Keep Music in the Public Education System

Best comment I ever heard about curriculum in all of my career. Currently I teach music, dance and drama to 355 children in my school and have been for five years. I completed grade 9 classical piano with the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto when I bnlwas 17. Quit after that, got bored. My parents – the opposite of most families where music and education is concerned – weren’t pleased. I have no regrets. Ultimately they were right to insist I continue to learn piano long after I hated practicing. It got me a job.

That’s the issue with public education and music. During the Mike Harris years in Ontario when Snobelen was the Dreaded Minister of Education  (and just about destroyed the system in Ontario), the Juno awards took place on television. At that time the Barenaked Ladies actually won a Juno – not so much because they are talented, which is questionable, but because of their long-standing success insofar as Canadian pop bands are concerned. (Pop? Rock? What do they call themselves, one wonders). The best comment that the band ever released was during that award night. It was Steven Page, still with the band at that time before his crack cocaine habit (it wasn’t straight cocaine, it was actually crack), eroded his music performance, who stepped up to the microphone and stated, “everyone here has become successful in music because of our high school education in music. Keep music in the public education system.” Sadly his music education and professional success wasn’t enough to prevent Page from developing a drug habit but the legitimacy of his perspective is undeniable.

It was a deliberate political statement. Financial cutbacks to the Ontario education system were at an all-time high and schools were suffering. Usually the first subjects to receive the least amount of funding and qualified teachers are the fine arts. Teachers who had been hired specifically to teach music – such as myself – found themselves back in regular classrooms. Schools could no longer justify paying a teacher’s salary simply to teach the arts. Page didn’t have to point fingers at Snobelen or Harris. His quiet statement was a powerful one. Whether or not it had an impact on the powers that be in the province, who knows. But music never did leave the curriculum and hopefully never will.

It’s parent-teacher interview night. I have zero interviews but I intend to remain at school as late as everyone else in the hopes that somebody would like to discuss a child’s progress in music. You never know what the future holds.


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