Inaugural residency: Leading Indigenous artist helping create new music studies curriculum

Mar 7th, 2019

By Jeff Green

A drum making workshop in Suncor Energy Hall. Photo by Rich Blenkinsopp.
Inaugural residency: Leading Indigenous artist helping create new music studies curriculum

The School of Music is welcoming its first Indigenous artist-thinker as part of a new residency program.

Michael R. Denny is a Mi’kmaw singer, drum maker, storyteller and dancer from the Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia, the largest Mi’kmaw community in the world.

He is spending part of this month leading a variety of workshops and performances while also meeting with students, researchers and local Indigenous leaders and groups.

His residency is part of a new project called Indigenous Voice, which engages First Light as a community partner.

Earlier this year, a team of Indigenous leaders and scholars secured an Indigenous Research Capacity and Reconciliation – Connection Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to create Indigenous Voice.

The goal is to engage with Indigenous artists and leaders to create a music studies course to be delivered by Indigenous artists.

‘Join in’

On March 5, Mr. Denny led a drum making workshop in the Suncor Energy Hall.

“We talked a little bit about the spirituality behind creating a hand drum,” Mr. Denny told the Gazette during a visit to the session.

“The hand drum is more than an instrument; it plays a big part of our gatherings and powwows.”

Mr. Denny says he is delighted to be in Newfoundland and Labrador and is encouraging everyone to attend the variety of sessions planned during his residency.

“You don’t often get an opportunity like this to participate in Indigenous workshops, especially with people like me who are well knowledgeable in song and dance, but also in our traditional ceremonies.”

“I would like everybody who is around to come and join in and take part.”

Music student Nicholas Hiscock says the workshop was eye-opening.

“It was a great time of community drum making and music making in St. John’s,” he told the Gazette.

“It’s an opportunity that’s pretty rare for people to take in music and collective culture that’s not Western art music. We don’t often get the opportunity to fully experience or be a part of something that’s so intimate. It’s a bit different than any of the other workshops that I’ve been able to be a part of.”

Variety of sessions

While in St. John’s, Mr. Denny is also leading a free Powwow Music Workshop, which is taking place in the MMaP Gallery in the Arts and Culture Centre on Friday, March 8, from 10 a.m. until noon. Anyone wishing to attend should email

Also on Friday, he is leading a Ko’jua Workshop from 3-4 p.m. in the MMaP Gallery on the second floor of the Arts and Culture Centre. Ko’jua is a Mi’kmaw social dance. This workshop is open to the public and admission is free.

On Sunday, March 10, there will be a public concert in the School of Music. Tunes ‘n’ Talk: Traditional and Contemporary Mi’kmaw Powwow Music begins at 7:30 p.m. This performance is open to the public and admission is free.

Mr. Denny is also taking part in a First Light Culture Camp from Friday, March 15, until Sunday, March 17.

Jeff Green is a senior communications advisor with the Office of the Vice-President (Research). He can be reached at


Jeff Green is a senior communications adviswith the Office of the Vice-President (Research). He can be reached at



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