Sounding the alarm on the state of music education
By Dave Babbitt – Special for Sydenham Current
This week, I’m ringing the alarm bell, but I’m not an alarmist.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, an alarmist is “one who is considered to exaggerate danger and thereby cause unnecessary worry or panic”.
I want to focus on the state of music education (private and public) in our region, which I believe is in jeopardy.
There can’t be many people in the Wallaceburg area who aren’t aware that WDSS’ instrumental music program was fired when I retired in 2015, but that’s just the tip from the iceberg.
Has anyone recently tried to find a piano teacher in Wallaceburg for their child?
Wallaceburg had many great piano teachers, but few remain.
I’m often asked to recommend a piano teacher, but the only ones I currently know of in Wallaceburg are Kim Vancoillie and Meighan Lung, both of whom are very busy.
Is there more room for students?
They should be contacted.
If I missed a piano teacher in Wallaceburg, please let me know so I can both correct my column and expand my list for anyone looking for a teacher.
Previously, apparently, every other kid I knew growing up took piano lessons.
I don’t despise ANY instrument, but I have commented previously that I believe the keyboard is probably the best place to start a musical education for two main reasons.
First, the keyboard is a great visual tool.
You can see the relationships between the notes and the way the chords are built. (i.e. harmony)
Second, by learning to play the keyboard, one learns to read and understand musical notation, providing transferable skills for playing virtually any other instrument.
A few years ago, the famous Jack Kennedy Music Center in Sarnia closed its doors.
Kennedys was one of the largest electronic piano and keyboard retailers in southwestern Ontario at one time, but when asking Doug Kennedy why it was closing, he simply said “people don’t take more piano lessons.
And it was in a much bigger center!
Now let’s look at the instrument that we all carry with us and used frequently in our elementary music lessons, the human voice.
When was the last time you heard a school choir?
I have to be a bit careful here in my review as there are some excellent teachers (ex. Meighan Lung) who still get their students to sing regularly, but untrained and unqualified teachers are usually required to teach their own music lessons .
This is not a criticism of teachers and let me be clear, there are teachers who are musically trained and do an admirable job with their students, but quality music education is not system scale, fair or balanced.
Class teachers are told what they are going to teach, usually have no choice, and it is impossible to pretend to teach music without any knowledge or experience in the field.
I know of cases in recent years where ‘music’ teachers have told me ‘I don’t sing, so the children don’t sing’.
Last Christmas I posted a copy of the 1969 Public School Christmas Extravaganza which was recorded at DA Gordon Public School on my YouTube channel and the sung part was fantastic! I want those days.
School boards should be required to hire itinerant (specialist) music teachers to provide students with qualified, competent and experienced instruction.
To be fair, Jennifer Trinca of the SCCDSB is a traveling music teacher who runs the amazing “Strings Are the Thing” string program here in Wallaceburg, but ALL students deserve an equal chance for quality music instruction.
Where are the Lucille Phairs, Bob Jacks and Barry Betts in our public school system today?
Even the superb instrumental music program that was a staple of WT Laing for so many decades, has been dead for several years now.
It doesn’t matter if the instruction is in singing, recorders, percussion instruments, ukulele, boomwhackers, bells, keyboards, string or wind instruments, theory, composition or usage of modern grading software, students deserve the best instruction available. .
Music is part of the curriculum at all elementary levels, but once students reach high school, they are only required to take one arts credit during their four-year stay, making the music at the elementary level even more important.
Until school boards take the idea of providing qualified traveling music teachers seriously, things are unlikely to change.
They will continue to pretend to meet the requirements of the program.
Parents and parent councils in schools should advocate for high quality music education for their children.
For those who are unaware, the Education Act (1990) Chapter E2, Part 11, Statute 21.2(e) of the Revised Statutes of Ontario Education Act states that “school attendance may be exempted when the child is absent from school for the purpose of receiving music instruction and the period of absence does not exceed half a day per week.
If you care about your child’s musical education, it may be worth going this route.
I’m not going to dive into education politics and how things work, but I’m going to tell you unequivocally that courses offered in schools are always linked to funding in one way or another, that it is a capital investment in the materials needed to teach each course, or the staff of a school.
Music education can be expensive, but the biggest cost is not providing it.
When the WDSS music program was shut down, our Wallaceburg Concert Band used the instruments they no longer needed for 3 years to start a learn-to-play program hoping that one day the school would see the error in his ways and would end up restarting the program.
This does not happen.
After three years, the school asked for the instruments to be returned and they now lie unused, locked away in an empty classroom with freezing slides, drying pads, and will likely end up in the council auction one day. where they will bring pennies on the dollar.
The instruments could be donated to us for our learning to play program or to restart a music program at WDSS.
I sounded the alarm bell but I am not an alarmist because I do not exaggerate the state of music education.
Let’s get back to providing children and the rest of our community with the same musical opportunities offered in many other places.