Thousands Set to Make Canada Sing on Music Monday

Photos courtesy of the Coalition for Music Education in Canada

“If I cannot fly, let me sing.” 
? Stephen Sondheim

Music cheers us up, it unites us, brings us back, makes us think, makes us dance, winds us up, tears us loose and, of course, makes us sing. To Holly Nimmons, Executive Director of the Coalition for Music Education in Canada, music is the heartbeat of Canada and for the 13th year she’s helping to throw a coast to coast sing-along like no other. Music Mondays is the single largest event on the planet dedicated to raising awareness for music education and you can take part today at noon inside the National Arts Centre.

“Music is part of every Canadian day, as we watch TV, videos and movies or listen to the radio. Young people actively listen to and create music,” says Nimmons. “No matter where you live in Canada, music is there, in our schools, our homes, our work places, malls and community spaces.  Every cultural community expresses itself through music. “

Holly Nimmons

The Coalition is made up of parents, students, educators and business people from all walks of life with the like-minded goal to support school music programs. It held the first Music Monday in 2005 and it has since become a national rally set on making the country sing every first Monday in May. Though geared towards students and teachers, the event has touched the lives of millions bringing together different generations and cultural backgrounds unified in song. Music education in school is not a privilege but a priority and one that needs to remain protected and fostered, Nimmons says.

“As a powerful tool for engagement, harmony, creativity and achievement in our young people, music education demands to be recognized as an integral component to a well-rounded education.”

Music Monday is the only nationwide musical gathering of youth in their communities and each year the event grows larger. This year, to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial, multiple bands and choirs will come together from Charlottetown to Vancouver. To  make this massive undertaking harmonize perfectly, Nimmons and the Coalition rely on an enormous amount of volunteer aid through music teachers, schools and communities. Being the 150th, the focus was only heightened. 

“This is a milestone in Canada’s history,” Nimmons proudly says explaining that this year they “are taking this opportunity to celebrate the musical heritage of all peoples, including our First Nations, Métis and Inuit. We were inspired to create a special program, imagery and an anthem that spotlights the diverse ways that Canadians enjoy music in their lives.”

That anthem is called “Sing It Together” and was written by songwriters Marc Jordan and Ian Thomas. The uplifting piece is not just a song, it’s an invitation to all Canadians to join in a song for truth, healing, life and freedom. The original recording showcased our melodic roots and featured music that explored our cultural heritage including Inuit throat singing, Métis fiddling and indigenous drumming. It was made available in French, Gaelic, Ojibwa, Michiff, Sign Language, Spanish, Tagalog and more. 

“We as human beings, regardless of our cultural heritage, respond to and infer emotion from melodic cues,” explains Nimmons.

“Oftentimes it’s the same emotion. Simple arrangements of notes and the volume and speed in which they are delivered, resonate with human beings unequivocally, without being confused by syntax or semantics. It allows us to connect with each other on a core level, filling in even when words fail.”

Every year the event selects a host city for its National Showcase Concert. With the importance of this year for the country, Nimmons and her team knew there was only one city they should hold the 2017 event and the Nation’s Capital was more than welcoming.

Taking place at noon in the NAC Studio and live streamed online, the concert will be hosted by opera sensation Measha Brueggergosm and Seamus O’Regan, former co-host of Canada AM. Along with “Sing it Together”, lead here by a choir of children made up of nine schools, the show will also feature the Métis Fiddle Quartet, the Ottawa Junior Youth Orchestra, and Ojibwe artist Cole Forrest.

“These celebrations develop community and a sense of belonging in music groups. Music Monday events provide opportunities to showcase exemplary young Canadian music makers and leaders,” says Nimmons.

“Above all, it’s coming together for a common purpose, and to see others like you and finding solidarity through music, which for many is not just a job or a hobby but a lifelong passion.”

The event inside the NAC is free for all who can attend though Nimmons and her team hope that the message behind the music remains all year long, not just every May 1st. She urges people to support young musicians and to speak up to keep music programs in the school systems. Play music. Learn music. See a local choir. Help fundraise. There are so many ways, she says, to keep the songs alive.

“I could feel a connection through music with people I’ve never met.  We respond to rhythms, melodies and harmonies and can find commonalities in the music that we might not discover otherwise. Music unites us, without the need for understanding spoken languages. Music connects to our basic humanity.” 

It may just be one day but Music Monday is a way we all can make our voices become one.