Wasagamack First Nation music program wins big at Winnipeg Music Festival

More than a dozen students from one northern Manitoba community traveled hundreds of kilometres to participate in the Winnipeg Music Festival this month.

It wasn’t an easy journey to get there.

Students from George Knott School in Wasagamack First Nation had to drive 11 hours on northern winter roads to get to the city, which is 471 km away.

They are the only school from a First Nation to do so, according to organizers.

The Winnipeg Music Festival has been showcasing the variety of talent in the province’s music scene for the past 102 years.

Musicians ranging in ages from four to 65 compete in everything from singing to piano to classical guitar.

Students from George Knott School first played in the festival two years ago.

“I wanted them to share with the other groups, and give them motivation to do well in school,” said Bobby Knott, who is the music teacher at the school.

(Bobby Knott says he joined the music program because his ‘biggest goal to have music at home.’ Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)

Knott was first introduced to the festival when he was a student himself.

He left Wasagamack nearly a decade ago to study music and education at the University of Manitoba with the dream of reviving the school’s music program.

“When I was in grade nine they stopped it, so I wanted to really learn music myself. I thought that would be really good to do for the kids back home,” said Knott.

“That was my biggest goal to have music at home.”

Knott returned in 2014 and has been teaching ever since.

He’s trained in classical guitar. He has passed down that knowledge to his students – including his own younger brother.

Brett Knott didn’t always want to play guitar, but encouragement from his older brother changed that.

“I’ve actually started to enjoy playing and I actually want to pursue it myself,” said the younger Knott.

The 16-year-old is also performing a solo piece during the festival.

He first competed in 2018 when the school joined for the first time. It opened his world to a new love.

“Doing a good performance. It’s just really fulfilling,” said the teen.

music festival

(Students at school in Wasagamack First Nation. Photo courtesy: Bobby Knight)

Briana Wood has been playing guitar for the past five years.

Performing has challenged her in a positive way.

“I get frustrated while playing and then it makes me try even harder,” said Wood. “Then I get to see what I’m capable of.”

For Knott, the best part of teaching is witnessing the impact the music program has had on the students.

“I’ve seen people that have challenges, that have trouble with everything else but once they come into the class and they can play a piece of music then that gives them confidence and transfers over to other classes,” he said.

The students’ training paid off.

They received the Winnipeg Classical Guitar Society David Bellan Trophy, which is awarded to an outstanding school classical guitar orchestra. They have also been asked to perform at the festival’s final gala concert on Mar. 22.

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