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Biigtigong Nishnaabeg Elder performs during Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony Sing-Along concert

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Biigtigong Nishnaabeg Elder Beatrice Twance-Hynes practiced the Asemaa’Kwe Song with about 450 Lakehead Public Schools students during a rehearsal for the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra’s (TBSO) Symphony Sing-Along concert on Jan. 17.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY — Biigtigong Nishnaabeg Elder Beatrice Twance-Hynes enjoyed performing the Asemaa’Kwe Song with about 450 Lakehead Public Schools students during the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra’s (TBSO) Symphony Sing-Along concert on Jan. 17 at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.

“The TBSO event with the 400-plus students was amazing,” Twance-Hynes says, noting that one “young Anishinaabe inini” shared with her how he enjoyed the concert. “He really enjoyed it and [said] it was so nice to hear the [Anishinaabemowin] song. Others also said it was beautiful. I was so honoured to be a part of this and [am] looking forward to working with the TBSO again.”

Ryleigh Dupuis, executive director and general manager at TBSO, says the concert was a success.

“We had a full house with children and parents,” Dupuis says. “All the students and teachers were happy and there were many beaming faces on parents at the end of the night. We love putting on this event and giving our students a chance to take the stage.”

Twance-Hynes had earlier practiced the song, which was created by Wasauksing’s Jodi Contin for The Spirit Horse Returns orchestral concert production that was premiered by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in 2022, with the students and the TBSO during a rehearsal in the morning.

“It’s an original song, it’s a song about the spirit Ojibwe horses,” Twance-Hynes says. “At one time, we were denied our language, so it’s good to spread that language out there. I’m not fluent myself but I do my best to learn what I can. It’s special to me too because it relates to my spirit name, which is White Horse Spirit Woman.”

Twance-Hynes says she made a new outfit for the concert, which she also wore at the Lakehead University Thunderwolves Men’s Hockey 2nd Indigenous Cultural Celebration Night on Jan. 13.

“My name is White Horse Spirit Woman, so [the] white outfit…acknowledges my spirit,” Twance-Hynes says.

Dupuis says the TBSO teaches the students different songs in English, French and Anishinaabemowin during the Sing-Along program.

“And we bring them onstage at the auditorium and they sing with the orchestra,” Dupuis says. “It’s a lot of fun for them and it’s quite an experience hearing 500 children on the stage singing all together. The kids love it and they look forward to it every year because once they get to Grade 3 they know that it’s coming and they get to do it and it’s really fun.”

Grade 3 students Hasrat Kaur and Kaarina Tuokkola enjoyed the opportunity to learn the Asemaa’Kwe Song with Twance-Hynes during the rehearsal.

“It’s really nice, I feel really good to perform tonight,” Kaur says. “I really like music because whenever I listen to my favourite songs, they are soothing. It’s really nice listening to the other kids’ songs and I like how it’s so big [in] this place.”

“It’s really exciting,” Tuokkola says. “My mom signed me up and now I’m excited.”

The TBSO will be bringing The Spirit Horse Returns concert back for another performance on April 13 at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium. The concert, which was performed by the TBSO last year, will feature Ken MacDonald, horn; Contin, narrator; Rhonda Snow, visual artist and Knowledge Keeper; and music by Kevin Lau, with additional music by Contin and Andrew Balfour.

“It’s a journey of hope and reconciliation as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people come together to rescue the last of these horses and give them new life,” states the TBSO website. “Suitable for all ages, this production is an entertaining opportunity to learn about Indigenous cultures, reconciliation, and how we all play a part in the future of the land and its inhabitants.”

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