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Volume 14 - Issue 3 - November 2008

ENCOREEngaging Toronto's

ENCOREEngaging Toronto's Music ClassroomsThe diversity of students in Toronto'sclassrooms could be compared to a microcosmof the world. It is both challengingand exciting to teach in the publicschool system and to find ways to makemusic education meaningful to myclasses. As a high school music teacher,I've had the joy of welcoming studentsinto my classroom from just abouteverywhere on the globe. Some comewith a wealth of knowledge about music,either through formal training orpure listening and enjoyment from theirhome countries. Others come with littleknowledge of music and are surprised tofind it a part of their regular studies. Insome rare cases, I have had irate parentswho don't want their children studyingmusic because it does not fit with their religiousbeliefs. At the same time, I oftenhave students who grew up in Canada andhave been through the elementary educationalsystem. Some come with vastamounts of music education, while somehave no musical training or knowledge.So, how does a music teacher in this environmentstrive to accommodate thisplethora of diversities? How do you get agroup of teenagers at completely differentperformance levels to produce somesort of music that they can be proud of?What can you say to this group so that theyare all on the same page in terms of understandinga wide variety of musicalstyles and genres? Well, I can't claim tohave all the answers but I firmly believethat in these types of circumstances theteacher can learn as much from the studentsas the students can learn from theteacher. The teacher doesn't always haveall the answers but has to act as a facilitatorand encourage the students to sharetheir own knowledge of the subject matterto allow for an engaged classroom.This requires that the teacher build a safeclassroom, where students are supportiveand feel open to sharing, opportunities canarise in which students bring in music thatthey enjoy. They can speak about how theyby Matthew Tran-Adamsincorporate music in their daily lives,whether that be dancing and drumming ina village in Africa, rapping along with aCantopop CD in Hong Kong, or thrashingand head banging to death metal in their. . . it is sometimes difficult toteach what I jokingly refer to as"the dead white guys" . . .bedrooms a block from the school. At thisstage I've even felt compelled to take it astep further and start arranging music forthe students to perform. I've had my stringorchestras study Bob Marley and play reggae,taught the history of Bollywood andarranged classics such as Chura Liya HaiTumne . I have taught Tibetan students(many of whom are refugees) to play theirnational anthem (which is banned inChina) on band instruments and evencelebrated the Chinese New Year bySteven !sserUsplaying traditional folk songs on theTrinidadian steel pan.After engaging students in music that theyare more familiar with, it is sometimesdifficult to teach what I jokingly referto as "the dead white guys," also knownas the western classical composers. I'velearned that it becomes easier when youput this into the context: talking abouthistorical styles of music from Europeand then trying to make the composerscome alive as "real people".Author and cellist, Steven Isserlis, whowill visit Toronto this month, has writtentwo very witty books that have the abilityto enlighten and engage young people inthe music of composers such as Bach,Beethoven, and even Stravinsky. Isserlis'two books, Why Beethoven Threw theStew and Why Handel Waggled his Wigcontain a conversational style and indepthknowledge of the composers' personallives which creates an interactiveconversation that students can easily relateto. Whether Isserlis is giving pronunciationhelp: "Bach .. . pronounced halfway between a sheep's 'baa' and a dog 's'bark'~with the 'eh' sounding as if youwere trying to clear your throat" or tellinginteresting stories of how Beethovenwould get so annoyed at students he actuallybit one in the shoulder, he has a creativeway of bringing these characters tolife. The books are an excellent resourcefor students learning about western classicalmusic, students in private lessonswho want to learn about the inspiration ofthese composers, or music teachers whowant to engage students with interestingstories that brings these "guys" to life.Isserlis performs Monday, November 3at 7:30pm, gives cello master classes onTuesday, November 4 at J pm andWedn esday, November 5 at J pm all atWalter Hall at the University of Toronto.Isserlis' books are available from thepublisher Faber and Faber.62WWW . THEWHOLENOTE. COMNOVEMB ER 1 - D ECEMB ER 7 2008

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