A lot can happen in a quarter century. When dedicated people align in support of a common cause, so much can be accomplished.
25 years ago, as cuts to arts funding in schools became de rigeur, a handful of figures at the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) saw an opportunity to rally the industry around a critical component of its health: music class.
The Academy had, for many years, supported up-and-coming music industry professionals through a scholarship program initiated by past CARAS President Peter Steinmetz. When the “Oh What a Feeling?!” compilation - produced in celebration of the JUNO Awards’ 25th anniversary - generated a significant pool of revenue, key figures on the CARAS Board felt that it was time to act. Ross Reynolds and Deane Cameron reached out to legendary producer Bob Ezrin with the idea to form MusiCounts, a charitable organization that would rally the music industry together and direct funds into schools for musical instruments.
Left to right: Bob Ezrin accepting a JUNO Award, Barenaked Ladies at a MusiCounts Band Aid Celebration.
As the MusiCounts Band Aid Program grew in scale and impact, it became clear that while many schools suffered with shoddy inventory, there was one key asset from which music classrooms benefitted: teachers. In 2005, MusiCounts began celebrating music educators by recognizing one exceptional teacher with the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award. In its inaugural year, the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award was generously supported - and presented - by the Rolling Stones; it became a touchpoint for the artistic community to engage around, including legends like Céline Dion, Michael Bublé, Anne Murray, Shania Twain, and Rush. Since its inception, the award has recognized 16 incredible educators.
In 2013, Broken Social Scene member Kevin Drew and then-Executive Director of MusiCounts Allan Reid (who would later go on to act as President & CEO of CARAS) were approached by TD with an idea: how could the bank partner with MusiCounts to increase access to music programming in communities? The resulting MusiCounts TD Community Music Program has grown into a sought-after granting program that invests up to $20,000 into community groups, daycares, teen drop-in centres, Friendship Centres, and not-for-profits so they can serve youth with music programming in community settings. The program has invested over $3M into 247 groups since its inception, and helps kids access music programming in unique and often identity-affirming ways.
Left to right: The Rolling Stones with 2006 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Norman McIntosh, Marianas Trench at a MusiCounts TD Community Music Program recipient organization.
MusiCounts, by its proximity to the Canadian music industry, is uniquely positioned not only to support children’s development with music but also to support the vitality and health of the industry by sparking a love of music in young people. MusiCounts feeds this classroom-to-industry pipeline by offering scholarships; the Accelerate Scholarship, which has been awarding bursaries to post-secondary students (under several names) since 1989, and the new Amplify Program for keen high-school aged students, launched in 2021. Both scholarships offer a generous financial bursary, but the most useful component comes without a price tag: mentorship sessions with key industry professionals who deliver an insider’s lay of the land, build meaningful relationships and connections with participants, and inspire recipients to engage in unique areas of the business which may not be apparent to the uninitiated. Recipients of the MusiCounts scholarships have gone on to lead exciting careers as songwriters, producers, performers, and more.
The charity has experienced significant development over the course of its history, but the acceleration of that growth was catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the charitable, education, and music sectors disproportionately hard. Public health directives meant many music educators were at a loss for how to deliver curriculum; classes moved online or outdoors, and many teachers were forced to cart instruments and materials from room to room within their schools - not an easy task by any means, and an impossible challenge for those with concert band or similarly unwieldy inventories. Luckily for Canadian students, teachers are creative, resilient, adaptive, and innovative, and MusiCounts took their lead. MusiCounts Learn was born at the outset of the pandemic. This new digital program housed a resource hub for teachers and parents to help make music a priority for isolated kids, and a series of national town hall conversations to support educators and create community amongst a group of professionals trying to make it work despite the odds.
Left to right: MusiCounts Accelerate Scholarship recipients, #BlackMusicMatters resource.
What was surprising about MusiCounts Learn was how necessary it was. Teachers expressed the need for resources and tools to help keep music class exciting, relevant, and diverse. How, for example, would an educator teach a broad range of musical styles on an outdated instrument inventory configured for a Euro-centric approach to music? MusiCounts heard this feedback, and developed MusiCounts Learn into a home for teaching resources that help educators bring the music of diverse Canadian artists into the classroom to keep kids engaged, excited, acknowledged, and inspired. MusiCounts Learn resources like Kanata: Contemporary Indigenous Artists and Their Music, #BlackMusicMatters: Hip-Hop and Social Justice in Canada, and The MusiCounts Learn Big Heart Journey are completely free for any teacher to use, and have been adopted into several education board resource collections across the country.
While MusiCounts’ trajectory and impact is something to be proud of, there is one truth that cannot be ignored: there is still so much to do. Each year, our granting programs receive four to five times the requested funds as are available to be allocated. Some of the instruments purchased with grants from MusiCounts’ early years are at the end of their lifespan, and there is no sign that school budgets will be restored. MusiCounts must continue to be the champion for music education, and we’ll need strength in numbers to sustain music education across the country. The need is as great as ever; what was once a band-aid solution has now become a lifeline for music education. Make your contribution today, and help us keep the music playing for years to come.