Joanne Polack — a.k.a. JoPo — may not be a teacher herself, but she's written what one union official has referred to as a “teachers' anthem.”
The new song and music video, “We Are Their Voice,” released by the Sudbury musician Feb. 28, addresses some of the issues in the ongoing labour dispute between the province and Ontario teachers' unions.
JoPo said her mother was a teacher and now many of her friends are teachers. She said she was brought to tears one day when she drove past a teachers' picket line and beeped her horn, and knew she wanted to write a song.
Although put out relatively recently, the music video has already garnered more than 12,500 views on YouTube.
JoPo said Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) Rainbow local president Barb Blasutti told her the song has raised the morale of her members as they walk the picket lines.
This isn't the first time JoPo has been inspired to write a song by news headlines.
In the summer of 2018, she released a song and music video called “Parry Sound 33,” honouring the firefighters who were trying to put out the large forest fire burning at the time in the Key River area, south of Sudbury.
“I just want to stand up for what's right,” JoPo said. “I'm passionate about my songwriting. I'm honest in my songwriting. I guess it's the direction I've been going in some of my songs.”
JoPo said she wanted to speak to teachers to find out what they really thought before writing the song.
She spoke to friends who are teachers, but teacher and union steward Allison Tryon was especially helpful by reaching out online to members across the province about JoPo's songwriting project, and asking for their input.
JoPo said the response from teachers was so overwhelming that she still hasn't been able to read every single message.
“The lyrics are very clear,” she said. “It's basically standing up during our current labour dispute and fighting for public education. Mental health matters. Special needs matter.
“You can learn from computers to a certain extent, but computers can't teach you compassion, computers can't teach you empathy.”
She said one of the lyrics in the song is “the love that’s in front of you is the love we leave behind,” referring to the need to stand up for the next generation.
Seventeen different musicians were involved in the song's recording.
Besides JoPo herself, that includes Josh Turnbull on drums, Guy Coutu on acoustic lead guitar, Jeff Valentini on bass, Zach Clement on keyboard and Jonathan Poenn on cello.
You'll also notice some young voices on the track. Local vocal teacher Kelly Perras arranged for 11 of her students between the ages of nine and 17 to perform on the song.
The song was recorded at Jack-Indie-Box Studios with engineer Jacques Grylls, who is also a math, French and music teacher.
The music video was filmed by Bertrand Productions, and includes footage of teachers on the picket lines in Sudbury and across the province.
“I just want to say a big thanks to everyone involved,” JoPo said. “I'm standing up for what's right. Cuts hurt kids. I just want to get this song out there to everybody.”
The song is also now available for download on sites including iTunes, CD Baby, Spotify, Google Play and Apple Music.