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Inspire: Art is life for this Sudbury Secondary student

Whether it’s performing, learning a new instrument or creating a colouring book, Raija Walli knows the arts are where her passion lies
Raija Walli (centre) and Andrew Arth (left) perform at the Lions Christmas Telethon.

Popular culture often attributes the following phrase to Chinese philosopher Confucius, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." Whether the quotable philosopher actually said this is up to some discussion, but nevertheless, the spirit of the quote speaks to the difference between passion and duty.

Raija Walli, a Sudbury Secondary School student, looks forward to never watching the clock. She is passionate about all things creative and plans to pursue a career in the arts.

The multi-talented teen excels in music, and her teachers at Sudbury Secondary have helped her develop skills as a visual artist and introduced her to how to use media arts to tell stories.

"Fantastic singer and all-around artist," says her vocal music teacher Stéphane Ostrander, affectionately known by his students as "Mr. O."

He adds, "She's completed in our silver and gold award-winning choirs at the international Heritage Music Festival in Boston and Chicago."

You can listen to Raija sing here

The school choir was scheduled to compete in Washington, D.C., in 2020 but the festival was cancelled.

With encouragement from her father, Matthew, the mezzo-soprano has learned to play the bass clarinet, piano and guitar. 

Her musical influences include David Bowie, Paramore, Talking Heads, Iron Maiden and Nirvana.

An entertainer has to have an audience and COVID-19 has limited Raija's opportunities, but she was able to participate in her school's production of “Alice in Wonderland” in November 2019. She played the Duchess.

Last fall, she and guitarist Andrew Arth performed during the downtown art crawl. The duo also performed on the CTV Lions Children's Christmas Telethon.

Although the school's choir has not been able to perform live, members have been able to connect virtually for recorded performances.

In addition to music, Raija is interested in visual, media, and graphic arts. 

She says she enjoyed working behind the scenes taping and editing videos highlighting the school's spring concert performances.

This past summer the teen created a colouring book, “Rog's Book of Colouring”. (Rog is one of her nicknames.) She has sold numerous copies at the Good Luck General Store and through social media.

The 18-year-old has plans to attend college in September and has applied to Cambrian as well as Humber and George Brown.

Raija graduated last spring but she returned to Sudbury Secondary to pick up a French credit. She is an Ontario Scholar and received awards for mathematics, vocal and academic excellence, as well as the Arts Education 30th Reunion Award, the Golder Associates Science Award and the Alumni Association Award.

She calls Sudbury Secondary "a second home," and she has missed it during periods of home learning mandated by the province. 

"The school is very accepting … Not being there feels wrong," she says.

She didn't miss the hour-long school bus ride to and from her home in Dowling.

"I would have to be on the bus at 7 a.m. … Sometimes I would sleep or listen to music. It is insufferable to ride a bus that long without headphones."

This inspiring student says her idea of a perfect job would be to own a coffee shop that promotes local artists' work. 

"My second choice would be to teach art or music."

Whatever Raija does in the years ahead, it won't be boring and it won't be work because she will be doing something she loves.

Students who are interested in learning more about arts programs at Sudbury Secondary can visit the virtual open house

Raija Walli's words of inspiration

Music inspires me to make music most of the time, but sometimes it comes from random places like conversations I've had or pictures I've seen. When it comes to art, nature is what inspires me; I find myself drawing and painting plants and landscapes more often than I think I do. In general, I feel most often inspired by my friends.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury.