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Letter: Music teaches many valuable life lessons, says teacher

If you want to see an engaged student actively involved in learning, step into a music room

As a music educator, I am constantly reflecting about why I do what I do. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my work as a music educator through three different lenses. 

First, I think about what my experience was like as a young person going through elementary and secondary school and my relationship with music. Next, I reflect on my current position as a secondary school music educator and what that means. Lastly, I reflect on how music education has had an impact on myself as a human being. 

There is no doubt that music has had a major impact on me. Below are the insights of a person who owes his success to music education.

To begin, I was extremely fortunate as a young person. I constantly think back to the amazing music teachers that I had as a student. My first music teacher’s name was Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown taught elementary choir and general music. 

Yes, this is where my music education began, but music is not all that I learned from this early experience. Mr. Brown taught me what it means to work collaboratively with a group. He showed the importance and power of community through involvement with music. Not to mention, this is when I started to express myself and develop confidence through my involvement with choir and various percussive instruments. I owe my early development and love for music to Mr. Brown.

The next teacher to have a huge impact on my early music education was my grade 7 and 8 music teacher, Mme. Desloges. She was the one that introduced me to what it means to play a wind instrument and to be a part of a concert band. As a grade 7 and 8 student, I quickly learned about commitment. I needed to be at school early in order to participate in this group. If I missed a rehearsal, I knew that I was not only letting my teacher down, but I was letting the rest of the band down. People depended on me. I owe my sense of commitment to Mme. Desloges.

Third, is Ms. Otto. Ms. Otto was my secondary school band director and music teacher. Ms. Otto taught me about leadership. She constantly offered opportunities for leadership and this is what truly fueled my passion for music education. She let me run band warm ups before rehearsals, run sectionals to coach my younger peers, and gave me full control of the junior jazz band when I was in Grade 12. Ms. Otto constantly allowed time for creative thinking and group collaboration. To be honest, Ms. Otto is probably the main reason that I decided to pursue a career in music. 

As a professional musician, I am constantly working with new people. I need to be flexible, creative, and reliable. My work as a musician has allowed me to develop all of the skills deemed necessary in today’s modern world. Collaboration, organization, creative problem solving, independence, critical thinking, and flexibility are all 21st century skills that are needed to survive in today’s modern world. 

They are also the skills that are constantly being developed by musicians. The skills that musicians need, are the same skills that schools are pushing to integrate. This is a big reason why music is so necessary and impactful in modern classrooms (despite constant cuts to music education programs). 

As a music educator, I constantly see the impact that music has on my students. Music is more than a subject to many students. It quickly becomes their life, their safe place, their home. A music room is a magical place. Constantly, there are students in the music room. This is where they eat lunch, study, relax with friends, practise and rehearse. If you are in music, you are a part of a family. 

If you want to see an engaged student actively involved in learning, developing 21st century skills required for today’s modern world, step into a music room. I see students come into Grade 9 with little to no musical background. I see the excitement as they put their instruments together for the first time, as they struggle to make a sound (sometimes for weeks), gain confidence in themselves, develop a sense of purpose and community, and become a part of something larger than any of us.

Why do I do what I do? I do what I do because if it is was not for music education, I would not be a leader. I would not be a confident and critical thinker. I would not see the beauty that is around us every day. Thanks to music, I am happy, healthy, creative, and feel a great sense of purpose and community. I grew up very fortunate to have access to quality music education. 

Unfortunately, in our province, there are schools and communities that do not have this access. There are kids who are struggling because they do not feel a sense of community. Many rural schools, specifically elementary schools, do not have access to a qualified music educator. It is my hope that someday every school will have access to the same quality music education that I was fortunate enough to receive. 

It is my belief that every child deserves to feel that sense of purpose and community. If we want our youth to have the skills needed for success, we need to give them those skills that are taught in a music classroom. I owe my success today to my music education and I am thankful every day for the skills that were developed in my music classes.

Mitch McIntyre