A recording session with local country music star Donny Parenteau has led to a new song about the community of St. Louis.
St. Louis Public School's Grade 10 Art class had the chance to learn from and work with Parenteau in November 2021. The project has since evolved into St. Louis Song, a new piece the students created under Parenteau’s guidance.
This project began when teacher Virginia Kostyniuk asked Parenteau to speak to her class about songwriting. Soon the project evolved into writing a song and then recording it. To do this, Parenteau asked the students to write poems in class about St. Louis.
“The curriculum had the Saskatchewan artist interview or study in it and so I thought I would phone Donny since he is local,” Kostyniuk explained. “I phoned to see if he would come and speak to the class (and) when I called he phoned back very quickly. We had a bit of a discussion and he said 'well why don't we write a song with the kids. I said, ‘well we can do that, that would be really good.’”
After students finished writing their poems, the class had a virtual meeting with Parenteau where they picked a line from every student poem. Over the course of four virtual sessions, these lines became the words to the song and Parenteau came up with the music.
Kostyniuk said it was nice to tie it back to the town.
“When Donny put music to it, it sounded really good,” she said. “We talked a little further and he said, ‘well we could record this.’ I didn't know how but he did. We worked together and we recorded it. Then he wanted the students to sing and so the students agreed and we had them singing in the background for the chorus.”
In June 2022, Parenteau came with Blue Walls Studio and recorded and filmed in the library of the school. They were one of several partners involved in the project. Others included the St. Louis branch of the Wapiti Library, the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division and the Gabriel Dumont Institute.
“The kids they were a little apprehensive at first but now they are pretty pumped by this,” Kostyniuk said. “Some of my students work in PA and they are being recognized by people that are coming into the stores that they work at and they are saying, ‘hey, you were in the video’ so they are pretty excited about that.”
Blue Walls Studio did the video work, while the St. Louis branch of the Wapiti Library provided the funding and the Gabriel Dumont Institute provided the funding for the four writing sessions with Parenteau. The school division provided money for the recording portion along with the Wapiti branch.
St. Louis Public School Principal Greg Walker also expressed gratitude on behalf of the school to each of the partners involved in this effort.
“We had many local groups who took an interest and contributed to this project,” he said.
“Without grants from the St. Louis Branch of the Wapiti Library, the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division, and the Gabriel Dumont Institute we would not have been able to finance a project of this magnitude. Gary O and the Blue Walls studio provided the technical expertise that allowed the video to reach such a professional quality, and Donny was able to combine his musical talent with an ability to make the students feel comfortable and confident enough to engage in this work.”
Walker also stressed the key role that Kostyniuk played in making this a success. He credited her vision and connections for making the project go, and her persistence in making the project a high priority for the school.
“I would just like to stress, this really was Virginia's baby,” Walker said. “It's quite an amazing thing for a little town like St. Louis to have 50,000 views with a video like this. It just shows the connections that people have to a place like this and we have certainly benefitted.
“We released (the video on) our school Facebook page. Just getting that out there and having people connect back to our social media has been valuable. I think it's really helped to build that relationship and strengthen that relationship.”
The public premiere of the video was held at the school’s Meet the Staff Night on Sept. 15 with many families packing the gym to see the video and to enjoy stew and bannock.
Members of the St. Louis Wapiti Library Board, the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division, as well as Gary O of Blue Walls Studio and Parenteau were all in attendance.
Parenteau returned to the school the next Tuesday on his Metis Musical tour where he taught the students about Metis music and culture and also spoke about the new video before playing it for the entire student body.
“That was a bit of serendipity as well in that Donny was doing a tour for several schools that have a Metis connection doing a presentation on Metis music and we had him booked in for that around the same time as we were releasing the song,” Walker explained. “He was able to combine both presentations together and he kind of incorporated our song into his presentation that he gave for us at the school.
“It was a nice way for us to do the song (for) our student population. It introduced it to the parents and some community members the week before.”
“In the school crowd you could hear students saying 'hey I live by there' and 'that's on my street' and 'I know that person,’” Kostyniuk said. “They were pretty excited to see all of the places that they see regularly every day on the screen.”
Later that evening, the video was posted to the school’s Facebook page.
Kostyniuk also thanked everyone involved.
“We are ever so grateful to the St. Louis Branch Wapiti Library Board, the Gabriel Dumont Institute, the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division, Gary 0, his son Ethan, and Blue Walls Studio, and especially to Donny Parenteau,” she said.
“Not only did the students far exceed the outcomes of the course, they also learned how to take a project idea from start to finish, and had an authentic once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The video is posted on the school’s Facebook page where it has had over 49,000 views since it was posted. It can also be seen on Youtube where it has 1,200 more views.
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Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald