by Anne Simpson
AS: Jeremy, tell me a bit about yourself, about your passion for music.
JH: I grew up in British Columbia, and when I was around age ten we moved to Nova Scotia, where my mother held down two jobs. There are six kids in my family, four of whom are adopted. We were a wily (to say the least) bunch, a single home melting pot. When I was thirteen, I got a job on a farm in Yarmouth. The owners of the farm were a kind, older couple from Massachusetts. They knew we didn’t have much in the way of extras around home, what with my mother being the only breadwinner at that time, so one day when I was fifteen, they told me to “go upstairs to the attic and get that box up there.” I did, and in the box was an acoustic guitar. They gave it to me, and that was when I began to teach myself about music. I had no idea then what an enormous part of my life music would become.
AS: How did you get connected with Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!)?
JH: Jen Leuschner, a Public Health Manager and Co-Chair of AHA! had me come and play at her daughter’s birthday party. I kept the kids entertained… and contained, I hope. I met Jen prior to that party through my wife, but I think she knew about me because of my children’s band and our ECMA win.
AS: Tell me about that award.
JH: It was the ECMA Children’s Recording of the Year Award for 2014. I didn’t expect to win, or even be nominated, so it was great.
AS: So you got involved with AHA! and then what happened?
JH: Jen introduced me to Michelle Thompson, School Health Nurse Liaison, and Tara Hassin, Schools Plus Community Outreach Worker, both of whom work for the Strait Regional School Board. Michelle and Tara got me involved with the Schools Plus program, which helps identify kids in schools who might do well with extra support.
AS: And what were some of the highlights when you were doing that work?
JH: There are so, so many. I worked with one little boy, creating little tunes and exploring instruments, specifically, a djembe and my ukulele. Here, you can listen to an audio file on my phone—he’s singing a lullaby he was making up. He doesn’t have a father figure at home. His song is about a child being put to sleep, and the parents telling the child they love him. There, can you hear it?
AS: It’s beautiful—he’s got such a sweet voice.
JH: Music can be such a lifeline.
AS: Can you tell me more about that?
JH: Well, it’s one of the ways we develop avenues for ourselves in youth—as adults, we don’t want to box anyone in. It is one of the greatest roles we have as adults, to help provide and nurture development tools for the youth around us. Music, the arts—they’re such accessible forms of this. A guitar, a sketchbook, a barn to crank out noise with your friends.
AS: So on the one hand you’re giving kids strategies for how to deal with things and on the other hand you’re letting them fool around and play music. What other plans do you have?
JH: I hope to be able to keep this work going with kids. One of the things I’m doing is a program at the library. Sheila Sears, the Director of Public Health, asked if I would approach the kids who spend many of their afternoons there. I started spending time with them, listening to them, just being an ear sometimes. It’s been great, and it’s made me think about what kids need and don’t have here. They’d like a skateboard park, so that’s my next project. We’ve talked to the owner of the mall and she really likes our proposal, so we’re taking the next steps.
AS: You see all kinds of ways you can work for the community, don’t you?
JH: Well, I mean, some of this started with AHA! Everyone at AHA! made me feel part of the community. There was overwhelming support there for me to do what I wanted to do.
AS: And your dream is to continue to do this work with kids, the kind of work you did with Schools Plus?
JH: Yes. It’s so important for kids to have access to the arts. It’s one of the building blocks of community, and it’s certainly one of the building blocks of an individual’s mental health. It’s just so important.