Welcome to the new Board Blog page. Here the members of the Coalition’s Board of Directors discuss the issues impacting music education in their home communities, which stretch from Atlantic Canada to Vancouver Island.
We invite you to get in touch with the Board and participate in the discussion.
Geneviève Cimon is the Director of Music Education at Canada’s National Arts Centre where she overseas programs in young artist training, teacher enrichment, youth and family programming, adult learning, community engagement, and music education advocacy on both national and international scales. In the NAC’s 40th anniversary year, these programs engaged 40 partners from across the country to reach 120,000 individuals in live performance and over 200,000 on-line. Geneviève has a diverse background in piano performance, English literature, ethnomusicology, communications and music education. She holds an A.R.T.C. in piano performance, B.A.s in English and Music from the university of Ottawa, an M.A. York University, and pursued doctoral studies at McGill University before joining the NAC in 2002. In 2012 she participated in the Governor General’s Leadership Conference. She is passionate about the role the arts play in transforming lives and communities.
Why are you involved with the Coalition? What is your role? I became involved with the Coalition as a co-producer of the first Music Monday celebration in 2005. We’ve celebrated Music Monday every year since on both Parliament Hill and now in Ottawa’s City Hall with Mayor Jim Watson speaking and hundreds of youth singing. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to join the Coalition as a Board member last year as I believe there is a need to advocate for quality school music programs in our country.
Why is music important? How has music affected your life? Music is a universal language that transcends all kinds of socio-economic and cultural boundaries. It is thrilling to witness the healing powers of music first hand and to see children experiencing the joy of making music and feeling it in their bodies. I grew up listening to my father singing French folk songs and my mother blasting opera every Saturday morning as my wake-up call! I started to play the piano at age seven and was teaching the neighborhood kids by the time I was 13. It was a source of joy, fulfillment and an opportunity to let go my teenage angst in a positive way! I’ve never been able to get away from Music even as I studied other subjects….I somehow always found a musical connection to consider and explore. Music has enriched my life considerably and my passion is to give every child the opportunity and access to a similar life affirming experience.
What value does the Coalition have for music education in Canada? The Coalition is a hub for engaging Canadians coast to coast to coast in coming together to advocate for quality school music programs. We need that voice to be strong and loud especially as so many schools no longer hire music specialists or make time in their schedules for music instruction.
How would you define ‘good quality music education’? What does it entail? Good quality music education is taught by a music specialist or by a generalist teacher who has received sufficient music training to be able to teach music. A good quality music education encompasses not only the opportunity to learn about the history of music, but also to experience music, to make music, and to enjoy music! It entails the opportunity to have a regular music class, with an enthusiastic teacher, great instruments, and opportunities to perform.
What role can the arts play in sustainable community models? The arts has a very important role to play in bringing people together and providing a safe space for creative expression and dialogue. These opportunities are essential for building sustainable communities.
Dr. Eric Favaro is a passionate education advocate who has devoted his entire career to helping teachers gain a better understanding of the importance of an education in and through the arts. He is respected nationally and internationally as an innovator and advocate for effective programs in Arts Education.
This year’s Music Monday – May 7 – marks my 40th anniversary in the teaching profession. It was that day in 1972 that I walked across the stage at St. Francis Xavier University to receive a BEd degree with specialization in music education. I often reflect on the limited preparation I had for my career, and the basic understandings of music making that were to influence the way I taught the subject. For the most part I understood that music was a performance medium and to be a successful music educator I had to teach and re-teach, drill and perfect, until the desired outcome was achieved and my students could outshine others that they may have competed against in local festivals.
My career took many interesting turns, and to support me in every new endeavour I took advantage of many professional opportunities to learn the skills I needed to improve my choirs and bands. I attended workshops and seminars, did advanced degrees, attended conferences, and read extensively. I soon came to realize that the “drill and kill” method of teaching music was turning me and my students off. There were constant battles to practice and attend rehearsals, and if things were not right, we kept doing it until they sounded just as I wanted them to sound.
Suddenly one day I had a revelation after attending a working with R. Murray Schaffer. He had us exploring sounds around us, sensing our environment, recreating sounds in nature, inventing notation to represent sounds, and doing lots of “ear cleaning” as he called it. Lights went off in my head and I realized this was something I could explore with my elementary students in classroom music lessons as we created wonderful group compositions and various forms of soundscapes. In April, 1975 I had my grade 2-3 class from St. Monica’s Elementary School in Calgary perform an original composition in the Kiwanis Music Festival at the Jubilee Auditorium. We had entered the class called “Choral – own choice”, and I was anxious as we sat waiting our turn to go on stage. We heard wonderful 2 and 3-part singing before our turn came, and I wondered what my students were thinking as we approached the stage when called. St. Monica’s was an inner-city school with many challenges. We stood on stage in a circle and from the centre I conducted our class aleatoric composition entitles “Bees” with words by Ogden Nash. At the end of the piece there was silence in the auditorium. Suddenly the adjudicator, the late Lloyd Bradshaw from Toronto, stood and applauded and asked us to perform it once again. He saw the wonderful sense of accomplishment on the faces of my students and the fact that they took a huge risk and stood tall with the best of the choral groups they were competing against. We were chosen to perform in the Concert of the Stars, and it was after that that I began to really observe my young students for the first time, to see them take risks, experiment, solve problems, and capture their inner thoughts and feelings in sound. Most striking was the level of involvement and the commitment to the music they were making. They were profoundly engaged, and even those who would never try out for the school choir or a band programme all of a sudden were making beautiful and meaningful music, and they were proud of it.
Fast forward time to April 23, 2012 when I sat in a theatre in Halifax with 1,000 delegates assembled to hear a talk by Sir Ken Robinson. I had attended his talks before, and debated about hearing the familiar message once again, but I thought since he was in the area I should go. This time I found him much more engaging as he related stories of his earliest memories of school when, as a handicapped student – he had contracted polio at age four and still has physical limitations – he spoke of being placed in a school with other handicapped students. Every student in his class had a disability of one sort or other, so no one stood out as better than the others. Sir ken talked about how different most public schools are from this model, and how our education system, thanks to standardized testing and the strong push to “raise standards” works on the deficit model, focusing on what students cannot do. I immediately was reminded of the St. Monica’s School experience when all my students had equal opportunities and instead of a drill and kill approach to music education, we adopted a more collaborative, interactive and creative approach. Music making truly became a celebration of what students could create and ultimately perform, albeit sometimes very primitive and not your “standard” repertoire.
I retired from public education six years ago, and throughout the latter part of my career I moved from the classroom to an administrative role, with the last six years devoted to work at the Nova Scotia Department of Education. In both those capacities I had the opportunity to push a more creative approach to the teaching of music. Curriculum that was subsequently developed had its primary focus on improvisation and composition, and although this approach was generally met with skepticism by many music educators, there were some teachers who really took to the new pedagogy and developed it further.
Since retiring, I have maintained an active role in curriculum development in Nova Scotia and I was very pleased to see the launch of their most recent curriculum projects – Explore Music 7, 8, and 9 and Band Instruments 7, 8, and 9. Now the province has a continuous curriculum from Primary – 12 that honours and celebrates the musical creativity of all students. Now students improvise and compose in every lesson, even in performance classes like band, orchestra and choir. They are performing their own works, and arranging familiar tunes for ensembles. Moreover, the new “informances” outshine the performances of polished works that often were the result of rehearsing a set of 4 or 5 pieces for the entire year to be performed at a festival or year-end concert. Most importantly, students now are articulating their musical learnings, and they are encouraged to take an active role in the interpretation of standard works.
Once could question the integrity of this approach and the true value for developing musicians. I strongly feel that the role of music in schools is to develop a love of music, and an understanding of what it is to be a musician, whether as a performer, composer, or participant in an audience. We want our communities to be thriving, creative and musical places, and we want generations to come to understand and value the role of music in our lives. This to me is the most important aspect of a music education.
Sadly I recall a story of a first year teacher I once hired about 20 years ago. I asked her why she chose music as a career. She confided in me that she always loved music, and that at the end of the final graduation concert many of her classmates put their instrument back in the case for the last time. They had developed such a negative feeling towards music because of the “drill and kill” approach that they had experienced for thirteen years that they vowed never to put themselves through that again. The young teacher admitted that she decided then that she would become a music teacher to make a change in how music is taught. As a side bar, she is one of the most effective music teachers I have met, and her students excel in music, particularly when her senior bands perform their own compositions and arrangements. They excel because they have a sense of accomplishment in what they have experienced and achieved.
As a board member of the Coalition for Music Education I want to reinforce my strong opinion that music making is much more than preparing for a performance or a professional career in music. As an advocacy group, we have a responsibility to celebrate best practices and hold up models of excellence in music. Ironically these are often not our award winning ensembles. As Sir Ken reinforced, we need to personalize education so we are meeting the needs of those in front of us, taking them from where they are to the best that they can be. Do we do this by drilling a piece of music for months at a time? No, we do it by allowing them to discover their own musical aptitudes, and developing them to their full potential. Happily, I review curriculum from across the country, and although we on the east coast have been doing it for several years now, the trend to more student-cententric music lessons with a focus on improvisation and composition has become the norm in many provinces. The challenge now is to recognize and celebrate the creative abilities of students so they do not remain stagnant as “musical robots” but rather musicians who know and understand all aspects of the music making process.
I am a member of the Coalition board and Chair of the development committee, which is charged with making the Coalition sustainable over the long term. It’s our 20th Anniversary next year, so we’re not doing too badly! I have been peripherally involved with [CMEC partner] the BC Coalition for many years, and have served as a speaker at a number of their events. It seems that I have been involved in music and music education most of my life. While in high school, I taught at the Calgary Conservatory of Music and played in orchestras, jazz bands and rock groups while at university (and beyond). After starting my teaching career in Whitehorse, Yukon, I moved to Langley, BC to work as an itinerant elementary band teacher. Following a year when I worked in the music industry I was appointed as Fine Arts Coordinator in the Kamloops School District and then, five years later, moved to Coquitlam as Fine Arts Coordinator. My final move, before I retired, was to the Burnaby School District where I served as Director of Instruction for 21 years. The Fine Arts were always included in my portfolio of responsibilities. I’ve been actively helping to organise Music Monday since 2009.
Why is music making so important for young Canadians?
Too often we try to rationalise the need for young people – and adults – to participate in music, whether that’s making music or listening to music. We cite all of the research that demonstrates music’s effect on discipline, on improving mathematics skills or teaching teamwork, but in reality, music is inherently beneficial. It is good in and of itself. Music is transformational, it is good for the soul; it can move you tears, live music in particular.
Though I believe music has a very special benefit, I actually think young people should participate in a variety of arts at school, whether that’s music or drama or dance or visual art or any combination… we only produce well-rounded, emotionally literate children when we expose them to a range of subjects, not just the core of languages, maths and science.
Music is such an important part of our cultural heritage and cultural make up as Canadians. I believe that everyone can learn to participate successfully in some form of music-making, and we all love listening to it. It’s an art form that touches everybody.
What are the biggest challenges facing music educators in your province?
It’s generally true across the country that there’s a deficit in funding for music education. This has a significant impact on the resources available to teach music effectively. Government itself is under pressure, there are so many other important services vying for its attention – healthcare, transportation – the broad disbursement of public funds seems to make it impossible to have every service operate at the highest standard.
That said, school trustees and many school administrators are able to make funding decisions at a local level, which means that while some schools struggle to provide for music makers, some manage to provide excellent facilities and sufficient resources. I’d implore decision makers at all levels to help redress the imbalance by dedicating funds to making music in the classroom.
In an ideal world, what facilities would every Canadian school have for young music makers?
A dedicated music room equipped with high quality equipment, and a developmentally based, sequential music program taught by a specialist music teacher. I would also say that specialist teachers are essential – especially those who are enthusiastic and able to create a positive environment for children as they learn! An equality of opportunity is key, if every child had access to good resources through their school music program we’d be in a great place.
How can people in the community help get there?
By showing that they value music, in public dialogue, at the dinner table in their homes, and encouraging and supporting their children by any means possible.
What advice would you have for parents wanting to support their children’s music making?
Offer the opportunities that you are able to support. Make the best of wherever you are and whatever you have; if you live in an apartment, there may not be room for a piano, but you could sure fit a guitar. Lots of things are available that cost very little, especially in the cities, but also many small communities have arts centres that provide low cost or free opportunities for young people to get together and make music.
The key to encouraging your child to participate in music is not for force it upon them – holding a big stick is not going to help your child develop a positive life-long relationship with making music or enjoying music.
Do set rules though, young people need parameters. Enter into a contract with your child and give them choice. If you buy them a guitar, agree between you how often your child should practice. Half an hour a day is enough.
Do you know anyone – a parent, a teacher, a student – who is outstanding at what they do to support music education in your area? Why are they so great?
I will cite the qualities of a colleague I know well, though I won’t name him as one of his many attributes is that he shuns self promotion.
He’s always an advocate for music, he puts his money where his mouth is. He is very knowledgeable, leads by setting out his vision clearly and encourages people to join him in the pursuit of that vision. He never denigrates anything else, and will always offer support to colleagues. He is valued by the communities he engages with, whether they are groups of business leaders, educators, parents or young people.
If you could be at a concert by any musician from any time in history, who would it be and why?
My taste runs the whole gamut, I’ve played so many styles… I’d have to go with Johan Sebastian Bach. My first violin teacher was actually a sixth generation descendant. I’d choose to hear the unaccompanied violin sonatas and partitas.