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Artist-in-residence Lyz Jaakola visits area schools

Artist in residency Lyz Jaakola, a Native American musician and educator, visited four elementary schools in Bemidji over two days performing a variety of traditional instruments. She uses a violin to show how a modern instrument can be used to play an old song on Wednesday at Northern Elementary. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Lyz Jaakola welcomed students in Ojibwe on Wednesday morning, greeting fifth-graders as they entered Debbie Miller’s classroom at Northern Elementary.

"I notice when I come to Bemidji there are lots of signs in Ojibwe and that makes me feel really good, that the language is valued here," said Jaakola, an American Indian musician and educator.

Jaakola, who lives on the Fond du Lac reservation, spent the day at Northern, teaching students about Ojibwe music as an artist-in-residence though a Minnesota Public Radio program.

Jaakola offered instruction on four Ojibwe instruments: the voice, shakers, drums and flutes. She also detailed the history of each and offered examples of how they are utilized in the Ojibwe culture.

Jaakola herself is a singer, she noted. Her Ojibwe name means Lady Who Knows How to Sing. She explained here are two types of Ojibwe lyrics, those that use true words and those that are "vocables," or utterances and sounds.

"One of the first things I do whenever I meet a new group of people is I sing to kind of center myself, to remind myself what I am doing here," she said, before she opened with a traditional Ojibwe song.

She has learned to play multiple instruments over the years, including the violin and flute, which when she was a child was generally used more so by males.

"When I was first growing up and learning about Ojibwe musical instruments, it was told to me that it was really a boy’s or a man’s instrument so I didn’t really connect with it," she said. "Now, culture’s changing … and so there are women and girls who do play the flute today."

Jaakola has had appearances scheduled all week, from Cass Lake-Bena on Monday; to Solway, Lincoln and J.W. Smith elementaries on Tuesday; to Laporte today; and Bagley on Friday.

Her appearances are part of an MPR effort to expand its pilot program from last year providing in-school concerts to elementary schools, according to an MPR email. Schools received advanced curricula and each child is given an MPR-produced Artists-in-Residence CD.

The project is funded in part by Legacy funding, John and Ruth Huss, an anonymous donor and a grant from the George W. Neilson Foundation. ."