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Music teacher mixes business and creativity

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Perhaps Zane Zalis’ next composition will feature the sounds of medals clanking together.

Zalis, a music teacher at Miles Macdonell Collegiate, could use his own personal stock as he was honoured twice recently, receiving the Prime Minster’s Award for Teaching Excellence and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Zalis, a North Kildonan resident who began teaching at the school in 1980, is also a composer and producer — two roles he said have helped guide his teaching. He said the awards are "an affirmation of everything (he has) done and believed in for the last number of years".

Garth Rempel, who is in his second year of teaching music at the school, said working alongside Zalis has been beneficial for him as a teacher.

"He sets a very high standard and expects his students to maintain it," Rempel said. "That, for me, is fuel, ammunition to carry that on."

Zalis’ blending of his roles is demonstrated by the school’s Mighty Mac Studio, a place where students can record and perform. He based the curriculum off of what he learned in university while supplementing  it with what he’s gleaned from his time working in the industry.

"Those methods work," said Zalis, whose past students include Broadway stage actor Jeremy Kushnier, The Duhks guitarist Jordan McConnell, and singer Ashley Koley. "They not only work at high school, they also work for university students."

Because of Zalis’ connections to the music industry, he is able to bring performers like Michael Burgess, who played the role of Jean Valjean in the Toronto production of Les Miserables, into the studio to interact with students.

"To say the students embrace it is a gentle word," said Zalis, who composed the oratorio I Believe, which has been performed in Winnipeg and Toronto. "They give a big squeeze, a big hug, so to speak, to the opportunities that come with working beside achieved people who want to share their insights with the students."

Since the studio is not a commercial venture, Zalis encourages students to experiment with new sounds. He composed a track called My World which blends samples he received from an Indian record label, a fiddle track from Scottish musician Douglas Montgomery, lead vocals from alumnus Kelsey Cowie, and background vocals from members of the school’s Prodigy program. Prodigy was launched in 1983 as an advanced course for aspiring singers.

"The reason (the songs are) not pop radio is probably because they’re too artsy, but who cares, we’re making music," he said. "Moving forward comes as a result of thoughtful change, challenging systems, challenging precepts, challenging past practices. When you do it in a thoughtful, reflective manner, what you have is the path we’re endeavouring on at Miles Mac."

My World is one of several streaming tracks available on the studio’s new website, www.mightymacstudio.com.

dan.falloon@canstarnews.com

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