The close-to-200 students from the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board participating in the international production of The Golden Touch children’s book and CD have songs in their hearts, stars in their eyes and then some. Their commitment has immersed them in the world of professional music and earned them the experience of a lifetime.
“The Golden Touch is a big project,” says Geoffrey Hipps, assistant director of Educational Services at the SWLSB. “And it’s something that our students will have with them for posterity.” Already more than a year in the works, The Golden Touch is a multimedia retelling of the story of the mythological King Midas.
The project encompasses a children’s book written by Glen Huser and illustrated by Philippe Béha (both winners of Governor General’s awards), as well as a companion CD of an original operetta by Greek composer Giannis Georgantelis. In adding their voices to the musical production, the students from 26 schools across the SWLSB are performing alongside the Orchestre symphonique pop de Montréal, with a narration by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. Quite a coup for these elementary and high school students!
Auditions, then months of rehearsals
“We learned of the project from Luigi Morabito, the publisher of Laval Families, a publication “that does a lot to champion the English community,” explains Geoffrey. “He introduced us to the musical directors, Dimitris Ilias and Maria Diamantis, who in turn met with our principals, students and Governing Boards to explain the project.”
Interested students auditioned early last fall and diligently attended weekly rehearsals led by the two directors throughout the fall and winter. In some schools, especially in outlying areas where it wasn’t feasible for students to travel to Laval, music teachers volunteered to hold lunchtime rehearsals. “Those teachers will be credited as choirmasters on the CD,” notes Geoffrey. “We’ve also had a lot of help from parents,” he adds. “It’s really a community effort.”
Oscar Peterson, here we come
In February of this year, when the project was unveiled to the media and the Laval community, the students performed a mini-concert before an audience of more than 1,000 people. There the young singers rubbed shoulders with the author, the illustrator and the composer and were shown original artwork for the book.
Then in early May came another highlight. Travelling in groups to Concordia University’s Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, the students recorded their parts in a world-class recording studio over two 12-hour days. While on site, they met Dr. Mark Corwin, a Concordia professor who teaches electroacoustics and advanced recording courses and is a past Juno awards juror. He explained the steps required to make a professional CD—from recording to final mixing, editing and mastering.
“The kids realize this isn’t their project alone. They are part of something much bigger.”
“That’s one of the reasons I like this project so much,” says Geoffrey, who was particularly impressed by the professional respect the two musical directors showed the students. “They didn’t just want the voices. Dimitris and Maria are true pedagogues who love their art and have found their niche bringing music to young people.”
Throughout the project, “the students have been involved in the same manner as professional musicians and singers — auditioning, signing contracts, learning their parts, developing stage-presence skills, attending many, many rehearsals and recording (and re-recording),” adds Ingrid Hove Gust, the SWLSB’s GOAL representative. “It really is a perfect working musician/internship experience.”
As the project nears completion, there is still more excitement to come. For the official by-invitation-only book/CD launch this coming October, the students will arrive at Laval’s Palace Convention Centre by limousine, walk the red carpet and be given full star treatment. After performing a selection of songs from the CD, they will take part in a book-signing session for family and friends. (The participating schools will be able to purchase the books at cost and use them for fundraising purposes.)
The long-term nature of this project makes it unique in Geoffrey’s eyes. “The kids are seeing it through from start to finish over a period of a year,” he notes. They are also interacting with peers from other schools and practising teamwork and cooperation outside the classroom.
By experiencing not just the excitement but also the dedication required of professional recording artists, the students are taking a step into the world of work. “For many young people,” says Geoffrey, “the workforce is still a fantasy. But, in this case, they understand that this is the real thing: they recorded in a real recording studio and there is a book and CD that are going to be sold. They also realize that it’s not their project alone. Many different players have a role and they are part of something much bigger that will stay with them a lifetime.”
Even by King Midas’ standards, that’s got to be pure gold.
See the students at their recording session at https://youtu.be/CRru3WTFMyw
All photos courtesy of The Golden Touch Facebook page