Major Minor opens the doors to all-ages opportunities

(Photo by Dawn Gibson/SAIT)

(Photo by Dawn Gibson/SAIT)

Newcomers to Calgary often undergo an enormous amount of adjustments, leaving little time to actually get to know their new home, get engaged in their community or share in their city’s arts and cultural events.

The Calgary Immigrant Education Society (C.I.E.S.), a non-profit organization that offers language, job and life skills classes for new Calgarians, sought to fill that gap in the lives of their students.

A group of the school’s English as a Second Language (ESL) students ventured out to destinations all over the city, surveying Calgarians in an effort to learn more about their new home.

Graham Mackenzie, an instructor at C.I.E.S., spearheaded the project.

“One of the things I focus on is authentic learning, so we surveyed over 1,000 people last year and asked what makes Calgary beautiful, what do they like to do, where do they enjoy going and what did they want to see improved upon.”

As a result of the survey, Mackenzie’s students, who range in age from 18 to 60, discovered that many Calgarians felt there was a noticeable lack of music venues, especially those that cater to all-ages crowds. 

“The most underserved people are under 18; they’re not allowed to go into bars and most of the music scene happens in bars.”

Mackenzie said that newcomers, not just from other countries, but from within Canada, also may not feel welcome or may not know where to go if they want to be a part of Calgary’s music scene. 

Born and bred Calgarians also lose out on opportunities to experience cultural enrichment if newcomers who were musicians in their home countries don’t have a point of contact here.

“When we say ‘all-ages space,’ we don’t just mean for people under 18; an all-ages space is for everyone.”

Bearing this in mind, Mackenzie and his students decided to create the Major Minor Music Project, an event production group who organize, curate and promote all-ages shows in Calgary.

With a goal to gain full non-profit status and to have their own venue, the organization relies heavily on volunteers with funds from their shows put towards the ongoing success of the project.

So far, the group has put on several shows featuring some of Calgary’s best bands and musicians, but it is also important to the project that less established bands and musicians of all ages and genres are represented. 

Bands like Flat Anny, formed by a group of high-schoolers, or Ayush Ghosh, a 16-year-old sitar prodigy, have performed and are a part of Major Minor’s success so far.

The project’s Halloween in January show was a full-on costume party featuring metal and hardcore bands like Numenorean, Outlaws of Ravenhurst and Iron Tusk, as well as the Natosapi drum group.

Major Minor’s next show is Punk Rock Axe Throwing on Feb. 19, at the Backyard Axe Throwing League (BATL). 

For $35, attendees over the age of 16 get to take an axe-throwing lesson and also take in a show featuring bands like Miesha and the Spanks, Night Committee and No More Moments – some of the elite of Calgary’s music scene. Those who are just in it for the music can check out the gig for $10.

The most successful events so far have been the Punk Rock Bowling nights. Both of the previous shows sold out, so tickets to the upcoming March 18 show are likely to get snapped up right away.

Music lovers can treat themselves to a post-St. Patty’s day bowl-a-thon at Paradise Lanes, complete with performances from River Jacks, The Shillelaghs, Foul English and maybe a bagpiper or two.

A lot of work goes into planning these shows, and ideally, Mackenzie would like to see Major Minor become almost entirely self-sufficient. They are always looking for mentors willing to teach volunteers new skills, such as event promotions, sound recording and sound tech skills.

With these training opportunities, volunteer ESL students gain more experience to help them transition into paid positions within the workforce.

So far the response from both volunteers and mentors has been great; there is a place for everyone, and all skills, ages and backgrounds are welcome.

“One of the interesting things about Major Minor is that people can see they’re having a positive effect on the community. You can see that actual empowerment,” said Mackenzie.

“It’s like an incubator, it’s a place where people can grow, and just come to and belong, and know that [they] have worth.”

Visit the Major Minor Music Project’s Facebook page for more details on upcoming shows and volunteer opportunities.

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