By Barb Brouwer, Observer contributor
Music has the power to touch the soul and heart – and deliver a profound message.
That’s what Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright are counting on when they “Rock the Salish Sea” with Bastion Elementary School students later this month.
Arntzen and Wright are Vancouver’s Artist Response Team (ART), an organization founded by Arntzen and her late husband Stephen Foster in the late 1990s.
Along with their band The Wilds, ART introduces environmental and ecological messages through music and entertainment in their programs Voices of Nature and Up Your Watershed.
The Voices of Nature (VON) School Music Program teaches young students about the environment.
“I have seen the (environmental) changes over several decades,” says Arntzen, who grew up on the Coast. “In the late ’80s, environmental concerts were popular and people realized how powerful songs are to carry messages that are difficult to hear.”
A decade later, Foster discovered there was a place for these environmental messages in schools and founded Voices of Nature, a program that culminates in students performing with Arntzen and Wright.
The “with” is important, says Arntzen of its power to help students develop a leadership role.
“When we’re in the school for four days (to rehearse), we encourage them to be stepping out and telling their families,” she says of encouraging children to speak of the profound importance of caring for the planet and its creatures. “Music touches people in deep places; when a child sings and speaks, it’s coming from a pure place and that resonates.”
Also important is the need for adults to understand that decisions made today are what children will live with well into the future.
“We sing with the children, not to them,” reiterates Wright, also a longtime musician who grew up on the Coast. “We are not singing kiddy songs – almost 100 per cent are what we would play in clubs or at concerts.”
Before Wright met Arntzen and Foster in 2003, he was conscious of the environment but not involved in its protection in the same way they were. But he says it didn’t take long for him to start to adopt the same values, a somewhat slow transformation from rocker to environmentalist.
“The kids and us give voices to creatures and the environment that don’t have a voice,” Wright says, noting this year’s program focuses on the ocean and the salmon, including those that return to the Shuswap to spawn.
But both Arntzen and Wright are quick to point out that while they share an important message, they don’t advocate or talk about politics.
They do talk about controversial issues, but the goal is to educate about problems and solutions.
“We’re all in this community together and have to get along,” says Arntzen, maintaining solutions to climate change, decimation of our oceans and other challenges will require co-operation on an unprecedented global scale.
“We are voicing a vision; we don’t own nature, we don’t control it, we are a part of it and we need to find ways to live within what nature can sustain,” she adds. “We are overstepping our bounds and we have a responsibility to live sustainably.”
Bastion teacher Ceren Caner says students were quick to grasp the vision.
Describing song lyrics as being “environmentally charged, Caner says they have sparked a lot of conversations, even among his Grade 3 students.
His young students have already memorized all the songs and are excited to be singing with a professional band.
“Something happens emotionally when you deliver a message through music,” he says. “They’re singing from the heart and they’re telling adults to step it up.”
Bastion students will perform in concert on Friday, March 2.
That evening, Arntzen, Wright and The Wilds will also perform at a dance at the Elks Hall sponsored by the Shuswap Environmental Action Society, Askew’s Foods and the Salmon Arm Observer to benefit the Outdoor Learning Foundation.
Doors open for the dance at 7:30 p.m. and The Wilds begin playing at 8 p.m.
Tickets are available at Acorn Music, 832-8669.
All funds raised from the event will go to support the work of the Shuswap Outdoor Learning Foundation, which provides summer camping experiences for young people and outdoor school programs that connect students meaningfully with the natural world.