“…as if I am rounding the human corners.” Linda Hogan
While in graduate school I heard about a study that attempted to measure the total amount of musical activity in Canada. As the findings were shared with us, it dawned on those listening that our country had much to be proud of. Normally we think of measuring professional activity as the significant factor, so when compared to Paris, we can feel quite small. This study included amateur activity and all aspects of music learning as well.
This was in the 1980’s, which was when I was in graduate school for the first time. There were a great many elementary, middle and high school students enrolled in a large array of music programs across the country. I am indebted to the music teachers I had at that stage, one of them Mary Legge, now retired for some time, still volunteers regularly in high schools. At one point, we had the chance to read through a Beethoven symphony in the orchestra. The sound we made was probably a cacophonous mess, but it was an amazing experience. Shivers of excitement went up my spine at numerous moments. Providing access to high-quality music education was a mandate of many boards of education at the time.
Many high schools continue to stage a Broadway-style musical, which brings theatre, music, dance and art departments together. It is a tremendous bonding experience requiring many extra hours of rehearsal. I remember the excitement over costume fittings, laughter over mistakes, and the discovery of new talents. We would break out in lines from the show over the next year and collapse in giggles.
On Thursday evening across the country, church choirs rehearse. When added to the sum of musical activity, there is a significant increase. On every street in the country, there is someone who sings in a church choir. Always new music for each service, and many employ professional singers to help raise the proficiency level and to cover the challenging parts. It is a small, but stable income provider for the artists whose voices “give wings to the words they sing.”
Another aspect enumerated was the nature of music lessons. In Europe, the Conservatory system provides subsidized high-quality instruction to the professional level. However, you had to pass a test to get in, and this restricts admittance. In Canada, there is a huge variety of music lessons available: storefront operations, after-school programs at community centres, subsidized lessons for at-risk neighbourhoods and preparatory schools that run beside university programs. Many schools include intro nights where you can attend lessons with a friend. In addition, there are ukulele nights at many local taverns where players get together to learn with each other.
There are also a great many community bands, choirs, and orchestras. Usually, these require auditions, but there are at least a hundred in Toronto alone. Sometimes professionals-in-training join these to build up experience and skills. Sometimes retirees join for the joy of music and the sense of community these groups build.
Locally, there is a dense live music scene; “saturated” is the way a government music administrator described it. There are several open mikes every night of the week, and live music for every budget and taste including free lunch hour concerts. I remember a series from long ago: Breakfast with Bach, which was a weekend brunch series that featured well established local concert artists.
As a student I went to Paris to study — there were world-class teachers available for minimal cost. In recent years I have noticed the reverse happening: young musicians from Paris coming to Canada to study. This is because we have a very open, inclusive approach to music, and our university programs include the option to study electronic arts, songwriting, and world music. It is a very rich fabric of music that runs through Canada with a plethora of pathways to choose into the world of music making, a legacy to celebrate.