The Londoner - Professional Musician Visits High Schools

If folk music is meant to inspire change, Jon Brooks felt like he was in the right place recently when he was strumming his guitar in front of a class of Grade 11 and 12 music students at Sir Wilfrid Laurier secondary school. 

“We’re performing a brand of the folk song to, finally, the right audience,” said Brooks, a singer/songwriter based out of Toronto. “This is the audience I should be playing in front of all the time.” 

He is one of three acts taking part in the Home County Folk Festival Artists in the Schools Project. 

With funding from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Catherine McInnes, artistic director of the festival, is bringing professional musicians to share their knowledge and techniques with students. 

For Brooks, it was a chance to chat about the importance of good song writing, a skill that’s garnered him a few awards and nominations since his return to folk music in 2005. 

“I’m preaching to the converted at the folk clubs and at the festivals,” he said. “But if you really want to make a change for the better in this world, this is the audience to inspire.” 

Getting encouragement to write songs during his own high school career in the ’80s was “foreign,” said Brooks, who also visited Medway high school, Central secondary school and Sir Frederick Banting secondary school. 

Josh Ellison, a Laurier student preparing to enter Western’s popular music program, was appreciative that he didn’t have the same experience. 

“(Brooks) brought a different perspective,” said Ellison, 18. “Folk music takes a more political stand to try and better the world. It’s definitely opened up my eyes to song writing, to improve. 

“It’s refreshing to have a different point of view. Normally the other musicians I talk to are my own age.” 

He also said Brooks’s advice should inspire more students to take up song writing themselves. 

“(Brooks) would play a song then explain the process of writing (it),” Ellison explained. “You don’t want to be a dictator. You don’t want to tell people what to think, you want them to discover it on their own but with your help.” 

That should be music to the ears of McInnes, a former elementary school teacher who still teaches music privately. 

“As a teacher what I always missed was having that intense experience to be able to work with an artist over a number of days,” she said. “I wanted to create an educational experience where the kids felt they were artists with the artists.” 

By Chris Montanini

March, 2011