Voices of reason

(Edmonton) At the heart of Sustainability Awareness Week at the University of Alberta is the desire to stimulate dialogue that ultimately results in real change in the way people look at their role as stewards of the environment.

In a packed Myer Horowitz Theatre on Thursday, it was made evident that music can be a powerful tool in getting the message across to the next generation of environmental stewards. Elementary students from Afton, Belvedere, Centennial and Holy Cross schools came together in concert with Holly Arntzen, Kevin Wright and the Dream Band to sing songs about ecological responsibility.

“This community concert was an outstanding success and was truly an uplifting, powerful and heartwarming production,” said Len Sereda, director of energy management and sustainable operations in the Office of Facilities and Operations at the U of A. “The singers were full of energy and enthusiasm, and the audience was wowed and fully engaged.

The overall concert, including the kids’ final message—we are the future and we’re counting on you—received overwhelming applause.”

For the past week, students practised with Arntzen, Wright and their teachers. One Grade 6 student commented after the concert that “[the concert] was a lot of fun, but we did practise a lot. We had to sacrifice a lot of recesses.” Prior to the concert, the Artist Response Team, a team of artists focused on shifting culture towards an attitude of caring and love of plants, animals and all that is precious in the natural world, provided the schools with CDs to facilitate practicing of the songs “Water for Life,” “Voices of Nature,” “Landfill Blues,” “Up Your Watershed,” “Blue Sky” and “Saltwater.”

The sacrifice of time paid dividends, not only in terms of the wonderful music that was produced at the event, but also in the lessons related to sustainability the elementary students learned. When a Grade 3 student was asked what he had learned over the past few weeks, he excitedly answered, “Recycling is very important. If we recycle paper, we can save a lot of trees.” Another Grade 3 student had advice for citizens of Edmonton: “people should ride bikes instead of drive cars.”

The impact of the emotional event was felt by many adults in attendance as well, including professor and chair of secondary education in the Faculty of Education, Susan Barker, who said seeing the world through children's eyes can be emotive but also a reality check. “Hearing their concerns about the environment, in addition to seeing them so full of energy, life and good humour, was inspirational. I left feeling a great sense of responsibility to make the right decisions in my own life that could impact their future.”

Another Grade 6 student put it said there is a lot at stake, “if we don’t take care of the environment, the world will become polluted and people will get sick. That would be sad.”