The Music Box Village, New Orleans. Photo by  TODD SEELIEThis global health pandemic has certainly illustrated the old Italian proverb, “tutto il mondo è un paese” – indeed, all the world is a village, and every village needs a playground. 

In my capacity as the executive director of the Regent Park School of Music, I have noticed us, of necessity, growing closer with other community music schools across North America since COVID hit. We have met periodically to discuss the multitude of challenges we have collectively faced, from online learning policies to uses of new technology – a sharing of knowledge between us that has remained open and collaborative, with the greater good of our students in the fore. Many of us in community music seem to be facing the same challenges, so in this article, I will unpack some of these immediate challenges, and also look forward, as best as any of us can, to a post-pandemic landscape that enfolds both music education and community development.

At time of writing this, I had just submitted my PhD dissertation to the University of Toronto, as part of which I ran an instrumental case study of the Music Box Village in New Orleans. Similar to the Reggio Emilia educational movement that developed in Italy the aftermath of World War Two, the Music Box Village was born out of Hurricane Katrina as a response to the social impacts and trauma of its community. This alternative music space wore many hats, functioning partly as a music venue, a learning space, a playground, and much more. 

Read more: Inside out as the best way forward: Musical playgrounds, virtual and real

Morgan-Paige Melbourne. Photo by Ian ChangWhen pianist and composer Morgan-Paige Melbourne recorded her first album, it was during the March 2020 lockdown. She did it on her own, with one podium microphone and an iPad. She placed her mic underneath the piano to capture the gritty sound of the keys working. She recorded the ambient sounds of the city. Sometimes she sang. The resulting EP, Dear Dysphoria, is beyond genre: it is an emotional soundscape, an artful negotiation through our challenging times via formal compositions, improvised music and songs.

With some assistance from her sibling, Genia, with mastering and violin (and with the addition of a new microphone and a two-channel mixer), Melbourne produced a second album titled Dear Serenity. She then went on to create videos for some of the pieces, filming and editing them all on her iPad. Did I mention that she does everything on the first take? The more I talk with this extraordinary and multifaceted artist, the more I am astounded.

Read more: Take One: Morgan-Paige Melbourne’s multidimensional practice

Sophia, in Toronto, leads an after-school ukulele-based music lesson with Amelia and Celeste (with Kaya, the lab, supervising), in Hornepayne, Ontario. Photography by Luca Perlman (L) and Leslie Kennedy“You know, we’ve still never seen each other in person.”

So said one of my favourite guitar students, a man in his early 40s whom I teach on Wednesday evenings. I’ve been teaching him for nearly a year, since spring of 2020, when baking bread and Zoom cocktail hour still seemed novel and rewarding. We’ve covered a lot of ground: scales and arpeggios, theory, phrasing, cultivating a sense of personal style. We’ve become acquainted on a more personal level, and have shared jokes, memes and YouTube videos of compelling musical performances. We have not met in person.

“We’ll probably never do this in real life.”

Another student of mine, a young professional drummer who lives in Milton, who has been playing guitar casually for years. He’s been taking lessons from me in order to improve his skills, to better be able to play with his wife (a professional singer), and to be able to teach beginner and intermediate guitar students in his own teaching practice. We have not met in person.

“Honestly? It feels pretty normal at this point.”

Yet another student, when I apologized for any feelings of discomfort that he might be experiencing performing a full song for me through his phone. As you must expect, at this point: we have not met in person.


In the immediate aftermath of the March 2020 quarantine, I experienced an immense wave of anxiety about my ability to work. Nearly all of my professional activities are linked to in-person interaction, in one way or another. It was immediately obvious that live performances were off the table. Writing about music, for this magazine and for other clients, seemed uncertain. Private teaching, however, was the biggest question of all. 

Read more: Up Close and Impersonal? A New Kind of Educational Intimacy

SHHH!! Ensemble's Edana Higham and Zac PulakMany of us are finding things to do outside of our usual range of work activities, since one thing afforded by the current pandemic for many performing musicians, if not for those in other professions, is time. Zac Pulak, one half of the duo known as SHHH!! Ensemble, has built an igloo. Or rather, as he clarified, his structure is properly referred to as a quinzee, which is built by piling snow and ice blocks into a mound, and then hollowing it out once the exterior hardens into a shell. As any would-be igloo builder needs to know, this is the preferred option when the consistency of the available building material isn’t right for making uniform blocks. 

Snow and the pandemic being a source of grief for many of us, it’s heartening to speak with Pulak and his partner Edana Higham about how things are generally positive for this active and upbeat team. Already a couple before forming SHHH!! in 2017, they pair piano (Higham) and percussion (Pulak, playing mainly, but not exclusively, mallet instruments). The name, they explain, conveys a demand for attention – not so much “don’t make noise” but rather “listen to THIS noise!” They are making lots of good noise, and as much as any of us can be nowadays, they’re “all in,” committed to a prospective performance schedule and developing new repertoire for their unusual instrumentation. 

Read more: SHHH!! means “Listen to This”

153 Eastern Avenue: The destruction of landmark heritage properties would represent both the loss of something that was, and a lost opportunity for what could be.A couple of blocks from the Distillery District in the downtown Toronto Port Lands, there is a series of buildings, over a hundred years old, that once made up the Dominion Wheel and Foundries, manufacturing railway equipment for Canadian National Rail. With the decline of rail transportation and manufacturing, the area had become derelict until revitalization that began with the adjacent Distillery District and continued through the Pan Am Games. 

On January 18, 2021, with no notice or consultation, demolition crews erected fences and began preparations to dismantle these heritage buildings under the instruction of the Government of Ontario. Community members, neighbourhood associations and businesses in the area were aghast at seeing these iconic buildings suddenly being demolished without warning. Elected representatives in the area were also blindsided: without access to answers because the obscure use of a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) issued by the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Steve Clark, allowed the demolition to bypass the City’s usual procedures.

According to City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s office, there was – and remains – no formal development application for this site. “The City has asked the province to produce or demonstrate provision for: Cultural Heritage, Archaeological Assessment, Heritage Impact, Strategic Conservation, and Environmental Site Assessment. None of this has been provided. In fact, the developer for the site has not been revealed by the provincial government.”

Read more: Dominion Foundries: Pushing Back Against Heritage Loss
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