On Monday morning students and faculty at Magrath High School had the opportunity to hold, and for some, play, Voyageur, the guitar created by Jowi Taylor of Six String Nation. Taylor is in southern Alberta touring a number of schools thanks to a grant provided by the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta.
The guitar is doing a lot more than just playing music; it serves as the centerpiece of an important discussion on culture and national identity. “The goal is to put Canadian’s in touch with their own heritage, the stories they know and the stories they don’t yet know, and to connect them with that history … It is more than a guitar, it is a history book that can be played.”
An underlying theme of Taylor’s presentation is the importance of having Canadians identify with more than the stereotypical symbols of the beaver, hockey, maple syrup, poutine and Tim Hortons donuts. “These symbols do not accurately reflect the breadth and diversity of the large country … And unless we get good at telling our own stories, someone else will tell them for us and decide Canada’s history.”
Taylor’s inspiration to build the guitar came in 1995, around the time of the Quebec Referendum, when unity was an undercurrent in the culture. It took 11 years to gather all the materials in the guitar. The pieces were collected through research, open line shows across Canada, and suggestions made from the public.
“For me the main point was the pieces had to have stories,” said Taylor. It’s constructed with wood, metal and stone from across Canada, and features many different artifacts, even part of Maurice Richard’s first Stanley Cup ring.
Several pieces from Alberta include portions of John Ware’s cabin from Drumheller, Wayne Gretzky’s stick from Edmonton, and an ammolite buffalo skull from the Blood Tribe and Kainai First Nation.
During his presentation, Taylor was quick to note that Canada’s politicians and hockey heroes don’t need more publicity and moved on to share the story of the late Joe Labobe of PEI. A piece of his two-time Canadian championship oyster shucking knife helps form the guitar. The largest piece of wood that makes up the top of the guitar came from a sacred and rare albino spruce tree in B.C. After months of dialogue with the Haida people, and the tragic unplanned chopping down of the 300-year-old giant by a delusional citizen, Taylor was invited to trek through the forest with an Elder and get a piece for the guitar “so that the trees beauty and power could live on as part of something meaningful.”
Items collected after the instrument was already a “finished piece of art” make up the fur-lined case including memorabilia such as astronaut Chris Hadfield’s mission patch, a swatch of Don Cherry’s pants, author Pierre Berton’s bowtie, and ballerina Karen Kain’s tutu.
MHS teacher Jordan Brame got a chance to play Voyageur and sang “Dirt” by Florida Georgia Line, a song that paints a picture of rural living and the importance of establishing firm roots.
Brame started playing the guitar when he was 16-years-old. He bought his first guitar with prize money won at an art contest. Despite having played in front of crowds of 20, 000 while at BYU, he said there was something special about playing in front of his students and coworkers.
“The experience was immeasurable … It was humbling to play a guitar with that much Canadian history, that so many other people have played.”
Famous Canadians to also play the guitar include Serena Ryder, Feist, K’naan and Stompin’ Tom Connors.
Grade 11 student Josh Mackenzie, a member of the local band The Coulee Men, took his turn in the spotlight and overcame nerves to wow the packed Tom Karren Gym with a rocking version of the Beatles “I Saw Her Standing There.”
Mackenzie said that despite being nervous to playing in front of so many of his peers, he is glad he did it because “it is a moment he will always remember … And that it was the highlight of his guitar career so far.”
To date over 15,000 people have played the guitar on its tours across Canada.
Taylor and the guitar will visit a total of 14 schools in southern Alberta during his two weeks here, including Raymond on Friday.
For more information about Six String Nation and to view an interactive map of the heritage pieces making up the guitar, visit http://www.sixstringnation.com.
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