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White Pines a finalist for CBC's Canadian Music Class Challenge

White Pines, elementary schools pitch in on Leonard Cohen classic

White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School has been declared a finalist for CBC’s Canadian Music Class Challenge, which saw more than 1,000 music classes across Canada sign up for the contest.

The school chose to cover Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which featured roughly 300 students from White Pines and its ‘feeder’ elementary schools, which included Parkland, Pinewood, Anna McCrea, Grand View, and Mountain View public schools.

Music teacher Greg MacLachlan says that he pitched the idea of covering the popular song to White Pines concert band director Hollie Filice, wanting to do something that most schools wouldn’t normally do for the Canadian Music Class Challenge.

“Most schools don’t have concert band and a rock band and a choir, and all this great stuff,” MacLachlan said. “White Pines, despite being a little school, we have all these great things.”

“I thought, let’s do the song ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen, let’s combine the concert band, my vocals class, and the Pine Tones - which is the rock band that I run - and do a really cool, killer version of Hallelujah, and do it in whatever key fits the lead singer, and then we’ll have some background parts and work it out.”

MacLachlan says that Filice then “took it a step further” by suggesting that all Grade 5 classes from their feeder schools form a ‘mass choir’ for the performance.

“It’s just kind of an idea that took off, and we just one-upping each other until there was 300 kids involved,” MacLachlan said.

He also credits the work of the White Pines students who went to the elementary schools to help the younger singers with their parts.

“I think the buzzword in education is ‘reciprocal teaching,’ which allows older kids to teach younger kids, and then those kids teach other kids, and it just gets bigger and better,” said MacLachlan. “We just have enough talent that we were able to do it.”

MacLachlan says there were a number of contributions from staff and students at White Pines that made its video contribution to the CBC Music contest a reality.

“It was a total team effort,” he said. “That’s the cool thing about White Pines - it’s a small little family, and we all talk to each other and work together on all our projects a lot, so there’s a lot of cross-curricular things going on.”

When the time came to record the performance at White Pines, recording gear was set up by Dustin Jones of Tidal Records leading up to a number of mass rehearsals the morning of Nov. 20.

MacLachlan says the recording took place that afternoon - in front of an audience - in the foyer of the school.   

“There was a lot of people in the building that day for various things at White Pines, and a lot of them came to watch from the outside, and a lot of them told me that they were crying watching that,” he told SooToday. “The video’s great, but it doesn’t quite do it justice, how big that sound was with 200 and some kids singing, and the concert band and the drums and everything.”

“It was a totally moving experience. It was one of highlights of my teaching career for sure, I’d say.”

MacLachlan says that White Pines is “super happy” to crack the top ten in the high school vocal category.

“It was really nice to see all the effort we put in come together,” MacLachlan said. “I did get chills up and down my spine.”

“That’s my goal with music - we try to put tunes together that just move people.”

Winners in all seven categories for the Canadian Music Class Challenge will receive $5,000 in musical instruments.

The winners will be announced on CBC Radio One and CBC Music Dec. 18.


James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday based in Sault Ste. Marie
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