Iqaluit’s Mary Piercey-Lewis is going to the JUNOs.
As one of five nominees for the 2021 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award, Piercey-Lewis has received an invitation to the awards show and if she wins this award she will be the recipient of a $10,000 donation towards the Inuksuk High School’s music program.
Piercey-Lewis has been a teacher in Nunavut since 2001, starting out in Arviat and moving to Iqaluit in 2008, where she currently teaches at Inuksuk High School.
She published her first textbook in 2016, helping to collect Inuit music for this project titled Inuit Inngiusingit: A Collection of Inuit Choral Music.
“I think it’s fantastic, I’m very excited to be recognized,” she said. “For me to be nominated after being here for so long running a program here, it’s very exciting.”
She hopes this exposure will highlight some of the needs Nunavut has with regards to having a dedicated music program for classrooms in the territory.
“There’s no music curriculum in Nunavut and I’m one of the only full-time music teachers in the territory,” Piercey-Lewis said.
“I’m also hoping it’ll open doors for just getting it out there, that there should really be music programs in all the schools and make them more aware that there can be fantastic music programs (here).”
With a Ph.D.. in ethnomusicology (study of music within cultures), she noticed shortly after coming to Nunavut in 2001, that the territory lacked a music curriculum that reflects Inuit.
“I just became very, very aware … that there should be music from Nunavut within the curriculum, that the curriculum had to honour Inuit music.”
She hopes the promotion of Inuit music will also help language preservation.
“One of the best ways to learn a language or to keep a language alive is through music,” Piercey-Lewis said.
“It’s really important for all kids, not just Inuit kids but any kids living in Nunavut to be doing Inuit music.”
Her work on Inuit Inngiusingit is just one step she hopes will help music education in Nunavut.
Arranged for choir, guitar and other instruments, it includes one CD that she helped create with her choir a number of years ago and it has since been distributed to other communities.
In her own classroom, Piercey-Lewis also has a larger music program surrounding Inuit music, as well as Inuksuk School’s band program.
“It all begins with Inuit music, the songs that we are learning are songs from here originally.”
Piercey-Lewis is also Vice-President of the Iqaluit Music Society, which recently won the $1-million Arctic Inspiration Prize.
The Society hopes to use the prize money to help bring music to Nunavut communities.
Whether it’s Nunavut or anywhere else, Piercey-Lewis says music has a universal appeal that comes from the inside.
“Music is just something that comes in naturally to us, whether you’re singing (or) playing and it’s very personal. It’s a true gift of sharing and it takes a lot of courage from anybody to share that deep emotional side.”
Over the years she has seen that herself in the classroom.
“The students here have shared so much with me over the past 20 years, that there’s a strong connection within the classrooms, the support the kids give each other and the relationship we all have together in coming together to create something.”
It’s something that makes her excited to go to school each day, and to help develop musical skills in her students.
“It’s amazing to watch that process in someone that’s never played before or sung before, then over the few months of going to the program developing skills, then of course they stick with the program,” she said.
“By the time they graduate they’re really fine musicians.”
That is one of elements of her job she looks forward to, to see the confidence grow in her students as they go through the school’s music program.
“With all of that comes confidence, you can see them glowing and being able to give up themselves.”
“For them to get up on stage and give themselves that way, seeing them grow with their pose and see them stand, keep themselves and become really strong, confident individuals.”
Work has also continued on a number of other textbooks, one of which is near the end of its production.
“It’s almost finished, we’ve done two CDs and the third one is in the process for this year, but the second CD is finished and the textbook that will go with it is almost done and that’s through Inhabit Media. They’re excellent.”
Whenever she’s not quite as busy being a teacher she eventually hopes to help develop the music curriculum for Nunavut.
“It would be really nice to help develop that and to help create more resources for classroom teachers.”
“That’s definitely one of my dreams. It would be really nice to see a systematic program to go from K to 12 if possible that promotes Inuktitut so there’s also language acquisition.”