This year marked the 40th edition of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, and while the festival line-up featured some of the biggest local names in folk and traditional music, the next generation of Newfoundland musicians were waiting in the wings.
On Saturday morning, the Juno award winning children’s group The Swinging Belles – made up of Erin Power, Laura Winter, and Duane Andrews – guided a group of eager young traditional musicians through a songwriting workshop, working together to write a fun new take on an old traditional tune. The final product was a playful song about the sights and sounds of the festival itself that came from allowing the kids’ ideas to flow freely.
Power says when working creatively with young people, the result is often unexpected but exciting. “Kids will always surprise you with their brilliance, it’s guaranteed. The things they can come up with, things you never would have thought of, it’s just so amazing if you give them the opportunity to let their ideas out,” Power said. “It was one of the best experiences we’ve had as The Swinging Belles, I think.”
The young musicians at the morning workshop, both singers and instrumentalists, came together as a group to write lyrics to their song, and then broke into small groups to practice their parts. The little songwriters then united to perform their new song during The Swinging Belles’ performance on the festival’s main stage.
As both Power and Winters are primary school teachers, they’re used to working with children, but Power said the experience of leading a workshop differs from performing or teaching. Despite any differences, however, all of the group’s work has the same spirit.
“It’s always about respecting the child, that’s always the goal that underpins the work of The Swinging Belles – honouring the child and respecting them as a really creative and brilliant soul. They’re young, but they’re as brilliant as any of us.”
And despite this focus on respecting and unleashing kids’ creativity, Power said The Swinging Belles’ songwriting guidance is just a part of what the festival has to offer for young musicians.
“It takes a village,” she said. “It could be a moment with us, it could be a moment listening to a song in the oral traditions tent, or someone on the main stage for kids to really say ‘wow, I can do that, I want to do that.’ We’d be lucky if we were a small part of that.”