Music Education: A Back-to-School Essential - The JUNO Awards

Across the country, students are dusting off their backpacks and gearing up for the beginning of a new school year. Each year, the arrival of back-to-school season signifies a period of new beginnings and a renewed enthusiasm for learning. While subjects like math and science are often top of mind for many students and parents, it’s crucial not to overlook the importance of music education.

The significance of music education is multi-faceted. Students are not only exposed to the joys and richness of music, but they experience the benefits across all areas of their lives. This includes boosting confidence, nurturing emotional and mental well-being, fostering identity, and enhancing their ability to connect and communicate with others.

Jewel Casselman, recipient of the 2023 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award and music educator at Lakewood School in Winnipeg, attests to the transformative impact of music education, “It’s so important for all the children in the school to be able to have that music education,” she shared. “It makes them more creative and confident. It builds their self-esteem. It’s an amazing way for them to learn.” 

Unlike traditional school subjects, music allows students to explore their imaginative side and communicate their emotions in a unique way. By engaging in music composition, performance, and interpretation, students develop skills that extend beyond academic achievements, enriching their overall cognitive and emotional development.

Heidi Wood, a dedicated music educator from Joane Cardinal-Schubert High School in Calgary and MusiCounts Teacher of the Year nominee, emphasizes how music allows her students to break free from conventional classroom constraints. “It gets them working outside of desks and moving and connecting with their classmates in a different way,” she shared.

Additionally, music education allows educators to welcome and celebrate the diverse identities of their students by offering a more inclusive curriculum. Casselman’s teaching approach revolves around precisely this kind of personalized instruction by meeting students at their level and building from their unique backgrounds.

“Always accept the children from where they’re at,” she explained. “Look at where they’re coming from. Look at the baggage they’re coming with. Look at their backgrounds. And then build that into your [music] programs so you can teach each child the way they need to be taught coming from where they’re at and building them towards something new.”

MusiCounts Teacher of the Year nominees on the Red Carpet. JUNO Awards. Rogers Place. Monday, March 13, 2023. Edmonton, AB. Photo: CARASiPhoto

Unfortunately, integrating these diverse and personal approaches to music education requires financial support and currently music programs across Canada are suffering. Budget constraints often lead to cuts in music programs and music education is often considered an afterthought rather than an essential component of every young person’s education.

“If teachers were given the time and a little bit more resources, [music education] could appeal to the identities of all the students that we teach,” explained St. John’s based music educator and fellow MusiCounts Teacher of the Year nominee Susan Evoy. “Instead of just teaching a Western classical curriculum, we could be teaching African drumming, different styles of guitar, we could be teaching all kinds of students that are represented in our classrooms, we could be teaching them to help enhance their identities.”

Credit: Brendan Albert

Luckily, the future of music education is bright thanks to organizations like MusiCounts. MusiCounts is a music education charity dedicated to making music education inclusive, sustainable, and accessible for youth across Canada by providing musical instruments, equipment, and resources.

With the help of MusiCounts, educators are able to break down the barriers they face when providing music education and introduce new ways of engaging with students. “I’m really excited to see existing programs continue like our traditional bands and choirs,” said Hood. “But I see this emerging field of contemporary music working with digital audio workstations and exploring music for every kid in so many different ways.”

Music education isn’t a mere elective, it’s a crucial element in nurturing well-rounded individuals. As Evoy aptly emphasizes, “Music education teaches the whole child. It teaches people about hard work, it teaches people about resilience, and music offers students an experience that is not measurable by grades, by scores. It just enhances your joyful life.”

Featured image. Credit: Brendan Albert