In a big bright room on a Saturday morning, a group of adults and children are standing in a circle, breathing to a count of five… “Inhale….hold… exhale….”  Some are recent immigrants and refugees, some are volunteers, and all of them are warming up, getting ready to sing together.  Leading the group is Alicia Borisonik, music educator and musician; two translators relay her instructions into Arabic.  With younger children doing crafts off to the side of the room, under the supervision of volunteers, parents and older children say their names while using their hands to make a rhythmic signature.  Later, everyone closes their eyes and sings tones, creating wordless music that rings out through the high-ceilinged room.

After the warm ups, participants run through some old favourites in new ways.   “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is sung with a twist:  only one word is sung per person around the circle.  There is a lot of laughter, and it becomes clear who has learned and can enunciate specific words of the song.  Later, “This Land is Your Land” turns into a Canadian geography lesson, as the group discusses lyrics referring to Bonavista and the Arctic Circle.

The seven-week program is a partnership between the Community Connections program of CCI and the organization “World Folk Music Ottawa.” The group meets every Saturday morning at the former Ottawa Technical High School in Centretown.  Between 30 and 50 people, adults and children, participate in the program.   The goal is to give space for new immigrants, especially the recently arrived Syrian families, to have fun, meet other people, and work on their English skills by learning songs.  Lunch is included, extending the social opportunities for the participants.

Alicia says she’s been surprised by the interest shown by the young teens in the group, who like to sing and take part in the games.  “I see the happiness of the people,” she says.  “After going through so many difficult circumstances in their lives, for a little while they have a moment of happiness.  So it works!”   She hopes to secure funding to allow the program to be run again.