From Instruments to Industry: Sparking Curiosity in the Classroom
November 25, 2021
This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2021 Issue of Canadian Musician Magazine.
Music class is often the spark that ignites a young person’s love for music. At MusiCounts, we know that putting an instrument into a kid's hands is a surefire way to pique that passion. For nearly 25 years, we’ve been doing just that; as Canada’s music education charity, we’re perhaps best known for investing in schools and community organizations so they can purchase instruments, equipment, and resources to help keep music education sustainable, accessible, and inclusive. Music education is chronically underfunded, and while we really do wish MusiCounts didn’t need to exist, the reality is that each year hundreds of Canadian schools with decrepit instrument inventories or literally nothing at all apply for our programs in the hopes that we can provide the sustenance to keep music class going.
Before 2020, MusiCounts was hosting joyful celebrations at schools that received funding through the MusiCounts Band Aid Program, watching as kids opened up the boxes with boomwhackers, djembe drums, guitars, and more, and connecting with prominent artists to help celebrate. Those instruments were a lifeline for music educators already struggling to keep their heads above water - and then the pandemic hit.
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed how music education was delivered; virtual learning became the norm, and in the handful of lucky places where in-person education persevered, glaring inadequacies came to light. Schools, some of which often are left with annual budgets of $500 or less for their entire music program, had to make the most of an already insufficient inventory. In addition to the typical (and constant) repair of busted instruments, teachers now had to sanitize ukuleles between uses, cart entire sets of hand drums from room to room, and host classes outside well into the harsh Canadian winter. Gaps that already existed in music programming became insurmountable chasms seemingly overnight, and teachers were often left with little to no support.
Naturally, MusiCounts had to respond. Music class is essential to kids' wellbeing; documented evidence suggests music is a critical support to mental health, and that it fosters a sense of belonging and improves performance in other academic areas. Teachers needed tools and resources to help keep music education alive; the time for MusiCounts to step up had arrived, and we would do our best to equip teachers with exactly what they needed to keep music class going strong when kids needed it most.
We set our sights on a few issues we’d long-known existed, and tackled them with a sense of urgency and drive. We quickly launched MusiCounts Learn, an online hub for all things music education: hand-selected digital education resources, online Town Hall events to facilitate much-needed discussion and community about music education issues on a national level, and eventually custom resources to help teachers fill some of the gaps in music programming.
One of those issues was a knowledge gap regarding the broad scope of exciting and rewarding careers in the music industry. Commonly-used resources for careers education limit the possibilities for a kid who loved music class to “musician” or “music teacher” and glossed over the wide-ranging areas of opportunity in a viable and bustling industry.
MusiCounts Learn TRACK, powered by RBC, is an online learning hub aimed at introducing young people to the scope of career possibilities in the Canadian music industry, beyond performance. This new resource is completely free for anyone to use.
With the support of the RBC Emerging Artists project, MusiCounts set out to support educators in bringing the bounty of opportunities in the music industry to the classroom. The resulting program, MusiCounts Learn: TRACK, is an online hub stacked with free video content outlining the foundations of exciting careers in the music industry. Young music enthusiasts can hear directly from a diverse set of mid-career industry figures - a music publicist, a tour manager, an entertainment lawyer, an artist manager, and more - about what their jobs are, how they got started, and what a day in their life looks like. Filmed entirely during the heights of the pandemic, the short, informational videos give students a glimpse behind the curtains of an industry that is notoriously enigmatic.
We hope the resource serves as an eye-opener to students who might not know the inner workings of the industry, but also to their parents who are understandably eager to support their kids’ futures. TRACK not only entices young people to join this incredible industry, but also signals to the adults in their lives that many exciting and viable career pathways can begin in the music classroom.
Ultimately, we hope TRACK will help prime future generations of music industry professionals. By putting instruments into the hands of kids, we might open hearts and minds to music - by sparking curiosity about the industry, we might give them a way in.
-- Kristy Fletcher, President, MusiCounts