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Legal academic will write songs for food | Heidi J. T. Exner

Friday, May 15, 2020 @ 12:06 PM | By Heidi J. T. Exner


Heidi J. T. Exner %>
Heidi J. T. Exner
A University of Calgary legal academic, associate professor Howie Kislowicz, has found a creative way to alleviate food insecurity during the pandemic. As his family made efforts to grocery shop less often, the larger stocks of food in his house led him to consider how difficult this time must be for those with limited resources. He said the thought of people in his community going hungry is hard for him bear.

He had written some songs for children before, so he decided to put this talent to use to respond to a fearful situation with something bright and hopeful. He took to Twitter and offered to create songs in exchange for donations to local food banks.

Kislowicz’s offer has been met with incredible enthusiasm, as he is admired for his musical talents as much as his scholarly contributions in constitutional law. He has been using music to teach the law since his very first day teaching at University of New Brunswick’s law school, when he said to his students that if they would sing a question then he would sing the answer.

As a way to engage students, the practice stuck. Kislowicz has formal piano training in classical, pop and rock styling. He has been in bands since his teenage years and even played in a battle of the bands with Arcade Fire. He is self-taught on the guitar, and this is what he used to create many of these recent songs.  

So far, Kislowicz’s project has raised at least $1,000 in donations to food banks. The songs have ranged from a slow country love song to some bouncy musical pieces that parents have asked to have written for their children. There have been songs about pets as well, such as one written for his friend, Dr. Emma Cunlifffe, whom he has known since they both attended a constitutional cases conference in Toronto some years ago. That song is about her dog named Scraps, and Cunliffe, her husband and Scraps are so thrilled with its twangy lead to its goofy chorus, that Scraps has offered to pose for the cover of Kislowicz’s next album.

However, one ditty stands apart, as it has emerged from this project as a new animal law anthem. The song is about a little black cat named Pfeiffer, who aspires to be a lawyer so she can stand up for her rights.

Pfeiffer’s idol is Victoria Shroff, of Vancouver, who is one of Canada’s premier animal law lawyers and who teaches animal law at UBC. Aptly, the song was created in a quasi-punk rock style, and exclaims in Pfeiffer’s voice, “You might think that you can own me — but  like Victoria says, ‘I ain’t no property!’ ”

Shroff loved it and said it “could be the best animal law song of the decade.” Her aim as a lawyer is to make the lives of animals better and she was honoured to be mentioned in a song that has a message that animals are more than property. Shroff addresses the commodification of animals head-on in her work, and she has accomplished a lot to this end in her practice, which has spanned over two decades so far.

According to Kisolwicz, making music is one way he can “get completely out of the everyday,” but his favourite aspect of it is collaboration. For the food bank project, much of his joy comes from seeing how people respond to hearing themselves or their loved ones reflected in a song. He and his long-time bandmate are also planning an online live show on May 16, in which they will be playing songs and telling stories together for another food bank fundraiser.

Heidi J. T. Exner is a JD/MBA candidate at the University of Calgary. She is a published academic, freelance journalist, editor of the Moot Times and she sits on the board of Calgary Legal Guidance. She can be reached on LinkedIn or follow her @theheidikins

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