grab hold

Music won’t die if we stop teaching it.

The battle is not getting kids to like music.


excerpt from Canadian Music Educator Column

During workshops or schools visits I have, at times, been told that all music education is creative. I challenge whether asking students to help decide where to breath in a section of The Planets is keeping their creativity and sense of exploration alive. Fear might just stand in the way of music education becoming a truly creative experience for both students and teachers. Rehearsing and performing the rep can be great but take a moment, breathe, let go and try truly creating something. Some ideas:

Compose a vocal piece based on a mode of transportation. Use that word and the sound of that mode of travel only. Ensure there is a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

Create an ABA piece using only 1 note each.

Compose a piece of music that is exactly thirty seconds long that explores one of the following.
Higher and slower sounds
Longer and quieter sounds
Faster and lower sounds
Shorter and louder sounds

Compose a short piece based on the first and last sounds you heard yesterday.  Include some silent moments.

Compose a piece of music using an instrument you’ve never played.

Describe how a piece of music could start, how it might shift and develop and how it might end, then pick a group of instruments to improvise accordingly. Comment on their attempt and ask them to try it again.

Compose music for the start of the school day and perform it in the foyer as students are walking in.

Make a soundtrack to a favourite poem.

Attempt to create the longest crescendo that ends with an abrupt cut off followed by silence.

Silently but passionately pretend to play your instruments just to confuse a late student or teacher.

Use a scene from a Shakespeare play as your music. Improvise your characters part on your instrument. Play out the scene. How did it go? Try again.

Shout all together, play a quiet long note, stop, play a loud short note, 1/8 notes on a Bb major triad slowly getting louder then end with a long tone cluster. Reflect, decide what you want to do differently/better, then try again (even if it is completely different).

Create an introduction to a favourite piece that you have been rehearsing. Think about what might sound good before the actual start. Try an outro. Try adding a new section in the middle.

Search for a truly happy sound, a sad one, a surprising sound, an unsure sound, a lonely sound, end again with your happy sound.

Improvise the sounds of a nearby park, start and stop together. What did you like, what did you not like? What would you change? Try it again and hope for more to like.

Together as a class, compose a piece of music for a special occasion (Remembrance Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc.).

Adjust any of the above to fit your class.

2nd annual esme festival

Dear Music Colleagues,

esme (expanding success in music education) in partnership with the tdsb is pleased to invite you to participate in our second annual non-competitive music festival. Last year was a blast and we hope to continue the fun as well as add a few things (set of evening performances for small groups, jam rooms, etc.)

This event, which will be held at C.W. Jefferys C.I. (TDSB) on Thursday, February 26th, 2015, is open to all school boards and all varieties of musical ensembles. We are excited to add an evening option for small groups which will take place at The Tranzac (292 Brunswick Ave, Toronto) on February 27th.

Often, in order to engage all of our students we find ourselves teaching classes or running extra-curricular groups with very non-traditional instrumentation, structure, or repertoire, which can make it difficult to find performance opportunities for our students. It is our hope that this festival will give your school a chance to showcase different groupings and/or styles of musical programming, including, but certainly not limited to, rock band, improvisation, hip-hop, DJ-ing, composition/arranging, sound exploration, rap, and unique instrumentation.

Participating in this festival, students will have a chance to perform for their peers, hear other student music, and receive meaningful feedback in a very relaxed and supportive environment. Following performances, students will take part in interactive workshops with guest artists. Already confirmed for this event is musician Dave Clark (Woodshed Orchestra, Gord Downie, Rheostatics).

Below is a tentative look at the schedule for the day (26th):
8:30-9:30am        Check in/set-up
9:30-11:30am       Morning Session
11:30-12:30pm     Lunch Break (students should pack a lunch for this day)
12:30-2:30pm      Afternoon Session
And for the evening (27th): 7pm doors, and 8pm performances start

Finally, we would also like to keep this festival very student focused. For this reason, we ask that each ensemble assign a student mc to introduce/speak on behalf of their group.

Thank you for your interest and support. If you have any questions, please email or



I think I’ve heard this enough now…

“Is this all you do?”
“You teach the students to actually read music right?”

I’m having trouble understanding why creative, open ended composition and improvisation are equated with students not learning to read or build technique with their voices or instruments.
What if I asked the same questions to others who are not doing much or any composing or creative work.  “Is teaching to read and build technique all you do?”
I am becoming curious what would happen if a music class or department decided to focus only on creative work: how music education can be a way to hear and interact with our surroundings, taking into account that each of our creative perception is unique and valid and that beauty can exist in the sounds around us, we are the composers of our soundscape and responsible for how it may or may not effect us.
What will happen if students just composed and improvised pieces for special occasions and locations around their school, to match their emotions or the feelings they want to have?
Really, let’s play it out.
For one, students may not learn to read notation, what will this mean?  No more music schools as we know them?  (How many of our students go on to post secondary music study?)  How might new post secondary music study look?
Would there eventually be no more orchestras as we know them?  Do public schools create orchestra players or do privilege, class, and cultural background do this?  Do we just teach music because we were taught music (and teach it in that same fashion)?  Is there not more to it?
And, what if there were no more orchestras?  What would change?

Does music put food on the table?  What does it do?

My creative idea for the classroom this week is for a challenge for us as music educators to continue to think about what it is we want music education to offer students who might not go on to study music.  What do we believe music offers to them and us?  What might a definition of music, larger than our current one include?  What might our current one exclude?
I truly do not wish to lose orchestras but I would like to suggest that music education is much bigger than that issue.  I feel that if we do not believe this we will fall to even more cuts.  It would seem that we can no longer afford to give specialized technical training to all to benefit the few that might use it.