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Burnaby students take third in national music competition

Capitol Hill Elementary students won third place for their performance of Máhsi ts'enįwę by Leela Gilday

Grade 6 and 7 students at Capitol Hill Elementary School won third place at the CBC Canadian Music Class Challenge on Dec. 13. The students performed an instrumental version of Máhsi ts’enįwę by Leela Gilday, a Juno-winning Dene Kede musician, that was taught to them by music teacher Theresa Lui and recorded in November 2023 as one of their entries. Last week, three Burnaby schools were shortlisted for the competition, with Capitol Hill getting two shortlisted entries. 

Capitol Hill students performing Máhsi ts'enįwę. Photo: Burnaby School District

Gilday originally wrote the song in Dene Kede as a way to teach children how to count in the language. The catchy tune caught on and has since become a popular children’s song throughout Canada. Lui chose the song from a list provided by the competition organizers. 

“It’s a way to explore different Canadian music because you have to choose from the list that they give you, so it opens my world up,” she said. “The song really caught my attention.”  

Lui and the students listened to the song in class and learned the meaning behind it. “I liked what it sounded like and the words were very interesting to me because it wasn’t in English. Then I had to do a little more work learning what the words meant, so it’s about the Dene Kede traditional way of life. I thought it is an awesome song to sing as a group, and I had the choir learn it, and I thought it would be really pretty as an instrumental,” she told the Beacon. 

Turning it into an instrumental piece required a bit of extra work. “I wrote an instrumental arrangement for the whole song for them to learn, based on what instruments they thought that they could play well and they enjoyed playing.”

Starting in October 2023, the Capitol Hill students practised only twice a week for one month. Every week, they had one 40-minute session and one 25-minute session. They recorded the video performance in November 2023, which was a challenge. Lui said the students were nervous and had to record several takes. On Dec. 6, the CBC announced that their group had reached the top 10 in the competition, while winners were announced on Dec. 13.

“I feel happy, excited, and proud,” said 11-year-old Quorra Mi, who played the piano during the performance and has been playing the piano for four years. 

“It sounded really good in the end,” Jeffrey Jiang, 12, said. 

The students aren’t the only ones thrilled by the news; their parents are too. “My parents really liked it because they liked how everybody had a part, and we all played together,” Tania Chen, 11, told the Beacon. 

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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