Folk singer/songwriter Craig Cardiff came to Yellowknife Jan. 10 to perform for two consecutive nights at the Top Knight Pub. Friday, Cardiff made a point of taking time out of his schedule to put on songwriting workshops with William McDonald Middle School and Range Lake North School grade seven and eight students.
For him, coming to town doesn’t mean just playing his shows and updating his Facebook page from his hotel room.
“I remember being in high school and just loving music more than anything. I was just so hungry to figure out how it all worked so I take any opportunity I can to volunteer and talk to people while on tour,” Cardiff said.
The workshop itself was no paltry lesson in guitar chords or writing music notation. The students were given a crash course on creating their own songs from the ground up.
Initially in disbelief, the William McDonald Middle School student’s jaws nearly dropped when Cardiff told them that by the end of the session they would know how to write and publish their own songs.
“Whether or not it’s a good song is less important to me, it’s about starting and finishing something and taking any mental barriers like ‘I’m not good enough, I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument, I don’t have the equipment’ and removing them,” Cardiff said.
The workshop started off on a technical note with Cardiff explaining the basics of recording, producing, mastering and publishing music through streaming services like Spotify. He stressed that most of this could be done using tools accessible through a smartphone. They quickly shifted gears towards the students developing an understanding of music as a means to tell a story and connecting with other people while expressing themselves.
“There are often so many things you can get away with singing to people which would be too awkward to simply say which is part of what makes music so powerful,” Cardiff explained to the students.
Cardiff broke through the student’s apprehensions by having them beatbox and sing along with a tune of his own to warm up. After interviewing one of the students about his experiences, Cardiff almost instantly strung together and original song for the students.
“This is an absolutely awesome and unique experience for them,” said Anne Mobach, educational assistant at William McDonald Middle School. “It’s amazing to see how quickly he can create a song while showing the kids they can also do it.”
It wasn’t long before the students were broken up into groups and began brainstorming about their own experiences of living in Yellowknife, writing a verse and chorus to perform for the group.
The initially timid students became eager for their turn to sing for their classmates. Many of their songs mentioned endless trails, dancing northern lights, old town, having a Walmart, ice roads but always coming back to the common theme of calling this town their home.
The performance of one group’s song even had their music teacher, Kamey Fenwick, moved to tears as all 23 students came together to sing the chorus “Yellowknife is not what it seems.”
“A lot of these students were already writing songs on their own but to have them do it with someone who makes their living doing it was such an amazing opportunity,” Fenwick said.
“They all rose to the challenge and have such creative minds. I couldn’t handle it. It was lovely.”
Cardiff has always been an advocate of connecting with youth within the communities he travels and has been doing these workshops for years.
“If everything goes well and aligns, they’ll have something they can share with their friends and family. I want them to have proof so they can’t say that they can’t, because they did. So that’s what I get excited about, encouraging that,” Cardiff said.
Cardiff’s visit was organized in part by the NWT Arts Council. He will be performing in Whitehorse then southern Ontario before touring through the United States for the month of February. He recently singed with a new record label, AntiFragile Music from New York, and will have one of his songs features on the soundtrack of hit NBC show This is Us on Jan. 19.