I would first like to thank Will Johnson for the photos and story of the June 15 Rosemont Elementary School musical, A Forest Palette. Although he included the connection to Emily Carr, there is a much larger and more exciting story that readers of the Nelson Star may be interested in learning about. The performance was the culminating event in a multi month process, a process that involved the students and staff working and learning together. In the words of one grade four student, “This article just told about the play but it didn’t explain what we all did to get our parts ready.”
Early in January the staff was approached by musical director Kathleen Neudorf, composer Scott Godin, and myself (visual artist), with the idea of each teacher connecting something from their grade’s curriculum to a common “big idea” which we would then turn into a musical with the students. After some initial time to think about the proposal, each class began to examine their “connections to the forest” which became the overarching theme. Each class focused on researching and refining the information they would contribute to the musical.
The production team helped the teachers determine a musical focus for each class and time was spent with small groups to write the information they wanted to present into verse. Once the texts for the songs were written, Scott Godin helped the students set the words to music. This was an intense process over a week but in the end the children “owned” the songs.
Two classes created soundscapes to accompany either spoken word or dance. With the music written, we turned our focus to the visual arts and Emily Carr’s impressionistic forest paintings and the paintings she did to document the culture of the First Nations of BC’s west coast. The students painted their own impressions of the forest and one class made totem poles representing the individuality of the students that combined to make the class as a whole.
The final steps in the process involved tying all of these pieces together. There seemed to be a story being told, a story of the life of a forest from seed falling to the forest floor and growing into the trees surrounding the school, to trees being used by humans, the devastation of forest fire and the wonder of regrowth following. With all the beautiful art work the students had done, it was decided to have the audience feel as if they had entered an art gallery with each performance a new gallery.
The costumes were simple and made by the students if possible. They also made the props they might need as they sang their songs. The master of ceremony was Eric Brown, director of the National Art Gallery in Ottawa in 1926 as it was Eric Brown who persuaded Emily Carr to show her work to the world. And, finally, Emily Carr graced the stage to give us readings from her journal, inviting the audience into her world so long ago providing a connection between art, music and the forest.
The students showcased their learning and every parent, grandparent and teacher was full of pride when their child, grandchild or students took to the stage. And, today when we went back to the school the kids were still singing about the forest. It has been a process, not just an end product. This is learning that will live long within them for they have been the creators of it.
Heather Dean, Nelson