After only a month of rehearsals, music students from St. Francis Junior High School and Catholic Central High School spent a day in November to film and record their unique rendition of The Tragically Hip’s “Ahead By A Century.” Photo courtesy of Sarah Harmon

Lethbridge Catholic high schools win instrumental division of CBC's music challenge

  • January 16, 2017

Kyle Harmon was working in the band office, finishing his day at school when he got a call on his cellphone from a CBC Radio producer.

"Hey, are you sitting down?" the producer asked.

At first, Harmon was confused as to why CBC Radio was calling but as he continued to listen, the producer explained that the school band won the high school instrumental division of this year's CBC's Canadian Music Class Challenge.

Two days later, word spread to all of Lethbridge, Alta., that the band made up of students from St. Francis Junior High School and Catholic Central High School won a national music contest.

"We had no idea we would win this thing," said Harmon, music teacher at St. Francis Junior High. "I was teaching when the radio show (announced the winners). Someone from our board office found out and spread it to our staff. I got a lot of hugs and high fives."

"It was a lot of good energy, a lot of support, a lot of emails coming in," said Sarah Harmon, Kyle's wife and music teacher at Catholic Central.

Music classes from across the country submitted their own versions of great Canadian songs. The winning school in each category received equipment to build their own recording studio.

Finalists included everything from jazz bands to string orchestras. St. Francis and Catholic Central stood out among the rest with their instrumental rendition of The Tragically Hip's "Ahead By A Century." It featured a refreshing take of the melody with a steel drums section.

For a long time, Kyle and Sarah Harmon sought the right collaborative project for their students. St. Francis and Catholic Central are next door to each other, so the two schools have always been intertwined.

Kyle teaches music to Grades 7-9 students at St. Francis Junior High, while Sarah teaches Grades 10-12 students at Catholic Central. The students share the same music room at Catholic Central, while Kyle and Sarah share the same band office.

When registrations for the CBC music contest came around, it became the perfect opportunity for both schools to take on.

"(The students) were completely excited when we told them," said Sarah. "It really had to come together in a way that reflected our students, and us, trying something new for the first time."

Kyle said their success was shared by the entire community. When they decided to take this on in September, he approached New West Theatre's music director Paul Walker to create the instrumental arrangement.

After a month of rehearsals, the students spent a day recording their song at University of Lethbridge with the Digital Audio Arts students.

Kyle said the students threw themselves into the project. They began work on the project at the end of September. The students listened to "Ahead By A Century" on repeat. They watched live performances and the 1996 music video.

"We started with the significance of the tune," said Kyle. "That's 1996. A lot of those kids had no idea who the band was…. But then, they really took ownership."

Kyle and Sarah agreed that the whole experience instilled more musicianship in their students. The two saw how much the students learned from playing music together. Winning a national music contest and new recording equipment for the schools was also a signal for them to expand their programs.

"We hope for (the equipment) to be used collaboratively. We hope that students from both our schools can have access to this under our direction," said Sarah. "We are interested in trying something new and getting kids to learn how to set up mics and use the sound board and capturing sound."

The schools' winning entry is available at


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