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photo by Gord Bowes

photo by Gord Bowes

Daniela Rivet, Brandon Boulavong and Amber Rowe of the Cardinal Commitments perform during the Cardinal Heights’ 50th anniversary celebration in May.

School of rock

By Gord Bowes, News staff

The majority of songs they perform were released before they were born. Many were hits before their parents were born.
The musical diversity is part of the goal of the Cardinal Commitments, a student rock band at Cardinal Heights.
The Commitments is the brainchild of teachers Bill Hughey and Simon Frank.
Hughey says he wanted to try something different from the clubs he had set up where kids weren’t particularly devoted. Attendance would be spotty by Christmas, making a year-long project difficult to complete.
“When Mr. Frank and I envisioned the band we thought it would be an opportunity to connect with kids in a different sort of way than in the classroom and doing regular extracurricular activities,” says Hughey. “We said let’s start something where maybe we are a little more selective in the people we work with.”
They found students who were musically inclined or interested and who would commit to a year-long project. “Hence the (Cardinal Commitments) name,” says Hughey.
To make sure the band was as realistic as possible, students are not just performing at the school but out in the community, including gigs at The Tartan Toorie, Copps Coliseum during a Bulldogs game and at Canada’s Wonderland. In also making the band experience authentic, students act as musicians, sound crew, marketers, designers for the album cover and agents to book gigs.
The teachers also thought it would be nice to introduce students to types of music they may not have heard before.
Each year, decisions on the repertoire are based on the students and the instruments they play.
“In the past, we’ve had horn sections, we’ve had a piano player, sometimes we’ve had two drummers,” says Hughey. “We change our repertoire based on the composition of the band.”
When the Commitments were formed four years ago, they played songs from British Invasion bands, says teacher and founding member Bill Hughey.
In that first year, the band learned “The Kids Are Alright” by The Who, which was released before their parents were born.
“A student came in after we did that and said, ‘Mr. Hughey, I went on YouTube and that band’s got other songs, too.’ So that’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
Last month, the Cardinal Commitments released a five-song CD. It was recorded in studio space principal Nanci-Jane Simpson, a backer of the band, made available.
Zoe Kotsariadis, a Grade 7 student and singer in the band, says she really enjoyed the recording sessions.
“It was a cool experience with the microphones and the headsets and everything,” she says. “It was really different; I had never done anything like that before.”
Hughey said he played the Commitments’ CD for a friend, who was impressed with the guitar work on “My Heart Will Guan” and asked what part the students played on the song.
“That’s a student playing, that’s not me,” Hughey told him, noting it was the finger-style acoustic guitar work of Steven Tran, a Grade 7 student.
Teacher Nicolette DiFrancesco says she received similar comments when she previewed the CD.
“My daughter was taken aback when she heard the vocals, the maturity and the storytelling that was happening from students who were so much younger than she is.”
The band will continue next year, with a new crop of students ready to fill the shoes of the graduating Grade 8s.
The end is near, however, for the Cardinal Commitments, as the school is scheduled to close next June.
The band may continue elsewhere, depending on where Hughey, DiFrancesco and Frank end up being placed, but it will be difficult to recreate the conditions that made it successful at Cardinal Heights.
“It’s an incredibly creative, artistic, musical staff,” says Hughey. “It’s taken several years to get to where we’re at. It would be extremely difficult (to recreate).”

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