Sunday, January 16, 2011

How often do guest artists visit schools in your city?

For the past week, I’ve been reading The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible by Eric Booth. It`s a great book, although somewhat dense at the beginning, and I recommend every musician to take a look at it. I had to order it through Carleton`s interlibrary loan system (known as Racer) which, I might add, is a real tool.
While reading Mr. Booth’s book, I’ve been reflecting on the amount of arts learning in my elementary school curriculum. At my elementary school (Manor Park Public School, Ottawa), in the ‘90s, we would have a touring troupe or musical group perform about once a year and there was never any lead-up to the performance. What I mean to say is that before the assembly, the teachers wouldn’t tell us what we were about to see, as if it were as surprise to everyone. These performances seemed to be treated as if they were entertainment, not an opportunity for learning.

We only began to incorporate music into our classroom when I was in 5th grade, and my teacher made it clear to us that this was his own initiative, not one by the province or district. In the first half of 6th grade we did have 45 minutes a week with a singing instructor, but by January the program was scrapped.
It upsets me that music wasn’t at all part of my elementary school education. I was introduced to musical performance when I moved to junior high school and since then have gone on to train as a professional musician. I’m not saying that elementary schools need to be equipped with musical instruments and dedicated music teachers, but rather children from an early age should be using music to make connections with the curriculum. I feel that I learn something much better by being engaged with the subject matter, don’t you?
A great example of incorporation of curricular materials in Mr. Booth’s book was one of a Teaching Artist who had all of the kids play various rhythms that are often found in African music. The students tried to combine various rhythms and make a small polyrhythmic piece. They then listened to popular songs in the 1830s and ‘40s and then discussed how African slaves brought their musical style with them to America, and how they would incorporate their musical background using ‘American’ instruments (Violins, piano, etc.).
After reading this example I thought it was a great way to get kids engaged in a subject which often isn’t viewed as extremely exciting to an eight year old.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with the Arts when you were in your elementary school days, so please feel free to put them in the ‘comments’ section.
Until next time!


  1. Talking about classical music...

    Here in north America, Every time I go to classical music concerts/recitals with my 9 year old daughters, my daughters are the youngest among audience. Most of people there have grey hair, and I merely see people under 30. Apparently, the future of classical music is not bright.

    I am a Tokyo-born, received all my education at public schools in Japan. At my elementary and junior high, I had three hours of music lessons every week. At my high school, I had two hours of music. Now, I am not a musician at all, but I am sure these music classes nurtured my ability to enjoy classical music. I think I wouldn't have enjoyed concerts/recitals as I do without these musical training. The same can be applied to many people in Japan as we see much much more younger audience at classical music venues.

    This article

    reminded me of a chef's challenge in public education in England.

    I wonder there is any artist who is knocking the door of public schools.

  2. Thank you very much for sharing!

    It seems Japan is much more forward-thinking when it comes to classical music.

    It's hard for live performances these days to compete against ipods or video games even when the potential audience has the right background. If there's a recording of it, often one thinks that the live performance will be just about the same. I wonder if the Grey haired audience is always so prominent because they aren't surrounded by modern technology as our youth is today?

    Jamie Oliver is an excellent example of someone trying to better the health of children in school. I never saw a connection with him until reading your comment - thank you for that. I, too, wonder if there is an artist knocking on the doors of public schools.



  3. I'm really enjoying your blog -- it's thought-provoking, and funny -- always a good combination.

    I am thinking hard about my classical music experiences in elementary school... (I attended 3 elementary schools: 2 in Montreal and 1 in Ottawa.) I remember always being in a choir. Whether it was just our class, or all the grade twos -- I always sang in choir. I remember in 5th grade, at this little school in Montreal, we listened to Schubert's Trout Quintet. At the time, I had already been playing violin for 8 years and piano for 5. I didn't get TV until 5th grade, so my parents' classical record collection was my entertainment. I knew the Theme and Variations movement of the Trout inside and out by then. I was VERY excited to get to listen to it and possibly discuss it in school. Alas, while we did get to listen to it, which was very enjoyable, we did not discuss anything beyond what instruments were playing. I was disappointed.

    In my work as a private violin teacher, I am constantly reminded that children are bright, curious AND interested in all things culture and the Arts. They WANT to discuss the nitty gritty behind a work of music. They are fascinated to learn about the quirks of the great composers. I don't even think i-pods are the problem... per se... The lack of *exposure* to culture in schoop among today's children is a horrible epidemic! It stems not only from our politicians' backwards belief that the Arts are a "frill", but also from the poor arts education the PARENTS of these kids received. With few exceptions, my non-musician friends know NOTHING about classical music. Sadly, many of them would LOVE to know a thing or two. I have performed for most of them on several occasions. I even whip out my violin to play carol duets with an amateur violinist friend at an annual Christmas party. Everyone loves the music. They close their eyes and are transported. My friend and I are sight-reading... and we may have had a few... This is not the most polished performance! Yet, these same people almost NEVER come out to hear me play concerts in public. (In defense of some of my friends, it's hard to get out to do anything when you have young children... so, we'll see if things change as the kiddies get older...) But, you get the idea. OK -- I'm sure I've written way too much. Thanks again for the wonderful food for thought.

    Laura Nerenberg


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