Cari Burdett, director of Lila Music Centre in Duncan, uses her connection with music to give back to the community.
Burdett has over 16 years of musical training, with a Bachelor of Music in Opera Performance from McGill, and Master’s degree in Voice Performance from the Royal Academy of Music in London. After teaching and training across both Europe and Canada she moved to B.C. and, along with her husband Massimo Pintus, opened Lila Music Centre in 2007. As director of the Duncan-based organisation, she gives vocal lessons, leads vocal improvisational workshops, and conducts two choirs—one singing group that is dedicated to performing at the bedsides of those who are dying, and the 100 Voices for One World Choir, which is made up of locals from the Cowichan Valley. “No one is ever turned away at any of my events, workshops, classes, etc. I am a believer in everyone welcome and no-one turned away for lack of funds,” Burdett says over an email interview on Jan. 28. It is with this sense of artistic generosity that Burdett organized the first annual benefit concert for the Lila Music Centre and dedicated it to the “Idle No More” movement.
The concert featuring the 100 Voices for One World Choir, which took place on Feb. 2 at the Mercury Theatre in Duncan, raised money for a scholarship that will provide an opportunity for youths (under 30 years of age) to use their voices “as an expression of intercultural community building,” Burdett says. Auditions for the scholarship will occur at the Aboriginal Festival of Film and Art in Apr., where candidates, either soloists, bands, groups, or ensembles, will demonstrate their abilities through a vocal performance, such as singing, hip-hop, choir, vocal improvisation, and spoken-word. Preference will be given to youths who “demonstrate intercultural collaboration, through creative connections in the Cowichan Community,” and, as part of the award, the winner “will be invited to perform in several community events throughout the year,” Burdett says. The winner will also be granted a studio slot to record their vocal material with Zach Cohen at The Woodshop Recording Studio in Duncan. The award is sponsored by the Lila Music Centre, the Aboriginal Festival of Film and Art, and The Woodshop Recording Studio.
The 100 Voices for One World Choir “is about uplifting positive songs for the planet and people,” Burdett says. As a member of the Ubunto Choirs Network, a B.C. registered non-profit society, the 100 Voices for One World Choir is a community-focused and socially engaged singing group. Following the definition of the Zulu “ubunto,” “I am because we are,” the group accepts members of all ages and backgrounds without auditions into the welcoming, team-oriented atmosphere. The main goal of performances by the 100 Voices for One World Choir is to generate community unity through singing, and Burdett said dedicating the Lila Music Centre benefit to the “Idle No More” movement just clicked like a piece of a puzzle.
“I feel it is a cry to stand together as one, to find a common language, to learn to listen to each other in a new way, especially in our own communities and families,” Burdett says. “The 100 Voices for One World Choir is dedicating this concert to “Idle No More” with the hopes that our Cowichan Valley can share music and raise our voices, listen deeper and be One.”
Burdett was first inspired to dedicate the event to the movement after learning about Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike. “I was immediately moved by this, and thought there is a connection between what she is asking and what I am asking for in the choirs that I lead and the music that I share,” Burdett says. She said the political details behind the movement are not her focus, instead she hoped to use her artistic resources to encourage community building and a unified reception of the viewpoints of different citizens. “It is about a deeper listening. About asking others to overcome their judgements and to see in a new way, to hear in a new way, and to be prepared to create a new way—a way that is not yet seen or thought of.”
After discussing her thoughts with music group colleagues, Burdett decided to look for ways to incorporate the movement into the benefit. The result was a diverse line-up of musicians whom Burdett integrated because she believes that “their music holds the idea of community building in its core values. Their music is about this same kind of deep listening that I was suggesting with Chief Theresa.” The schedule included about 10 songs, in various genres from the 100 Voices for One World Choir, including traiditonal South Aftican chants, Gaelic prayer songs and a Beatles tune. The group was accompanied on the guitar by award-winning, Cowichan-based singer/songwriter Paul Ruszel, who also performed two solo pieces. Bopoma African Music members also accompanied the choir. The Cowichan Spirit Drummers shared a prayer and performed a song with the 100 Voices for One World Choir, and Alex Thorne sang a Native Cowichan song. Cowichan Band Member and Duncan City Council member Joe Thorne was the guest speaker and Cowichan Elder, and he led a Sharing Circle after the performances. Of Thorne’s involvement in the event, Burdett says, “when I heard him say that “Idle No More” meant to him an awakening of the truth and that his wish is that we sit together and talk and listen, I suggested that we go for it, right at the concert, not to wait one more second!”
Burdett said that her goal for the event was not to make a political statement, but to open up the conversation through a peaceful and artistic sharing of music, while also raising awareness and encouraging musical expression through the fundraising for the scholarship. “I was influenced by “Idle No More” to dedicate this concert to this growing community movement, as I believe that the music works in the same way of opening hearts and minds, and it is a way to stand as One, with simply singing one note together!”
In the process of organizing the benefit, she has had the chance to meet new friends, expand her knowledge, and gain a new sense of viewpoint, all while doing what she loves—making music. She said her goal was to have her event spark a sense of understanding and desire to learn about the perspectives of other members of the community, and that future events will continue to express this sense of working together. “I hope that [this] inspires more cross-cultural events with the Cowichan tribes and those of us that are not Cowichan tribes. I think that this idea of sitting together is very important…I value the land that I stand and live on and welcome the teachings of the Elders, of the land and animals. I wish that through this collaboration, as it is only a step, that we can come together and fill the room in song and feel our voices become One, one voice,” Burdett says.
If you are interested in learning more about the Lila Music Centre or donating to the scholarship, please visit <www.joythroughmusic.com>