March 3rd, 2024

City music students make mark on national stage


By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 15, 2023.

Lethbridge School Division photo by Garrett Simmons Plaxton Fine Arts teach Sarah Harmon get enthusiastic conducting her class. Students from Senator Joyce Fairbairn Middle School and Dr. Robert Plaxton Elementary School are winners in the 2023 Canadian Music Class Challenge - Junior Instrumental (grades 7-10) category.

A group of young Lethbridge musicians has made their mark on the national stage. Winners of the 2023 Canadian Music Class Challenge in the Junior Instrumental (Grades 7-10) category, students from Senator Joyce Fairbairn Middle School and Dr. Robert Plaxton Elementary School were hailed by CBC Tempo host Julie Nesrallah for their soulful rendition of “If it Feels Good Do It,” by Sloan.

Under the direction of Kyle Harmon, band teacher at Senator Joyce Fairbairn Middle School, and Sarah Harmon, a fine arts teacher at Dr. Robert Plaxton Elementary School, the youngsters put a new spin on the 2001 rock hit which featured an array of instruments from band class classics like the trumpet, flute, and saxophone, to tubular bells, timpani, and early learning percussion toys.

The band, made up of grades six to eight students from Fairbain Middle School and grade threes from Plaxton Elementary, worked independently from each other until the day of the recording when local professionals joined to set up a full production experience and engineer the project. “One of the best energetic moments that was just so unique to the creative process and being vulnerable in our music, was when we were at the school with Kyle’s group and sat down together… that was magic,” says Sarah.

The Harmons, a married couple who studied music education that the University of Lethbridge together, say that they chose the Sloan song from the pre-approved list because of how well the riffs worked for a band ensemble.

After they created an arrangement, New West Media musical director Kathy Zaborsky helped Kyle to transcribe the piece to be played by students, while Sarah arranged the parts for the younger students, including choreographed movement.

But it wasn’t all the adults doing the arranging.

“The kids got to select instruments that they were interested in, and we were inquiring and asking questions about what instruments could sound good together for a performance of this kind,” explains Sarah, adding the kids chose to use the Orff instruments such as xylophones and metallophones, as well as the tubanos.

While both teachers emphasized the process, they say that the recognition is rewarding, though the students can’t quite believe they reached the top spot. “They just really couldn’t believe it,” says Kyle. “They were floored, they’re just trying to digest all that.”

Some of the feedback Sarah received from the Grade three students includes feeling proud that they could share their music and that it was liked, with one student saying “We tried our best and, in the end, we won!”

Kyle and Sarah say they couldn’t be happier with the support they received from their schools and the Lethbridge School Division.

They plan to share the $3,000 prize and hope that each school will be given a plaque to proudly display. In the end, they hope to spread the message to young people about the joys of joining band.

“Music can be a bigger thing than yourself,” says Sarah, with Kyle adding “We want to advocate for not only our programs… but we also just want to say come join one of these programs and get involved.”

This is not the first Canadian Music Class Challenge win for Sarah and Kyle, the pair won the contest previously in 2016 while working in another division.

“Music has consistently been an anchor in all that we do in our lives, whether it’s in our personal lives or what we do for work,” says Sarah.

To listen to the award-winning performance by the students at Senator Joyce Fairbairn Middle School and Dr. Robert Plaxton Elementary School visit: https://youtu.be/ZY2GrXW3iH8?si=H6C1vtzp33RwBF6G

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