Cariboo musicians and youth combined forces on a song and video project to share a “hopeful and inclusive message” to raise awareness and encourage action around climate change, to be released Feb. 28.
Shannon O’Donovan-Zirnhelt, a singer-songwriter who lives in Beaver Valley, led the project, along with Pharis Romero, a Juno-award-winning musician based in Horsefly, and Dena Baumann, music teacher and singer-songwriter. O’Donovan had led a previous video project with local youth focusing on climate change for a song she wrote called A Mother’s Plea.
This time, the youth were to be engaged with the songwriting process itself and the message was meant to be a bit gentler.
The three women mentored the group of nine students, leading them through a series of five workshops over the course of a few months to write the song titled We Can Think it Out.
Students Julia Zirnhelt, Raven Shepherd, Bodhi Elwick, Seamus Zirnhelt, Finn Zirnhelt, Ella Kruus, Scarlett Johnston, Lucia Johnston and Eileen McIntyre all participated and helped write the song and create the video.
Julia Zirnhelt, and Ella Kruus worked on climate action projects before, leading climate strike protests in downtown Williams Lake and the two helped spearhead the first video project with O’Donovan, who is Julia’s aunt.
Julia said this project was meant to engage with people in a more positive way and share peoples’ experiences around climate change, showing how we are all impacted, but without pushing people away with extreme messaging.
“It was such a fascinating project,” said O’Donovan, speaking from Whitehorse, Yukon, where she originates and had returned to spend a winter visiting family, noting this has been the warmest winter she had ever experienced in the Yukon.
“I’ve never written a song with people,” the singer-songwriter explained, of the group songwriting project.
The students all brainstormed words and feelings to get things rolling, and initially, O’Donovan said the students were fairly quiet and didn’t necessarily feel comfortable speaking up in front of the group.
“It was a little bit hard at first to figure out what the vibe of the song and the message would be,” said Julia.
“I found it challenging at first, but I had a lot of fun,” recalled Raven Shepherd, a Grade 6 student involved in the project. Raven only knew a couple of the students from her school before taking part in the workshops, but said the women leading them were fun and really helpful.
She said she didn’t know a lot about climate change before they began writing the song, though she had talked about it with her dad, conservation biologist Dr. Chris Shepherd, but the project made her want to do more and learn more around climate change.
After their workshops, students would get homework to then submit words or sentences to be included based on the discussions.
“They would come out with these amazing lines,” said O’Donovan.
“It was amazing how quickly we wrote the song,” marvelled O’Donovan.
She said Romero, an experienced musician and songwriter, Baumann, who is an experienced teacher, and Frances McCoubrey, another teacher who helped out, were huge assets to bringing it all together.
This song and video project also included some students playing instruments, Julia Zirnhelt, played piano and a few played fiddle, O’Donovan’s son Seamus Zirnhelt played drums, and some students even wanted to try singing solos in the alternative-folk song.
“They all did it and it blew my mind,” said O’Donovan, after the group had recorded the song together.
Julia said she wants people to get that this is an issue that is going to affect everyone in the end, so people need to change how they think about some things.
“I hope that it’ll encourage people to do more about climate change and learn more about it,” echoed Raven, who at 11 years old, said she is a bit worried about what climate change means for the future.
While the project actually began in January 2022, it was initially postponed and did not get fully underway with the students until September.
The music was recorded with the help of musician Brent Morton and the video was filmed and will be put together by Rick Magnell, but some stock footage will also be used due to time constraints.
The full music video and song will be released on Feb. 28, and are meant to spread a positive and uplifting message, despite the challenging topic.
“We’re hoping it gets broadcast far and wide,” said O’Donovan.
The project was funded by both the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake and the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society and supported administratively by the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society.
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CaribooClimate changeClimate crisisWilliams Lake