NNDSB Students Immersed In Music, Drama And History With Sounding Thunder

Performers sing the finale of Sounding Thunder: The Song of Francis Pegahmagabow at the Parry Sound presentation.

Near North District School Board (NNDSB) students from around the district were immersed in a fusion of music, history, storytelling and drama when they attended performances of Sounding Thunder: The Song of Francis Pegahmagabow presented by the Festival of the Sound.

The Festival of the Sound is a world-renowned chamber and classical music festival in scenic Parry Sound. Sounding Thunder is a multidisciplinary performance melding live orchestral music, storytelling and traditional singing to tell the story of the celebrated Ojibwe sniper from Shawanaga and Wasauksing First Nations, a decorated military officer and founder of the early Indigenous political movement in Canada.

In partnership with NNDSB and partly supported by funding from the NNDSB Trustee Initiative Fund, Sounding Thunder was performed in six presentations at West Ferris Secondary School in North Bay and Parry Sound’s Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts for more than 1,400 NNDSB students from across the district.

The opportunity was open to all grades 4-6 and 9-12 students in the West region and all grade 11 students in every region. The performance aligned with the curriculum of NNDSB’s Understanding Contemporary First Nation, Metis & Inuit Voices course.

Students enrolled this course greatly appreciated this unique opportunity to celebrate local Indigenous history, while growing their intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.

Festival of the Sound Executive Director Michael Martyn said, “Sounding Thunder is a significant undertaking for a small arts charity. These six presentations in three days would not have been possible without the support of the trustees of the Near North District School Board. Festival of the Sound seeks to continue developing our role as service provider of quality arts and culture programming to NNDSB and other school boards across the province.”

As part of NNDSB’s ongoing efforts to realize the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, students learned from both local Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists as they shared this incredible story which celebrates local Indigenous history, and grows intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.

Emily Batenchuk, a Grade 11 student from Chippewa Secondary School said, “I was entranced by the beautiful music and beautiful singing. It enhanced the emotion of the scenes and got you hooked on the performance; at times it was also very relaxing. The performance felt real and genuine. The scenes during the war contained emotions that you could feel, anger, desperation, fear, all of it.”

“The music was able to convey what was happening as the story played out. You could hear sounds of water, gunfire, and war all expressed through the sound of music,” Chippewa student Liam Brandon said. “The story itself really highlights the struggles Indigenous people had to face and how Francis was able to persevere through these struggles. Despite all the discrimination and hard times he faced, he still managed to defy the odds against him. I find the story of Francis Pegahmagabow to be very empowering and uplifting.”

Sounding Thunder is based on the biography by Dr. Brian D. McInnes, who is a great-grandson of Francis Pegahmagabow, and who also served as narrator of the performance. The performance was originally produced in 2018 at Festival of the Sound and then briefly toured Ontario.

Michael Martyn said after seeing the performance, Queen’s Chancellor Murray Sinclair, former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, stated that every student in the country ought to see Sounding Thunder. This sentiment served as the inspiration for the performances brought to NNDSB students.

“It was a very moving, honest and well-executed artistic interpretation of the life of Francis Pegahmagabow,” Almaguin Highlands Secondary School student Lowell Wilson said. “The experience of Sounding Thunder is an incredible one which I would suggest anyone with the ability and time to go and see.”


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