Michael Paglia’s Grade 11 class at All Saints Catholic Secondary School in Whitby, Ont., was honoured for digital ingenuity at CBC Music and MusiCounts’ 2020 Canadian Music Challenge. Photo courtesy Michael Paglia

Ingenuity shines through for Catholic music class

  • January 6, 2021

In a year when everything was virtually, uhhhh, virtual, Michael Paglia and his music students at All Saints Catholic Secondary School in Whity, Ont., were honoured for their contribution to this virtual reality. 

Paglia and the 15 Grade 11 students took the CBC Music and MusiCounts 2020 Canadian Music Challenge competition’s new Top Virtual Video award for their performance of a vocal-instrumental hybrid of “Hand in My Pocket,” a centrepiece tune on the influential Alanis Morissette album Jagged Little Pill.

“Jagged Little Pill still is one of the top-grossing solo female albums of all time, and I particularly like that song,” said Paglia, an educator who in June was honoured with the Music Teacher of the Year prize from the Oshawa Music Awards. “I looked at the instrumentation available to us while looking at the list of songs we could choose, and I felt ‘Hand in My Pocket’ would work well with the trumpet, viola, French horn, drums, alto sax, percussion and trombone.”

None of the schools from coast-to-coast vying for placement within 10 contest groupings found out about this brand-new category until the judging committee publicized the winners and finalists Dec. 15. This online video honour, with its $3,000 prize for new instruments, salutes digital and performance creativity.     

“It was a wonderful surprise as there was no sign of this category coming at all,” said Paglia, who has been behind All Saints’ entries into the CBC challenge since his arrival three years ago. “I imagine it was conceived when the judges were completing their deliberations because the press release mentions that it was a surprise addition due to the high number of videos submitted because of the pandemic.”

Juno-nominated singer-songwriter Terra Lightfoot, oboist and hornist Ron Cohen Mann, hip-hop performer Odario Williams and mezzo-soprano opera vocalist Julie Nesrallah served as the judges for the music challenge. The jury said of the “Hand in My Pocket” performance: “A wonderful spirit of together-apart carries this performance, which is filled with dynamic and energized performances.”

Achieving that “together-apart” dynamic was no easy technical feat for Paglia, who weaved together 15 individual performance videos with his wife Candace’s help. Musically partnering with his significant other is effortless for the pair who also perform as a pop duo. The music of Candace & Michael has accrued more than two million streams across their social media platforms. 

Orchestrating a Zoom call for all the students to perform as a collective proved more challenging as various Wi-Fi networks’ lag time prevents synchronicity. Practising the tune in-person at school was not an option either because COVID-19 restrictions did not permit instrument usage. Yet Paglia and his students found a way to transcend those limitations. 

“I first arranged each student’s part and then I provided them with a backing track that they could use while learning a key skill of practising with a metronome,” Paglia explains. “The students then recorded their parts and sent an audio and video track to me and then I mixed them together. We did have group Zoom calls throughout to discuss the project and I would check in with individual instrumentalists.”

Paglia adds that while he enjoyed this unique experience with his pupils, he awaits the day when they can “come together as a community to play music.”

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