Leaving a recent recital at Koerner Hall, as I passed a table devoted to The Royal Conservatory’s educational programs, my attention was caught by a colourful folded-up glossy info sheet in the form of a poster with an intriguing sentence coated in two colours under a headline which is also the headline of this article: The Benefits of Music Education.

“Neuroscientists have demonstrated that learning to play an instrument or sing leads to changes in a child’s brain that make it more likely they will reach their full cognitive and academic potential,” it stated. As I read further, the message continued connecting music education to cognitive development, promising stronger connections between brain regions, more grey matter, improved brain structure and function, better memory and attention. Even a higher IQ.

“Speech and reading skills dramatically improved in young children taking music lessons after only four weeks of music training.” I kept going. “Elementary school students in higher quality music education programs had 20 percent improvement in standardized tests of English and math.”

This was heady stuff and gratifying to behold offering further confirmation of the undeniable benefits of music on the developing brain.

The cognitive benefits of music education were then broken down into IQ, Working Memory and Creativity. It was fascinating see scientific evidence of increased IQ scores among children who take music lessons compared to children in drama classes or those who did neither. Additionally, individuals who are musically trained show better working memory abilities than those who are not, something that is crucial to mental arithmetic and reading comprehension. Scientists also found a marked difference in communication between the right and left sides of the brain (which fosters creativity) in individuals with musical training than in those without.

I was already eager to learn more by visiting rcmusic.ca/resources to download a copy of The Benefits of Music Education when I noticed the quotation on the lower right of the poster:

Seeing Orange 2004

Below the text were the words Albert Einstein. 


Those of you who read me know I like to feign rage from time to time about certain concert behaviours that I think mess up the show for other patrons. Pet among my peeves over the years are: The Walking Ovationists, The Pre-Mature Ejaculators and the Deci-belligerent Shushers.

The Walking Ovationists are of course those who leap to their feet the instant the performance is over and then with varying degrees of subtlety start a sidelong sidle for the exits (toes of their row-mates be damned).

The Pre-Mature Ejaculators are the ones with such a desperate need to prove they knew the piece was over (and that it was great for them) by bellowing BRAVO! into the first micro-second of God-given silence that should be the true ending of any piece of music.

The Deci-belligerent Shushers are the self-appointed guardians of the classical concert-hall’s code of silence, hissing their hatred at even the minutest muttered transgression (while somehow failing to realize that their shushes rip the listening envelope to shreds more completely than any other utterance could).

Oh, I could go on and on and on! Swarming like jackals around these three are the Mid-Movement Crinkly Candy Unwrappers; the Why-The-Hell-Are-You-Here-If-You’re-That-Sick Coughers; the Balcony Texters, the Baleful Glarers … You get the picture.

But there is one group you have NEVER heard me rail at in these pages: namely the people who know so little about the “rules” of concert hall behaviour that they applaud in the wrong places.

And here is a story that illustrates perfectly why.

dis-concerting stuffIt was a performance of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra back in the spring (early May), with an audience that seemed less well-trained in concert etiquette than usual, right from the start, and proved it a few times in the first half. Peter Oundjian was conducting, and the work after intermission was to be Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6 “The Pathétique.” At the start of the second half, as he is affably wont to do, the Maestro stepped forward, like any good Maitre D’, to chat for a moment with the guests in his house about what was on the menu.

I won’t try to replicate his words. But the gist of it went something like this: that this possibly greatest of all Tchaikovsky’s symphonies was typical in some way – four clearly defined separate movements – but that it was also atypical in some other interesting ways. Among them was that it didn’t follow the expected roadmap. Instead of the four movements following a pattern that goes fast, slower, fast-ish, fastest, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth hits its peak of fast and loud in the third movement – so much so that as an audience it’s impossible not to want to applaud.

“So in fact,” Oundjian said to the house guests, “if you feel like applauding at that point go right ahead, because that is what Tchaikovsky’s own audience would have done.”

This rule, he explained, of not applauding until the piece is over, didn’t really take hold until a decade after Tchaikovsky wrote this absolutely wonderful work. “In fact,” Oundjian said, “applaud whenever you feel like it – we won’t mind.”

What followed was completely memorable. There was a sprinkling of quiet applause after the first movement (and no one glared at anyone else). It was quiet-ish after the second. But after the third movement, even concertgoers who would normally have sat on their hands joined the general clapping. Somehow it was as if we all knew that as much as anything we were rooting for a composer trying with every fibre of his being to give us a happy ending that was never in the cards.

And after the terrible, wonderful final movement ... there was silence. A precious five to eight seconds of pure silence with a conductor literally and metaphorically holding the silence up there for us all to see and feel, in the palm of his upturned hand. 

No one bellowed bravo; not one person leapt to their feet.

Until, precious silent seconds later, Oundjian lowered his hand and let the moment go. The audience rose to our feet to accord a special performance the concerted response it warranted for the universal feelings it had evoked.

So, Maestro, a belated BRAVO, for seizing that particular moment on that particular day, in that particular way.

So, what can be taken (usefully) away from this? Well, three things, I think.

First, presenters have an opportunity in welcoming new audiences, to decide anew for themselves what the do’s and don’ts of their particular house should be.

Second, these house rules should be cheerfully and confidently expressed at the outset of each and every event. (It is not enough to put asterisks in programs to indicate where silence is demanded.)

Third, conductors and performers have the power themselves to command the duration of the silences around and within the works they are performing, as actively as they command the notes of music between those silences. 

So, what do you think? I would love to hear what you all, performers and presenters and audience members alike are doing, or want to say, about all this. 

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.




Share the Music is the name of an arts and education outreach program presented by the Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall. With a mission statement aimed at sharing music with young people of all backgrounds from ages 8 to 18, the program’s goal is to enhance and broaden musical horizons by exposing students to world-class performers.

Share the Music’s 16th season includes nine wide-ranging concerts from October to May, any of which could proudly serve as a definition for “world-class.” To experience any of the artists in this varied lineup will be a musical life-enhancing opportunity never to be forgotten.

Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet joins conductor Vadimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic in the lead-off concert of works by two 20th-century icons, Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Divine Brown, Diana Braithwaite, Andria Simone and Shakura S’Aida headline the Toronto Blues Society’s 28th Annual Toronto Women’s Blues Revue November 22, while the incomparable Itzhak Perlman will work his fiddle magic on the audience December 1.

A concert by the iconic Blind Boys of Alabama December 8 is followed by a Classic Albums Live presentation of “The Beatles: Let It Be” January 20. Next up will be the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis February 11.

The Canadian poet and spoken word artist Shane Koyczan became an overnight sensation at the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. His anti-bullying video To This Day has had more than 13 million views on YouTube and led to an appearance at the 2013 TED Conference. He will appear at Harbourfront Centre April 7.

Evgeny Kissin’s remarkable pianism will be on display in his May 1 recital which includes Beethoven’s “Waldstein” sonata, nocturnes and mazurkas by Chopin and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.15. The no-less-remarkable Bobby McFerrin will showcase his prodigious vocal gifts May 30.

Each event is preceded by a talk or workshop, some of which are of particular interest. Tafelmusik violinist Patricia Ahern will discuss repertoire in advance of the Perlman recital; Toronto Mass Choir director Karen Burke leads a gospel-style workshop the night the Blind Boys of Alabama perform; and the Heavyweights Brass Band takes part in a workshop before the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis concert. 



Ask any group of musicians what something like “music education” comprises and you’d certainly receive a vast array of responses about everything from études to instrument maintenance. However, an entire area of a performer’s “musical life” – and one that is receiving growing attention in both private studio and public settings – involves looking after that one instrument that cannot be replaced or upgraded – the artist’s physical self.

The Artists’ Health Alliance (formerly the Artists’ Health Centre Foundation) is one such organization in the business of educating artists, including performing musicians, about the maintenance of physical and mental wellness throughout an artistic career. A not-for-profit charitable group working in partnership with the Al & Malka Green Artists’ Health Centre at Toronto Western Hospital, the AHA hosts workshops addressing issues from injury prevention to stress management to nutrition. Likening their work to the type of specialized treatment that professional athletes require, the AHA serves as a helpful resource for performers seeking health education (or treatment) that takes into account their unique career-based needs.

Considering the specialized nature of this often-costly type of treatment, the organization is also dedicated to providing artists access to financial resources, including details about available subsidies and cost-effective healthcare coverage. The AHA also advocates a school outreach program, through which they have run workshops at schools such as OCADU, the Randolph Academy, U of T and York University.

Navigating the question of how to live healthy is a lifelong process, and not one unique to arts workers. However, the enormous set of physical and mental challenges that performing musicians can face is something that does deserve ample attention. Though health education opportunities for professional musicians often seem to fly under the radar, a service that allows performers to continue doing what they love for as long as possible is certainly not one to be under-valued.

The next event on the Artist Health Alliance’s calendar is a series of workshops on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, running most Tuesdays from September 23 to November 25. For those interested, more information about this series and on the AHA is available at artistshealth.com. 


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 allan@thewholenote.com

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