THE BLOG

Why School Music Programs Should Get Instagram and Garage Band

12/03/2013 05:40 EST | Updated 02/03/2014 05:59 EST

As I revise my own history, I think back on high school relatively fondly. I played football, participated in the leadership program and managed to talk my way out of suspensions and into half-decent grades. In a lot of ways, I divided the teachers: some thought I would go on to do great things while others thought of me as a burn-out who got lucky on tests and with girls. At our commencement I was presented with the "Most Improved Student Award." My GPA was so absolutely miserable in grade 9 and 10 that when I managed to graduate with honours, finish at the top of a few classes and accept a scholarship to university, it seemed extraordinary.

       

Returning to your old high school a decade later is not easy, especially when other alumni include Prime Minister Stephen Harper and National League MVP slugger Joey Votto. Going in, I told myself to hold my head high. We've achieved a lot in my band's short career and Play In School is a chance for us to give back. Furthermore, I wanted to prove to my old music teacher, who didn't see any potential in me throughout high school, that I had made a career for myself in music. But that plan quickly unravelled when I found out she wouldn't be attending the event.

        

It's naive to think every teacher is eager to participate in Play In School. You would think, however, that most music teachers would take special interest. The importance of their work and their continual lack of support and funding is a large part of what we're trying to illuminate. When we started this program I knew funding was a problem but I didn't realize how serious it really was. At Sutton District High School the music program, grouped together with the dance and drama programs, had a combined total yearly budget of $800.

To think about this simply, if two saxophones were to break there wouldn't be enough money in the budget to fix anything else. While the general response to Play In School has been overwhelmingly positive, why is it that some music teachers, like my grade 9 teacher, have chosen to opt out of attending? Maybe they don't see value in what we are doing or they don't accept us as the right advocates for music education. Maybe they would prefer a second chair first violinist as opposed to a Canadian rock band.

        

I should be honest with you: I failed grade 9 band class. A fact that was curious to my parents as I excelled in music the three years prior. After failing, I chose to play football and never gave music education another chance. That isn't to say I didn't think about it, I loved playing music, but I was so upset and embarrassed by my experience that I wasn't willing to get back into the classroom. I wasn't the most agreeable student, but considering I wanted to have a career in music I look back and question how that interest wasn't recognized and encouraged. I still practised every day, I still loved playing the drums but the class itself wasn't stimulating. The curriculum didn't work for me. This is where Rosedale Heights succeeds.

        

To qualify this, Rosedale Heights is an arts high school and their students are supportive, interested and proactive. At the very least, that's true of the ones we had to the pleasure of meeting. In turn, what's great about Rosedale is that they give the students a lot of control over the pieces they play. What better way to engage a student than to give them control, or at least some say, over what they are learning? It's empowering.

       

I should be clear, students aren't coming forward with Miley Cyrus songs, but what if they were? I worry some music is being gate-kept from the educational sphere. I wonder if some high school teachers don't see a place for modern music in their song books. If orchestras and symphonies all over the world are playing contemporary music, maybe instructors should make room in their lesson plans. This isn't to say students shouldn't learn the classics, quite the contrary. In grade 12, Jason's strings teacher had his class perform Samuel Barber's Adagio For Strings. Jason loved it. It was a learning experience that has stayed with him to this day. I'm not questioning the importance of the classics. I am questioning why we haven't found a balance between the classic and the contemporary. What if music programs didn't feel quite so antiquated as they did when I was in high school? What if they made room for modern music and modern instrumentation? Maybe that would further engage students and show growth in music enrolment.

        

In a perfect world, where funding wasn't a problem, I would press to further modernize music programs. Students would have access to computers with recording capabilities and music editing software so they could learn to edit, produce and mix. Long gone are the mythological days of writing a hit single and sitting back as it races to the top of the charts. Music is about being proactive and about carving out your niche. It's about having a personality and being able to engage with your fans.

Maybe band classes need student run Instagram or Twitter accounts the way Richview's school newspaper does. A career in music now is as much about managing your social media and self-producing content as it is about writing great melodies. Most schools already have Apple computers that come standard with Garage Band, a perfectly good music software for learning the basics of production. It's doable, even with limited funding, but much easier said than done. It's doable, even with limited funding. To teach production, however, would necessitate a change in the system.

        

One thing I learned during Play In School is that some teachers care very much. They love music, they love their students and they desperately want their programs to exist not only so they can keep their jobs, but because they see great value in music education. It's hard to imagine where music programming will be in a few years. The York Region District School Board, for example, has changed the number of compulsory courses in their curriculum making room for less electives. Enrolment in music is lower than ever. In turn, programs are given less money and fewer resources, making music classes less appealing to students.

        

Play In School is about bringing awareness to the importance of music programs and their constant lack of funding. It's about keeping music alive in schools and pushing to provide students access to resources, education and experiences they wouldn't otherwise have. But I wonder if that is enough. For music programs to stay and to continue being relevant, they need to be modernized. They need to continue to find ways to interest students. We need to understand how music and careers in the arts have changed and find ways to teach classes that reflect this ever-shifting landscape.

We will be announcing our 2014 Play In School dates shortly. Interested school representatives can contact our management: Aaron Miller (aaron@arts-crafts.ca)

Students can and should also reach out to us via Twitter: @itsthedarcys, Instagram: @thedarcys and Facebook.com/itsthedarcys #THEDARCYSPLAYINSCHOOL

You can buy our new record Warring here: http://smarturl.it/WARRING