Craig Cardiff’s Songwriting Workshops Bring Learning to the Airwaves

Students, young and old are learning, and turning their words into the soundtrack of their lives. 

OCDSB students released 22 tracks streaming on the Quarantine Collaboration Workshops playlist on various platforms during the COVID-19 Lockdown. 

Craig Cardiff has spent a lifetime on the road uncovering stories to tell through songs based on the people he encounters. One need only spend some time with his discography to hear a theme that runs through his songs: the anticipation of returning home, the anguish of leaving, and the stories that bridge between the coming and going, and the emotional upheaval of returning, and packing up to leave once again. 

It is one thing to convey these messages to an audience, quite another to use them as a catalyst to inspire young minds towards songwriting. Cardiff has always connected with community during his travels, and part of this connection has been working with schools and children at the craft of songwriting born from the experience we all have.  Held up to the light of a melody strummed from a guitar, these songs contain insight only a well considered experience can draw out.  

As Cardiff points out, “everyone has a song inside.” Of course, the magic of learning is discovering your song; having a Juno nominated singer/songwriter to help you find your voice adds authenticity to the experience; releasing the songs for the world to hear brings an inescapable truth to the process: to have ears listen, one must make the music; make the luck. 

“Each one of us has a song that got us through a hard time,” says Cardiff.  “Most of the workshop is encouraging one another to pause the making of excuses, and focus in on how we can collaborate and finish a song.” Cardiff is a seasoned educator dressed in folk singer cloth: he enables participants to believe not only in their song, but in the need for it to be revealed to the world.  Vitally, Cardiff himself has always allowed his audience to see songs as they develop, and he brings this belief in visible process and visible learning to the high stakes conversation of releasing original material. It is the ultimate example of sharing a work in progress. 

In collaboration with the OCDSB’s Innovation and Adolescent Learning, Cardiff reimagined his sessions into a multi-workshop experience that culminates with releasing student songs on streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music.  However, the workshops are not just for music students – students interested in business, graphic design, creative writing and technology all connect towards a fully-conceived release.  Students learn about all aspects of the process of song creation and distribution.  Students see their songs started, completed, delivered and listened to on streaming services.  “They can’t say they don’t know how the process works – the students own it from beginning to end.  It’s their song and album art up on Spotify”.

Cardiff has been facilitating songwriting workshops with hundreds of students at dozens of schools at multiple grade levels across the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB). In response to the move online during school closures, the songwriting workshops also moved online; it was in this setting that OCDSB students released 22 tracks streaming on the Quarantine Collaboration Workshops playlist on various platforms. 

“The students deserve all the credit – they problem-solved, recorded with what was available, encouraged one another all online, on the google docs and during the google meets.”

Craig Cardiff’s gifts working with reluctant learners, English Language Learners, children of all ages, and drawing out their capacity for song and expression is unparalleled: it is a Master’s Class in engagement through authentic, honest, and kind conversation. The impact can be seen in the classrooms he visits: learners of all ages, including 3 staff teams from the OCDSB in June, grow into a contribution only they can make – something that once established can never be taken away.  

Cardiff released the first single for his forthcoming record under the True North Records banner in May; To Be Safe, Loved & Home began with the concept of home as a writing piece with a group of students from Winnipeg. “Where do we feel safe?” “What do you want to build and be part of.” “Imagine what it could be like.” 

These conversations become part of Craig Cardiff’s material; in turn the questions become the starting point for student songs.  In an era where belonging, and trust, and agency are so important to learning, Cardiff’s special intuition for, and observation of people, is a 21st Century skill OCDSB students, young and old are learning, and turning into the soundtracks of their lives – written by them. 

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