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OSS band, Indigenous musician bring Nish Princess to life in song

Song 'provides a great opportunity for us to learn about differences and similarities and see how we can be creative and join together,' says OSS music teacher

Members of the Orillia Secondary School (OSS) senior concert band have been working on an exciting project over the past several months and, on Feb. 14, they will have the opportunity to share it with an audience.

“The OSS music program received funding last school year to work with an Indigenous community member and Canadian composer to come together to create a concert band piece,” explained Laura Lee Matthie, OSS music teacher and concert band conductor.

“We are very thankful for this opportunity, and now wish to share more of our journey and the result of the funding.”

The journey started last spring, when Matthie, upon learning the grant had been secured, reached out to the Indigenous graduation coach at OSS about finding an Indigenous creator to begin the experience.

Brian Sarazin is of Algonquin, Lakota, Onondaga and Chippewa descent.

“I’m a singer, painter, crafter, teacher and drummer, and have been drumming since the age of eight,” he explained. “The piece came from an over-20-year-old song my longtime friend, Russell Lemarr, crafted. The words are from his past life lessons from a girl. I helped out with the lead and melody to bring the song, Nish Princess, to life.”

Matthie continued the story.

“Our students met with Brian, who shared Nish Princess, provided us with some context, and we learned the background. He performed it for us and shared further information about his music and life," she said.

“The composer/arranger, Christian Overton, was also present on Zoom. This gave the students first-hand experience of the questions that he had about the song, his thoughts and considerations, which would be necessary before he tackled writing this arrangement.”

Matthie said it was “a unique learning situation for our students to see what the composer was able to hear in only one listening of the song, and helped them make further connections to their own learning.”

In September 2023, the song and band arrangement were finalized, and the students began to practise.

Grade 12 student and flute player Aiden Harbridge, a member of the OSS senior concert band, has enjoyed the experience.

“It was interesting to be involved with this from the very beginning, to hear what it was at the start and then where it is now. I feel very lucky to have been part of this. It’s been amazing,” he said.

Sarazin has been a part of the students’ learning throughout the fall, and he joined back in at a rehearsal at the end of January to add the words and his drumming to the song, in preparation for the premiere.

Things didn’t go exactly as imagined, however, and some quick, on-the-fly rearranging had to occur.

“That’s what music is all about, really,” Sarazin said. “It is a collaboration, and you have to be together to see what works and what is possible. It’s all good.”

Matthie concurred.

“This piece is a great demonstration of ‘anything is possible.’ It brings together different styles and types of music and provides a great opportunity for us to learn about differences and similarities and see how we can be creative and join together,” she said.

She thought for a moment, and then added: “Music is a universal language — we just need to continue to explore how to bridge the gaps between the styles.”

The premiere of Nish Princess — words and melody by Lemarr and Sarazin, band arrangement by Overton — is happening at Orillia Secondary School on Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the cafetorium.

The event will also include some music from other students, and it will be about 40 minutes in length. Everyone is invited to attend.