Calgary country star surprises students with gift of music

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Still adjusting to early mornings on only the third day of classes, students at a northeast school woke up in a hurry when a bonafide country star walked through the gym doors.

Calgary native Lindsay Ell — who has four nominations at this weekend’s Canadian Country Music Awards — put on a special mini concert for the kindergarten to Grade 7 youth at Father Scollen School to kick off the 2019 CCMA Country Music Week. She was also there to help celebrate the school receiving a grant through the national MusiCounts education charity.

“Congrats kids, $15,000 to buy instruments . . . that’s the coolest thing ever,” the singer told the eager crowd. “Music education completely changed my life. (In Grade 3) we played everything from the xylophone to the recorder. It was always such a comfort and joy to me.

“It is an outlet when you’re not having a good day . . . and it has never failed me to this day.”

Clearly it hasn’t, as the rising star on the country scene has four nods for Sunday’s Canadian Country Music Awards at the Saddledome: Female Artist of the Year; Interactive Artist or Group of the Year; Single of the Year and Video of the Year, both for Criminal, which she performed for the students.

“She’s one of our renegade females blazing a trail in country music, not only in Canada but also the U.S.” CCMA president Tracy Martin said in explaining why she asked Ell to showcase the MusiCounts school grant.

“A big piece is that she’s from Calgary, she’s used her platform to give back, and she has four nominations. It was easy pickings.”

As well as being an original songwriter (Ell says she has 2,000 songs under her belt), she is known for her incredible chops on the guitar. So it was no surprise she noticed the acoustic one on the school stage nestled between all the other instruments purchased with the MusiCounts grant. The school bought ukuleles, Orff instruments and musical scores so the whole school population can benefit.

“The voice is the first instrument . . . but we know one of the most important things is to expose children to rhythm and melody to create sound,” said principal Sonia Stapleton. “We’re building unity and collaboration.”

The Temple school has a large population of immigrant youth who may lack exposure to the arts, and Stapleton said it’s important to engage and inspire kids.

“We believe the arts is part of a true holistic education . . . That’s expensive and we don’t have funding for that. But we knocked and MusiCounts answered.”

MusiCounts’ Band Aid Program received nearly 500 applications this year. Father Scollen School was one of 96 chosen to share in $1-million worth of instruments and equipment.

“We put instruments into the hands of kids who need it the most,” said MusiCounts executive director Kristy Fletcher. “In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to exist and schools would be properly funded and have robust musical programs. But that’s not the case, and we fill in the gaps.”

Fletcher said it was a tough year for the Band Aid program as only one out of every five schools that applied was selected. Part of the selection process is determining which schools have passionate music teachers and supportive musical education programs.

“Father Scollen has that in their music teacher and we know these instruments will be well used.”

Applications for the 2020 MusiCounts Band Aid Program opens next week. It is funded by a number of sponsors, including the Junos and the CCMA, which donates $1 from every CCMA Awards ticket.