized and run. On Friday night, both Dalhousie students and the general public converged on the student union building to take part.

Why use the SUB building when we live in a city with the most bars per capita in Canada? Organizer Ali Bee Calladine said it’s about “bringing the community and culture of Halifax onto campus, instead of trying to push students out of the campus into the community.

Calladine said the festival stemmed from the idea of “taking over the SUB.” She said she thinks students should take more control over campus, starting with the student union building.

“I think it was just a lot of thinking about music festival culture, and that’s something that’s really sort of nice and special in Nova Scotia, there are a lot of really small music festivals…it takes a lot of students a long time to experience that, and we certainly don’t experience it in the winter time,” said Calladine.

“Beyond that there’s something cool about the idea of a grassroots music festival that isn’t trying to make money and isn’t trying to promote anything,” she said.

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Like your common summer music festival, once you paid the eight dollar door charge, you were free to roam from venue to venue as you pleased. There were volunteers in each room facilitating the shows, and hosting them in cases like the open mic room.

The festival took over the lobby of the SUB and the Grawood bar, as well as administrative offices, conference rooms, and hallways on all floors. Most rooms had DJs or bands playing, one was dedicated to the group DalJam (where students bring their own instruments and play together), and one was an open mic room.

From 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., all rooms were open. At 11:30 p.m. festival goers congregated in the Grawood to hear the headlining band, The Wayo. The R&B band originated out of the University of King’s College, and came from Montreal specifically for SUBfest. Other headliners included Harley Alexander, Dalhousie professor Tim Crofts, and Foggyswoggle.

Calladine said that she spent around 80 hours in meetings during the last month working out logistics. Alcohol licensing, booking bands, and acquiring control of the space took time and effort, but she said that the Dalhousie union staff members were helpful when it came to figuring out the details.

Dalhousie student, SUBfest co-organizer, and performing band member Alex Butler says he would love to see this event happen again next year. “We had a ton of people come out and volunteer, which is really what made it happen, we could not have done stuff like this without having a ton of people get here and be committed to the idea and put it together… It’s been exactly what we needed it to be,” says Butler.

Stratton performs Deserter at Bus Stop Theatre

Willie Stratton rocks to his latest album ‘Deserter’ at the Bus Stop Theatre and talks about the journey it took to get there.

Willie Stratton steps up.


His heavy cowboy boot hits the small elevated stage in the cramped Halifax theatre. He grabs the blue electric guitar that has been waiting for him in its stand since the previous band’s departure from the stage. ‘Willie’s’ is painted on the guitar head in curly black cursive writing which closely resembles loose rope thrown on the ground.

Stratton dresses similar to a cowboy: Salmon coloured long sleeve button up top with metal clasps on the collar, decorated with fine thread detailing on the chest, tucked into a pair of dark wash jeans being held up by a thick leather belt with an oversized silver buckle, and finally, no cowboy is complete without a pair of cowboy boots. Tonight, he’s dressed up for a special occasion. Stratton is playing a show at the Bus Stop Theatre.


Stratton, 22, is an up-and-coming musician and songwriter. He frequents the Halifax bar and live performance scene solo as well as with his band Willie Stratton and the Boarding Party. Having recorded his second complete album in 2014, Stratton has been enjoying all the new experiences he’s had since its release.

“I played coffee houses in high school. I didn’t play any originals, just played like covers like Jimi Hendrix and stuff,” Stratton says, “Then with my own stuff, after I graduated I found out about the Open Mic House on Agricola Street and that was kinda the first place I played [original songs] in front of anybody. Then shows right after at the Company House. It kept going from there.”

Three other men wearing button-ups step up and join him, as well as a woman. All are wearing cowboy boots. Grace Stratton, Willie’s sister and bass player, picks up a cherry red bass guitar and stands by Stratton’s side.

A red light on the stage illuminates his face while a blue light shines behind him, lighting up the drum kit and a large disco ball hanging from the ceiling above his head.

“I want everyone to dance. Do you know the twist?” Stratton says into the microphone using his speaking voice, a much different voice when compared to his guitar strumming, performance alter ego.

“I sing from my butt,” Stratton says in a manner that suggests he’s only half joking, “that’s what I tell everyone.”

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They begin to play. Music spills from the amps and into the air, filling the small theatre venue. Grace’s bass bounces off the walls and into the ears of the audience, who soon stand up to fulfil Stratton’s wishes. Stratton and the other two men playing guitars turn and stomp their feet so loudly to the pound of the bass drum that the drum beat sound is almost non-existent.

*Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp*

Stratton stops his stomping. He turns to face the gyrating audience and puts his mouth to microphone. Out pours an eerie, deep, blues inspired song. Stratton closes his eyes. The sounds of a man experiencing deep pain in his soul, followed by him half screaming the next lines.




Stratton crinkles his forehead to get the lyrics out. Anyone else would have damaged their vocal cords, but not Stratton.

The small sea of audience members shake, twist and jump to Stratton’s music, which is best defined by the band as Cowboy Surf.

“I think it’s catching on,” Stratton adds, “or maybe folk, rock, blues, country, punk, surf?” he says with an upward inflection followed by a moment of hesitation and then a small laugh, “Yeah.”

Drops piano for guitar

Stratton started developing an interest in music at a young age when his parents enrolled him in piano lessons, an interest he picked up from his grandfather.

“I was always screwing around with keyboards and whatever we had on hand. Whenever I went to my grandparents’ house I always played on the big piano. Piano was always around me.”

Not long after, Stratton quit piano because he found he was much more “obsessed” with guitars. After saving all his birthday money, he bought his first guitar when he was 12. He says he was inspired by guitar players from many different genres when he first started learning.

“I was super obsessed with Jimi Hendrix, and from that I got into blues players like Muddy Waters, and I was also really into The Beatles. Some more psychedelic stuff like The Doors and also just songs of the time like cheesy Green Day stuff,” Stratton says with a chuckle, followed by a sigh.

In 2014 Willie Stratton and the Boarding Party released Deserter, they’re sophomore album. Recorded in Stratton’s Bedford home, the band used fewer instruments when compared to its self-titled predecessor.

“The first album is all acoustic, so there isn’t a single electric instrument or keyboard on it . . . [Deserter] was more of a typical kind of like, country rock band set up. We had drums and electric bass and electric guitar, and acoustic guitar as well. Like, on the first album we packed as much instruments on as we could on the album just because I was curious and kind of experimenting, but on Deserter it was kind of more stripped down and more sounding like the band.”

Stratton says the success of Deserter hit him when it was released for sale on vinyl. Being a vinyl collector himself, Stratton feels like vinyl is “more physical” than a digital copy, or even CDs.

The band ends their song. The audience stops dancing. The room once filled with music is now filling up with applause and whistles.

“Are we out of time?” Stratton looks off into the darkness of the theatre at an unseen figure. “We’re out of time,” he answers himself. The audience begins hollering for more music. Stratton looks over his shoulder at his band mates, shrugs, and continues to play his cowboy surf.