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IGA music program building on traditional musical interests of Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador

Classical guitarist Joe Donaghey is moving to St. Anthony to coordinate the International Grenfell Association’s Music Program on the Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador.
Classical guitarist Joe Donaghey is moving to St. Anthony to coordinate the International Grenfell Association’s Music Program on the Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador. - Stephen Roberts

Music to their ears

GREAT NORTHERN PENINSULA AND SOUTHERN LABRADOR, N.L. – Work is underway to revitalize musical traditions throughout the Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador.

With the arrival of coordinator Joe Donaghey in St. Anthony this past week, phase two of the International Grenfell Association’s (IGA) music program has begun.

Donaghey, a classically-trained guitarist, will be working throughout the region for the next two years.

He’ll be undertaking research on the musical traditions of the region, the kinds of music locals are interested in and he will be facilitating musical development and events to spark a passion for music that will last beyond the program.

“Our ambition has always been to start these initiatives and then for them to become self-sustaining and have a life of their own,” Dr. Norman Pinder, IGA chairman emeritus, told the Northern Pen. “It’s led by communities, it’s delivered by communities. We’re really giving a helping hand to those people who can make it work in the community.”

Origins of the program

The IGA Music Program first started in Nain. This is considered to be phase two of the initiative.

Pinder played a central role in initiating the program.

“I’ve always held the view that music has a central role in any community life,” said Pinder.

During his travels on the north coast of Labrador, he learned how the musical tradition had weakened.

He raised the issue with colleagues at IGA. They decided to establish a music program in Nain.

“What we wanted to do was to try and energize that musical talent within communities,” he said. “To put music, again, at the center of community life.”

The IGA teamed up with then dean of the School of Music at Memorial University Dr. Tom Gordon (who had an interest in Moravian mission music), Gordon’s colleagues and the Nunatsiavut government to launch the project.

For two-three years, Gordon conducted the research, determining what people were interested in and facilitating the development of music.

Pinder says by the end, the brass bands from years gone by had reconvened, playing at church services, for elders on their birthdays, for boats arriving at the dock and other events.

Music was also encouraged in schools.

One individual has subsequently released multiple albums and has travelled with a brass band to Germany to perform for a Moravian festival.

The project was such a success in revitalizing music in the community that the IGA decided to deliver it throughout the rest of its region.

The second phase just happened to be for the Great Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador.

According to Pinder, it’s going to be more ambitious than phase one.

“In the north it was mostly around brass band, but the musical tradition for the area of south Labrador and the Northern Peninsula is much wider,” he said.

Pinder hopes it will also facilitate communication between the generations.

“There are many musicians among the older population who we could certainly help to pass on their skills, their musical knowledge to the younger people,” he said. “Music is something that communicates across all age groups.”

He adds that research demonstrates that music helps education and learning and builds confidence and leadership.

All the skills

For the second phase, they needed someone with musical skills and experience teaching, like they had with Gordon in the north.

They landed on Donaghey for the role.

“We feel we have someone who has all the skills to carry out this project across this area over the next two years,” according to Pinder.

Donaghey has two degrees in music.

He first completed the classical guitar performance program at Cambrian College in Sudbury, Ontario. He then continued studies, acquiring a major in classical guitar performance and a minor in composition at Memorial University in St. John’s.

During his three years in St. John’s, Donaghey also acquired experience teaching guitar to both young people and adults.

He’s taught classical, blues and pop, amongst other genres.

“Each of those genres has very specific techniques,” he told the Northern Pen. “I think I’m good at that, finding the really small details to learn something to make it easier.”

Donaghey spent most of his childhood growing up in Wiarton, Ontario, a small town located on the Bruce Peninsula on Lake Huron.

He was raised in a musical family. And he says his father’s interest were predominantly in classical and electronic music.

He has inherited his father’s interests in those genres.

At the age of 14, his uncle bought him his first guitar.

But Donaghey says it took him a while to actually become good.

“I was really bad at it for a long time, maybe six years,” he said.

In fact, Donaghey believes guitar is one of the hardest instruments to first learn music on.

He actually recommends starting out on piano or keyboard to build interest in music.

In his experience teaching, he’s found that people want instant results. But that’s not possible on guitar.

“With piano you just press a note and it plays but with a guitar, it’s either their hand’s too small, or too weak, or it hurts, all these things,” he said. “You can play a keyboard, a synth setting or whatever, you press it and it makes a sound. You get instant results.”

Musical interests

An office space has been provided for Donaghey at the town hall in St. Anthony for this initiative, but he’ll travel frequently throughout the area.

Donaghey will be visiting schools, meeting local musicians and anyone who is able to provide insight into what the musical interests are in communities.

At the end of the summer he’ll present his findings to the IGA board. Based on this information, the board will determine the types of projects they will fund while the music program is underway.

Anybody interested in discussing music, working with or learning from Donaghey can contact him by email at igamusicprogram@gmail.com.

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

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