A couple of weeks ago, K’naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” took on a whole new dimension. Not because of the many weird and wonderful versions of that song which have been released in celebration of the World Cup (“Wavin’ Flag” is the tournament’s official theme), but because of a small group of determined kids in Parkdale. They’d just recorded their first cut, a cover of the catchy, heartfelt anthem.
The kids in question are students in Outside The Box, an innovative music education project for seven to thirteen year olds.
Also, they’re really adorable and fun to hang out with.
Caitie (age eight) and her dad talk about music, education, and K’naan. Also Miley Cyrus (who, we should note, is not part of the official OTB curriculum).
Outside The Box is the first project put together by the KUPE (Kids Understand Practically Everything) Arts Society. The after-school program was developed by local musicians in response to the decline of music classes in Toronto schools; it’s entirely volunteer-run, free to participate in, and provides opportunities for students who would otherwise not be able to afford music education.
One of the things that’s distinctive about Outside The Box is that it shelves traditional music theory and music appreciation curricula in favour of, well, music. In each eight-week semester the students spend their time learning a song by a Canadian artist, and at the end of each semester they record their own adorable version of that song. The goal is to get kids excited about music, to have it infuse their lives beyond the classes—learning happens, but it’s embedded in the context of a larger experience. They’ve done Feist, they’ve done Metric, and this term they did Bedouin Soundclash and K’naan.
Igor (age eight) and James (seven).
Marcus (age thirteen) is the first student who bounds over to us when we pay OTB a visit on recording day. He’s a classic drummer type—he bangs on everything—and is very excited when he learns he’s going to be on the internet. (He wants everyone to know that if they try really hard, one day they might be on the internet too.) When we ask him why OTB is important he pauses for a moment to focus: “Because if you’re at home and you don’t start doing homework, you’ll just…be a couch potato.”
Declan (eleven) seems a bit shyer than Marcus—he keeps sticking his head in the door and then running away while we sit down to chat with his mother, Estelle. Lanky, with dark brown hair and a fuzzy hat, Declan and his younger brother Ben are in their second semester of the program. Estelle is visibly moved when talking about OTB and what it means for her kids. She praises the program’s spirit, its non-competitive atmosphere, and its openness to kids of many ages, backgrounds, and levels of musical confidence. After we’re finished our interview, she comes back in to say one last thing. “It’s about community, it’s about opening up a new aspect of life to the kids.”
Photos and video by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.