Bearing Witness
6 Dec 2011
Inside the Classics

So there’s this high school out in Ontario, Canada, in a small city about 135 kilometers east of Toronto. The school has the rather clunky name of Peterborough Collegiate & Vocational School, but what it’s really known for is its arts education. Beginning in the 1990s, with the launch of a program called Integrated Arts, the PCVS has drawn creative kids to downtown Peterborough to augment their basic education with intensive music, art, and theater programs in a school that’s been around since 1827. (It’s also the only school located in the city’s downtown district.)

Times are tough, though, even in Canada, and this fall, the local school board voted to close down the PCVS at the end of this school year. Schools that focus on such supposed frivolities as art and music are always easy targets when the budget axe gets sharpened, and to the back-to-basics crowd, the fact that study after study has shown that kids who study music and art also test better in math and English is apparently of no consequence. We’ve even seen it happen here in Minnesota, where we value arts and culture like few other states in the union.

The PCVS kids and parents have been up in arms over the decision, of course. There were protests, packed school board meetings, and the Save Our School movement now has its own website laying out the case for a reversal of the closure decision. As best I can tell, it doesn’t look like they’re winning many battles, but they’re fighting hard.

I probably would never have heard about any of this, though, but for the fact that two teenaged girls decided that the best thing they could do for their school was to set up a couple of microphones and a camera in one of PCVS’s empty stairwells and, well, do this…

Their names are Kate Macdonald & Janelle Blanchard, they apparently call their duo Brown Meadow Bird, and their singing stopped me dead in my tracks this afternoon. Just a couple of Canadian teenagers in a stairwell, singing the way we all do in only our wildest dreams. It’s gorgeous, heartbreaking stuff, and yet there they are, just smiling at each other as they sing, smiling the way you do when you’re with a good friend doing something you love.

They posted the video yesterday, and by evening, alt-country star Neko Case herself (who wrote and sang the song, “Star Witness,”) had already seen it and sent out this Tweet to her 34,000+ followers:

A Neko Case tweet will put you on the path to viral status pretty quickly, and by tonight, Kate and Janelle had racked up more than 5000 views on YouTube. Whether their efforts will be enough to move the needle on a possible reprieve for their beloved school, I don’t know. But their voices make a pretty powerful argument for why schools like PCVS should continue to exist.

<February 2020>

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