A new era in musical education is dawning in the Greater Victoria School District, led by Sarah Rhude.
For the past two years, the art and cultural facilitator in SD61’s Aboriginal Nations Education Division has helped music teachers in the district initiate traditional drumming programs, using seven songs created by artists from the three Vancouver Island nations (Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwaka’wakw).
She has also facilitated drum- and rattle-making workshops, including a middle school music exploratory class and a high school band class, allowing them to learn more about First Nations culture and knowledge.
Her efforts to introduce First Nations culture and music to a wider cross-section of students led the B.C. Music Educators Association to honour her last weekend in Richmond with a Distinguished Service award.
“I’ve got to be honest, I’m a little bit uncomfortable with it,” Rhude said of receiving the award. “What I feel like is, it’s really the ancestors who came before me who kept these songs alive, and the educators who have worked hard to get it to a place where we can share [the songs] like this.”
She credited music teachers Jenn Treble and Jennifer Hill for their efforts to put the aboriginal music element into the curriculum, and the district’s Aboriginal Nations Education Division staff for their support.
The response to the drum-making and drum-playing classes from students has “only been positive,” said Rhude, who is Mi’kmaq and calls herself a “visitor” to these lands for the past 18 years. “Drumming is innate, everybody enjoys doing it.”
Using drumming circles to teach the traditional songs, she has asked students and others afterward how they felt. “They tell me, they felt calm, connected. It’s a super-accessible way of connecting [with students].”
Even students who are shy or feel reluctant to sing have been able to stand up and drum in front of their school, she says.
The district has roughly 150 drums available for use by classes at all three levels of school, plus another 100 or so have been made by students.
“With the new curriculum, it’s been a sensitive topic as to how music teachers present the information musically and culturally,” said Cindy Romphf, B.C. Music Educators Association interim president. “Sarah has put in so many hours … trying to integrate the local Aboriginal culture into our music program in a way that is appropriate and captures their attention. She has worked tirelessly to make this happen.”
The Distinguished Service award is given to any educator who shows dedication and has gone above and beyond to promote music education.