by Paul Heppleston
“I just want to make music happen, so if somebody wants to try, then I want to help them.” – Matt Osborne, at The Circus Room, Kitchener circa 2002(ish).
In my first year of teaching, I invited my pal Jerry Stamp to visit my English class; he was on his way to the mainland for a tour, and we had just studied his song “Simple,” so I managed to coax him out to Piccadilly. I asked him to sing a few songs, and talk about songwriting.
Students were enraptured, attentive in ways teachers dream of (curse you, Dead Poets Society), and I witnessed the impact of students watching an artist dedicated to his craft.
Whether or not they are fans of a visiting artist or her/his genre, students are moved by live performance, and I wanted to make that happen as often as I could.
In 2010 I started Mr. H Presents, an on-going project designed to give young people more opportunities to experience live music, both in and out of school time. I have staged concerts, open stages, and various workshops. Watching students learn and grow together is a special kind of gratifying for me, and it eclipses whatever I got out of playing in my own band.
I have also hosted dozens of touring musicians for in-class workshops and lunchtime concerts, and watched as kids marveled at talents like Aley Waterman, Chris Kirby, or Ian Foster. The effect these professionals have is undeniable, as is evidenced by the responses from the students, not to mention the unshakeable attention they give their visitors.
Three years ago I dreamed up a songwriting conference that would give aspiring songwriters a chance to workshop their ideas with seasoned veterans. Through small group sessions, they’d gain valuable insight into making music as a form of self-expression; through larger sessions, they’d learn fundamentals of live music: maintaining an online presence, mixing live sound, and getting paid.
Because it was larger than any project I had ever done the first conference was terrifying, until it got going, then it was great; the second conference was brilliant, straight out of the gate. We oversold and, by lunchtime, Sherman (Downey) said, “you know, this really ought to be a two-day thing.”
So, two days it is.
This Year’s Session Leaders: Adam Baxter, Bryan Power, Jody Richardson, and Kat McLevey
I couldn’t be more excited: these four have written some of my favourite songs. Adam Baxter wrote a song called “Murder City” that makes me shake it like a polaroid picture; the title track to Pilot to Bombardier’s “Wild Bells” sends me swooning; Pathological Lovers’ “Dogback” is a song I must listen to twice, every time; and Kat’s understated guitar playing leaves me breathless.
These are exactly the types of performers I want my students to see: I love that Baxter’s joy and enthusiasm for teaching music is boundless; I love that Power also works as a promoter of one of St. John’s most exciting festivals, the multi-disciplinary Lawnya Vawnya, not to mention the NL Folk Festival; I love that Richardson – a quadruple-threat artist – has been active for at least a decade longer than McLevey has been alive, yet both have so much to offer.
May 14-15, twenty-five young people will come to Corner Brook Regional High for the Make Music Happen Conference, and hopefully, they’ll leave with heads full of ideas and hearts full of inspiration.