MUSIC MONDAY, MAY 5, 2014: CALL TO ACTION

1908-SeeingOrangeIt is no secret that governments and educational bureaucracies for many years now have been resorting to the reduction and even elimination of music programs in order to cut costs in a way that is not perceived by the general public as weakening public education. At the same time there is an ever-growing abundance of research indicating enormous benefits to school-age students from active participation in music study and performance. These facts notwithstanding, the gulf, between the incontrovertible evidence as to the benefits of participation in music and the perceptions and understanding of the general public, politicians and education bureaucrats, continues to widen.

By the early 1990s educational programs nationwide were becoming so threatened that in 1992 representatives of 20 organizations came together to share ideas to improve the state of music education in Canada and form the Coalition for Music Education in Canada. It quickly began working with parents and other concerned citizens to address concerns about music in schools.

Late in April I spoke to Holly Nimmons, executive director of the Coalition for Music Education, beginning by asking why education system bureaucrats and politicians continue to fly in the face of the evidence for the value of music as part of education.

Typically, she said, the erosion or elimination of school music programs is done as a way of saving money and balancing the budget. It is a short-term, stop-gap solution which has long-term consequences in the lives of students. Music programs transform lives, but at the same time, have no measurable cash value. Because the learning of music and musical skills is sequential, reducing or eliminating the learning of music at one stage of education makes it difficult or impossible to pick it up later, effectively putting an end to the life-transforming effects that could have been possible for the students affected by these program cuts.

Part of the disconnect between the research and the actual “delivery of programs,” Nimmons suggested, may originate in the misconception that the raison d’être of music programs is to produce professional musicians, when their real purpose is to produce, in a way that no other discipline can, creative problem solvers with highly developed analytical, verbal and mathematical skills.

So there appears to be not only a wall of ignorance but also chronic misunderstanding of the role and purpose of music in education, which together allow for its being perceived as so specialized as to be irrelevant - or at least non-essential - to the education of the rising generation.

How, I asked, does the Coalition go about advocating for music education in the face of this situation?

“Education of the public is the central task,” she says. So the Coalition conducts research on the state of music education, makes its message available to people on its website, and connects with other organizations which share its objectives, such as MusiCounts, Music Canada and others.

A recent example of this sort of collaboration was a statement released jointly just weeks ago by the Coalition, MusiCounts and Music Canada, encouraging the Vancouver Board of Education to reconsider a decision to eliminate certain instrumental music programs. That decision, Nimmons told me, has already been reversed.

One such major annual initiative, central to the Coalition’s mission, will take place this year on Monday, May 5. This is the annual Music Monday Celebration. Launched in 2005 by the Coalition for Music Education, Music Monday is the world’s largest single event dedicated to raising awareness of music education.

Nimmons was quick to point out that the event raises awareness, excitement and commitment to music education at both the national and the local level. Nationally there will be a webcast, available live at noon, EDT, but the focus of the webcast will be the regional events in ten cities across Canada from Gander to Whitehorse, representing music education from each region. This live showcase will include performances by school groups and local musicians, messages from prominent Canadian musicians, politicians and leaders, and inspiration and encouragement from local youth, parents and industry advocates.

Some very influential voices will be heard supporting the cause, such as David Suzuki and Col. Chris Hadfield, the former commander of the International Space Station. In fact, Hadfield participated in last year’s Music Monday from the International Space Station, singing “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing),” which he co-wrote with Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson. This year’s event will conclude with a synchronized nationwide performance of I.S.S. with Chris Hadfield, now back on planet Earth, participating, and led by Bramwell Tovey, the conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

The initiative has also attracted considerable financial support from many different sources, not the least of which is TD Bank, which has donated in excess of $50,000 to this year’s Music Monday. With a proven track record of support for music and for community-building initiatives, Nimmons told me, TD has been a supporter of the Coalition in the past, but this year’s contribution is particularly significant.

“Music Monday will celebrate the best in music education, showing what is possible,” Nimmons says, “not only for those schools currently fortunate enough to have excellent music programs but also for those schools that are less fortunate.” The aim is to motivate people everywhere to take action to support the implementation of effective music education programs in the province or territory in which they live.

The long-term goal of the Coalition, Nimmons points out, is to build a critical mass of people who recognize the value of music education in the public elementary and secondary schools. A central focus of this goal is the engagement of young people, the voters, leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow. With a million participants in last year’s Music Monday and, with any luck, even more this year, the Coalition is well on its way to achieving what it has set out to do.

So, wherever you are at noon on Monday, May 5, whether it be at the office, at home or at school, go to musicmonday.ca and follow the link to the webcast. We can all begin to support the much-needed revitalization of music education, simply by connecting with others who share our conviction. 

Co-founder of The WholeNote, flutist and music teacher Allan Pulker can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Teachers! Stand Out From The Crowd!

seeingorange antonkuerti-youthorchestra conduct jun9 13-croppedEven with opportunities for unguided self-teaching proliferating through the internet, music remains largely an oral tradition, handed down directly from teacher to student and consisting largely of showing students how to teach themselves, which is done by what is usually called practising, and which I like to call guided self-teaching.

When a student studies music by taking lessons with a teacher, the effectiveness of the lessons – gauged by how well the student progresses – depends on two things: the receptivity of the student and his/her ability to attempt and then to master the things that the teacher recommends; and the teacher’s ability to assess what the student is able to do and not do, and to recommend techniques and skills to practise in the time between lessons. The fit between teacher and student therefore becomes a more important criterion than anything else in determining whether learning music becomes a rewarding experience.

With this month’s launch of The WholeNote’s online ORANGE PAGES searchable directory we are taking the first steps towards helping music students and would-be students find that perfect match. Already over 145 teachers, community music schools and summer music programs have filled out the online questionnaire that enables them to be found through our ORANGE PAGES, with more signing up every day.

All that being said, we are under no illusions that we have suddenly become the only, or even the primary way for this crucial matchmaking to take place. The search for and finding of a musical mentor comes in many forms, as the following three short descriptions of existing education-related musical resources show.

Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association: The Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association (ORMTA) was established in 1936 to establish high standards of private music instruction in Ontario. I spoke to Etobicoke-Mississauga branch president Virginia Taylor, about ORMTA’s contribution to music education: “ORMTA,”  she told me, “provides a superior level of teaching, which ensures parents and students alike of a studio experience that is of the highest quality.” Membership requires not only a good musical education but also evidence of effective teaching. In other words, members must have done some teaching before becoming members of ORMTA. Once a member, however, “ORMTA gives a teacher the advantage of continuing education and learning by attending the many workshops, master classes and conferences offered through the organization.”

ORMTA also offers student assessments, by which, Virginia told me “students are able to have their work audited by another professional, which…gives [them] an unbiased opinion of their performance.”

She also raised another very interesting benefit. Anyone who has taught, whether in the school system or privately, has to be very aware that one of the occupational hazards of the business is the lack of contact with one’s peers. ORMTA, Virginia pointed out, in organizing workshops and conferences, also provides camaraderie through contact with other music teachers, and also “a forum for bouncing off teaching questions.”

ORMTA encourages non-members to join. Everything you need to know about joining the organization is on their website. “Our workshops,” she told me “are open to non-members, and we encourage teachers who are not ORMTA members to participate in them. ORMTA has given my teaching life excellence and much meaning, and also my personal life, as I have colleagues with whom I am constantly in touch, andwho share the same life that I do. Their ideas and advice I greatly treasure.”

Mooredale Youth Orchestras: An opportunity available to students once they are at grade four level and beyond, is the three Mooredale youth orchestras, which were started back in 1986 by the late Kristine Bogyo so that her two sons, one of whom played the violin, the other, the cello, would be able to play in an orchestra.

I spoke recently to William Rowson, who became the conductor of the Junior and Senior Orchestras in 2008. We began by talking about the benefits of participating in the Mooredale program. Although some of the orchestra’s alumni, he told me, become professional musicians, it is not so much about producing professionals as it is about realizing what is possible. “I challenge them, and at first they are overwhelmed, but then they go on to work out how and what they need to practise and how to make use of their time.” Young people, he said, “are up for challenges, they want to be great, and if you show them what is possible and how to achieve it, they will achieve.”

One of the challenges Rowson brings is to treat his orchestra members like professionals in the sense that he expects them to come to rehearsals with their parts learned; it can be necessary to work on certain passages with only one section. To keep the rehearsal flowing and to keep the other sections actively involved he asks them to listen, to see if they can hear how it could be better, to hear where the phrases are going and to be able to articulate the character of the piece.

While much of the orchestras’ repertoire is standard – everything from early Haydn to Warlock’s Capriole Suite – it does also work in a certain amount of contemporary music. Rowson, who has a PhD in composition, has written works for his orchestras, and contemporary composers are invited to bring works for the orchestras to read through.

Regardless of what music the orchestras are working on, the aim is always to give the experience to the members of working through difficulty to make things possible.

 Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario:The Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario (CIS Ontario) is an association of schools which are not publicly funded and which meet a number of rigorous criteria. I chatted with Jan Campbell, the executive director of the association about the place of music in the independent schools. While there is no common consensus or policy about the place of music in education, there is, she told me, huge value placed on student programs outside of the academic programs.

One of the products of this commitment will be the Conference of Independent Schools Music Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on April 13. Over 40 of the 44 member schools will be participating in this major collaborative effort, each having prepared for months in advance to achieve a high level of musicianship and artistry. Choirs, orchestras and bands will all perform, and the grand finale will be a massed choir and orchestra spectacular.

Just as with the Mooredale Orchestras, this event provides great motivation and inspiration for students and teachers alike as well as an opportunity to meet many new people and colleagues.

The event is close to sold out but tickets will be available for the dress rehearsal. Please see the ad on page 69 for details.

Free Listings for Teachers. What’s the Catch?

Back in 1995 when we started The WholeNote, or Pulse as it first was called, it was certainly possible to find out about the many concerts going on in our city. All you had to do was go to concert venues and pick up brochures, read and take notes on posters in places like the Edward Johnson Building, filch flyers from church and laundromat bulletin boards, and so on.  Point was, it was so much work, that no one did it, and literally hundreds of concerts went unnoticed every season.

The idea of a monthly guide to concerts was new, radical and untested; and while we obviously liked the idea enough to dive in and do it, even we did not realize just how much music was going on in our city. By the spring of 1996, much to our amazement we were listing about 160 concerts a month, about half of what we list now. We had made it possible for potential audience members to know much more about what was going on — to actually find out in time aboutconcerts and performers and repertoire that would be of interest.

The Educational Parallel: Consider the parallels between the world of concerts and recitals and the world of music teachers, music schools and education programs. There are more than ever of both; all, especially with the help of the internet, can be found. But how do you sort, compare, arrange? What if there is a perfect teacher for you or your offspring, but he or she just didn’t come up in your search?

Just as there was a great desire among audiences for a comprehensive source of information on upcoming concerts, so also, we think, there is a desire among people wanting to learn music for comprehensive information on educators and programs.

We made it possible right from the start, almost 20 years ago, for presenters of live music to list what they were doing free of charge so that audiences could be confident they were getting the whole story, not just the money story.

Now we are offering educators the same opportunity— not in print, but in media which did not exist when we started The WholeNote —media which give anyone interested in studying music, from beginner to professional, casual to committed, the means to search, sift, sort and select the teacher or program that is right for them.

So what will it take? To start, about ten minutes from any teacher reading this who can see the potential benefits of being found this way; just ten minutes, to follow the instructions at the bottom of this article and fill out a simple questionnaire.

Think about it. All those wretched posters with tear-offs along the bottom, taping them to lamp posts, only to find them torn off two days later, suddenly as passé as the passenger pigeon!

Just as it was with the presenters in our concert listings, all you, the teacher, have to do is announce your presence. There is an audience out there hungry for information.

Allan Pulker, co-founder of The WholeNote, plays and teaches flute and recorder. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">.

1906 attention teachers

Let’s Hear It For Hand Me Downs

seeing orangeGrandparents, and parents, for that matter, who know what music gave you in life, give ear! How about handing down to your grandchildren (or children) a gift that will last a lifetime? What I’m suggesting is music lessons, which are a life-changing experience, especially when they begin early.

Historically, at least since the days when music was taught as one of the medieval seven liberal arts, there has been general agreement that music is an important part of education. Even when I went to elementary school many decades ago music was pretty well a daily occurrence, and one we all looked forward to. Tone-matching drills in tonic sol-fa, learning songs in unison and from grade four or five on, in parts, was fun and engaging. Eventually, in grade seven, as I recall, I realized that yes, I could read (sing) music at sight but only up to a point, and that being able to do it so much better could and should be possible. It was a profound realization, recognition of the fact that something that had up to that point just been fun and a pleasant diversion from the other stuff we did at school, had actually caused some kind of psychic “muscle” to develop in me, but only up to a point. I had had enough music to benefit, but not enough to go as far as I intuitively knew was possible.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I had a family of my own, two boys in rapid succession and then five and a half years later, a third. Wise reflections on my childhood musical education were not even on the back burner; my own struggles overcoming many years of bad habits on the flute and running a high school instrumental music program trumped interest in my children’s musical education. We tried Suzuki violin with the two older boys, but it seemed at the time not to be the right thing for them. I say “at the time,” because as a teenager my older son seemed magically to have the gift of being able to pick up any plucked stringed instrument and play it.

Fast forward another three decades and now I have grandchildren. Remembering my children dropping out of Suzuki violin has led me to think that starting the violin at the age of four with no prior musical experience was probably not a good idea. I also realized that I could not expect much musical instruction from the schools. I had learned (through The WholeNote actually) about an early childhood music program offered in my children’s part of town by Sophia Grigoriadis. So I paid for my oldest granddaughter’s classes in this program. Reports came back that she loved the classes and, what’s more, loved Sophia. Encouraging to say the least!

After two years in Sophia’s program, at the age of four, she was too old to continue and it was time to move on. I had learned that the Beaches Children’s Chorus, located in the east end not too far from us, was adding a choir for four and five year-olds. I registered my granddaughter in it, and began taking her to, and observing, the weekly rehearsals back in September 2011. I really liked the way musical director, Bronwen Low, worked with the children, introducing them to singing by making sounds to go with amusing stories: “…he went u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-p (voices starting low and sliding high) the hill and d-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w-n (voices starting high and sliding low) the hill.” The children were totally engaged from day one and after a few months were singing together, confident, in tune and happy. Now in her third year, my granddaughter has moved up to the next level, and loves it more than ever.

One of the things Bronwen has been focussing on in her group is the development of relative pitch, the ability to hear the distance between pitches reliably enough to sing a notated line of music. Bronwen is using the Kodály (or Curwen) hand signs, which take the place of written notes, and make “sight singing” a shared, communal experience. This is the development of the same “psychic muscle” I remember developing in me as a child, that has stood me in good stead throughout my own life. There are other things the children are learning as well: working together co-operatively, listening to and following instructions, and the discipline to focus and work on demand. It seems to me that there is a level of maturity that is fast-tracked by participating in this type of program.

Sharon Burlacoff, the director of the Kingsway Conservatory of Music where I do some of my own teaching is an early childhood music specialist. We talked about the benefits of participation in early childhood music programs. “I read somewhere,” she told me, “that there is more brain development between 12 and 24 months than at any other time of life.” Exposure to music in infancy and early childhood has a tremendous influence on how the brain processes information. One baby, who got started in her program at the age of five months, now, at the age of ten months connects words and actions. Even though babies generally begin to talk after the age of one, the foundation for speech is being laid in the first year of life, and music definitely helps with that. Another benefit is the social development and sense of self that accrues to participants in this sort of program. Children develop self-esteem and confidence in expressing themselves.

Earlier I mentioned the Suzuki (violin) method. As it happens, mid-January I went to a concert given by pianist and U of T professor, John Kruspe, and his two extraordinarily accomplished violinist children, Jamie and Emily. Both, John told me, began violin around the age of two, taught by his wife, Cathie Goldberg, using the Suzuki method. She supervised their practising every day, seven days a week, the only breaks being out–of-town vacations. “She did a fantastic job, so much so that when they came to study with, for example, Erika Raum and Jacques Israelievitch (Emily and Jamie respectively), neither teacher had much if any technical changes to make, and in fact Erika commented on how well they both were set up.” In addition both studied piano and clarinet, and, according to Kruspe, are both blessed with wonderful ears and (thanks in part to the Suzuki emphasis on listening, I think), a highly developed skill in memorization; and both sight read so well that it’s as if they have been working at it for weeks!

Admittedly, the situation of being taught every day by a mother who is a professional musician and teacher, is unusual, but Emily and Jamie’s story is indicative of what the Suzuki method has made possible.

There are many teachers and programs around; many if not all should be much more easily findable in the coming months in the educational search engine we are devoting our energies to developing on The WholeNote website. Each child is different, and no program will ever be right for all, but I firmly believe there is a “right teacher” out there for everyone. Your child or grandchild may even thank you right now for the helping hand. Better still, the gift of music, once handed down, is never gone.

Allan Pulker is co-founder of The WholeNote and plays and teaches flute and recorder. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Who Needs Music?

There is mounting scientific evidence to substantiate what just about everyone who has studied music knows to be true, that making music makes a difference to the quality of one’s life. Studies now abound indicating that playing an instrument causes the cerebellum to develop in ways that it just doesn’t in the absence of music, that music makes us more intelligent, prevents the deterioration of mental functions in the elderly and that it makes a difference in the way we relate to one another.

“If you put an instrument in the hands of a child, he will never pick up a gun,” said Dr. José Antonio Abreu, founder, El Sistema.

1904 - seeing orangeI am reminded of one Valent Lesso, a multi-talented Toronto musician who traded his violin in for a handgun at a pawn shop, changed his name to Steve Suchan and joined the notorious Boyd gang around 1950. He subsequently shot and killed a Toronto policeman. It seems Suchan’s need to belong to a gang outweighed his love of music.

This need to belong is central to the thinking behind El Sistema, the ensemble-based music instruction method developed in Venezuela by Abreu. It is significant that El Sistema rejects the “traditional” method of one-on-one instruction and daily solitary practice, in favour of group instruction five days a week for three hours. Co-operation, collaboration and mutual support are front and centre in the method.

El Sistema’s most tangible goal is to train musicians. To say that it has been successful in this endeavour is an understatement: Gustavo Dudamel, a graduate of the program and now the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, is only one of many examples of this success. Its mission, however, goes well beyond this goal. Sistema Toronto’s mission, for example, is “to build and sustain an intensive social program ... to inspire children at risk to realize their full potential as students, musicians and citizens.” In Abreu’s words, “The huge spiritual world that music produces in itself overcomes material poverty. From the minute a child is taught how to play an instrument, he or she is no longer poor.” El Sistema sees itself not primarily as a music program but as a social development program that uses music as a way of transforming children by teaching them the habits, attitudes and practices of people who lead fulfilling and successful lives.

Abreu was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize in 2009. A little less than two years later, in September 2011, the fledgling El Sistema Toronto began its first classes.

New Horizons: Although music education in Ontario public elementary and secondary schools has generally lacked the intensity of El Sistema’s three hours a day it used to have a profound effect on many who experienced it. Out of this past success a new and equally remarkable musical enterprise has come into existence, the New Horizons Band program, under the direction of retired music teacher, Dan Kapp, now in its fourth year at Long and McQuade’s Bloor Street complex. The concept, Kapp told me, is “a safe group environment where mature/retired adults can come to learn to play a musical instrument for the first time or reconnect with one they haven’t played in decades.” With bands at three different levels, ranging from absolute beginners to advanced players, the average age is about 60, with members as young as 36 and as old as 90. What motivates them to participate, according to Kapp, is “their love of playing music in a band,” going back decades to their “fond memories of band in high school, the excitement of performing, travelling, close friends and the sense of accomplishment when you get a hard passage under your fingers.”

“Playing a musical instrument is one of the very few things you can do that engages the whole mind at one time. It involves and develops memory, problem-solving, physical co-ordination, gross and fine motor skills, muscle use, lung capacity, mental focus/attention span and self-discipline. It also addresses the need to care for our emotional well-being, self-esteem, self-worth, and social interactions with friends who genuinely care for you.” Many of the mature adults in Dan’s bands acquired skills and habits in high school band classes that have helped them throughout their lives. They are participating in his programs in order to continue to develop those skills and habits. It’s too late for Steve Suchan, but if you’re reading this, it’s not too late for you!

So the New Horizons program grows and thrives: “In the short term we are making sure the program is addressing the needs and expectations of our members, so that the NHB remains an exciting and welcoming place to make music. In the mid-term we are planning a big trip to Europe for the summer of 2015 and the long-term goal is to stabilize the program at seven bands. Perhaps, somehow, a fourth goal could be to make the public aware of the value of music as a part of every child’s education.

Because while the evidence grows that music has an important role to play in the development of the mind, music programs in our schools continue to be cut, with the support of an administration and populace woefully out of touch with the facts. It looks as if you can either have music or “special education,” and if you don’t have the former then you will need the latter.

What, I asked, can be done to “stop the rot” in public school music education? The attitude that needs to be changed, Dan observed, held both by parents and educational administrators, is that “it’s just music,” and it’s not important. He was once told that his weekly time with his grade 7 and 8 music classes was being rolled back because “they were getting too much music.”

Dan thinks the only thing that can stop the erosion of school music programs is parents. Only when they see that the lack of music in the school system is hurting their kids in the long term and only if they demand its restoration, will anything happen.

The truth of Dan’s observation has already been noted in September’s “Education Watch” when a June groundswell of community murmuring stopped the Toronto District School Board from cutting funding for itinerant music teachers. One powerful voice was that of the Coalition for Music Education. The article quotes from the Coalition’s public statement opposing the proposed cuts. (Read it online at thewholenote.com, or on page 57 of the September issue).

But there is much each of us can do to make a difference to the state of music education. The coalition’s website (musicmakesus.ca) offers resources to support the cause. There’s an advocacy video, a message which can be printed in concert programs (or in music magazines), an order form for program inserts, a page where you can sign up as a supporter, an invitation to apply to serve on the board of directors of the organization, and much more.

So please, don’t just read this. Go to the Coalition’s website and get yourself up to speed on the state of music in the public education system.

And while you’re at your computer vote for El Sistema Toronto’s bid for the Aviva Community Fund. And then vote every day, for 10 days. It takes minutes. Together we can make a difference. 

SISTEMA TORONTO IS COMPETING in the Aviva Community Fund, an annual competition in which several charities and community groups across Canada share in a $1 million prize. Sistema is in the running for $150,000, which would be a major boost in its efforts to sustain its two current “Playing to Potential” programs, and to expand them to other GTA neighbourhoods. Winning the award is determined by popular support from voting online from December 2 to 11. Anyone can vote by going to the main Aviva Community Fund webpage. You’ll need Sistema’s contest code which is ACF16874. Each voter gets ten votes – one for each day of the campaign – so voting every day is essential. Voting ends at 12:00 midnight on December 11.

Allan Pulker is chairman of the board of The Wholenote.


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