• By: Aaron Nava

MusiCounts’ harmonious fall helping Canadian schools and communities

The fall season has been a difficult time for music education, like all sorts of education. But the non-profit organization MusiCounts and the teachers it supports have changed and refined their approach. “Heading back to school looked very different in 2020,” writes Kate Bangay, Communications Manager at MusiCounts. “Teachers, parents, students, and community members felt a collective apprehension about the unknown brought on by the pandemic. Many teachers have had to rethink the delivery and content of their music programs given that public health directives prohibit gatherings and activities like singing.”

MusiCounts is Canada’s music education charity associated with the JUNO Awards and the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (CARAS). Their mission is to ensure that all youth in Canada have access to music education in their school or community, so the charity focuses on offering instrument grants to schools and communities. In 2019, MusiCounts received over $6 million in school instrument requests, but could only support 1 in 5 schools, so even in better times, new fundraising can make a difference.

“MusiCounts' primary areas of focus are in two of the hardest-hit sectors: music and education,” writes Bangay. “Naturally, the pandemic has had a significant impact on our operations. As classes were suddenly cancelled or shifted online, MusiCounts saw that parents and teachers needed resources and support to continue music education. We quickly launched MusiCounts Learn, a brand-new program to help parents and teachers keep students engaged with music education from home.”

'MusiCounts Learn' features an online resource hub and ongoing virtual town-hall events to generate discussion and share learnings on music-related topics. The Learning Resources page features a detailed breakdown of dozens of music teaching tools online, including the grade range of the educational material. “We've also developed new resources for educators like the Canadian Music Playlist Challenge (developed in partnership with CBC Music),” writes Bangay, “which allows teachers who don't have in-person classes or access to instruments to bring music into their curriculum in a meaningful way.”

“That doesn't mean that music education has stopped—in fact, it's quite the opposite! Our back-to-school campaign enlisted the support of Canadian musicians from across the country (like Fred Penner, Walk off the Earth, and Sacha Visagie) who helped us share the message that music class is essential and teachers need support to innovate, adapt, and continue this integral component of a young person's education.”

“The impact is everywhere we look,” writes Bangay. “Among the 96 schools who received Band Aid grants in 2019, over half reported their annual budget for the music program was less than $500. This means that for the average MusiCounts recipient school with this budget, a Band Aid grant of $15,000 would equate to over thirty years of funding all at once.”

Music is at the heart the program at Ottawa's Urban Aboriginal Alternative High School Program.

Bangay highlights the Urban Aboriginal Alternative High School Program in Ottawa as a remarkable example. The school was able to enrich their music program with guitars and traditional drums.

“Our school is for any Indigenous student who has not felt successful or included in a mainstream program, or who faces challenges in getting an education,” says Celina Cada-Matasawagon, a teacher with the school. “Music is at the heart of this program. It allows us to build community, connect students with a sense of culture and heritage, develop skills that are less directly focused on reading, writing, and math, and help students feel empowered to express themselves. Some of the students say that being able to come in and play or make a bit of music is the thing that gets them in the door.”

The centrepiece of the MusiCounts holiday fundraising campaign is Unsilent Night, a holiday concert that will be broadcast on Facebook Live at 8 p.m. December 10, 2020. “We're thrilled to have The Tenors, Fred Penner, Splash n' Boots, and Marianas Trench confirmed to appear,” writes Bangay, “and will also have MusiCounts grant recipients from across the country performing.”

One might think that arranging virtual concerts would present a special challenge, but Bangay says they’ve had a wonderful time coordinating with these artists. “We're very lucky; Canadian artists really champion music education, and they're a tremendous help in spreading the message that music class is essential and sharing the work that MusiCounts does.”

There certainly have been some difficulties, but artists are learning to adapt. “It's tricky to produce a concert under social distancing guidelines. The Tenors, for example, will be singing on Zoom from three different locations! We appreciate everyone's ingenuity and flexibility, and of course are glad that people are staying as safe as possible.”

“We're also presenting performances from schools and community groups who have been supported by MusiCounts, which has been incredible given the stress that many teachers are under. We can't wait to see what the students perform!”

Bangay notes that MusiCounts has big plans over the next year. “When someone donates to MusiCounts, they're helping us reach more schools and community groups across the country . . . Every individual donation helps us close the gap between those who ask for our help and those we're able to support.”

“The pandemic has changed how music education happens, and so we are expanding the ways in which we support teachers and students by producing new resources and facilitating discussion…about how music education is evolving.”