Guardian Charitable Choices Interviews: MusiCounts Team

février 3, 2023

The MusiCounts team spoke with The Guardian about our roles within the company, the objectives we share, and how we have made an impact on music education across the country. Check out some of our answers below.

What made you want to get involved?

Regan Harney: I believe that music is an integral part of a child’s education and knowing that I could help fundraise to ensure more kids and youth would have access to music education all over Canada is what made me want to get involved. I love being able to provide people with equal opportunities, create community, and make our country as musical as possible.

Kate Bangay: When I first met with MusiCounts’ President, Kristy Fletcher, it was clear that this was a small, dedicated, and accomplished team with a clear mission and a strong track record. They had a keen understanding of the nature of the problem they work to solve, and had the capacity and agility to adapt to what was, at the time, a rapidly-changing landscape. That the organization focused on music – an industry I’d been working in for a while – was the cherry on top!

Kristy Fletcher: I was looking for a career change, and wanted my professional career to reflect my personal values. At the time my kids were in elementary school, and music class was a transformational space for them. Specifically, my youngest child was able to use music class to sort through his emotions and find common ground with his classmates. My older son was gaining confidence by playing instruments and exploring his creative side. So when this job opportunity hit my radar, I knew immediately it was where I wanted to invest my time and efforts.

Nick Godsoe: As a trained musician and music researcher, I know firsthand music’s unique ability to bring kids together and help young people through difficult times. Music was an incredible outlet for me when I was in school; I moved around a lot as a kid, and music class was the one place where I felt like I could connect with new people, be myself, and make friends. I work with MusiCounts because all kids deserve to have this kind of experience at school.

What was the situation like when you started?

Regan Harney: When I first started I saw what the reality was of music education in Canada on a more intimate level. Some schools have no funding, some get $500. Some schools have instruments that are over 70 years old! It’s really tragic out there, but with every grant we put into a school, I know we’re helping in a very significant way.

Kate Bangay: When I joined MusiCounts, the COVID-19 pandemic was still a relatively new phenomenon. MusiCounts works at the intersection of some of the hardest-hit industries: music, education, and the not-for-profit sector. Credit to Kristy and the team, MusiCounts was able to be a responsive and supportive resource to educators to help keep music education going while schools were teaching outdoors and online. The team launched MusiCounts Learn, a collection of free resources teachers and parents could use to keep music education alive through the exceptional challenges they were facing. Music is a salve, and it was imperative to MusiCounts to ensure kids could continue to benefit from the emotional and mental well-being and support music provides.

Kristy Fletcher: MusiCounts has always been an inspirational place to work. At its core, music is joyful and working here has been an incredibly positive experience. Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to hire people with diverse experience and backgrounds, and we’ve been able to see tremendous growth in the organization.

Nick Godsoe: When I started at MusiCounts, our primary focus was on our grant programs: allocating between 1 and 1.5 million dollars worth of musical gear each year to dozens of in-need schools and community organizations across the country, so they can finally replace decades-old inventories of non-functional musical instruments, or acquire the necessary equipment to start a brand new music program.

How has it changed since?

Regan Harney: Honestly, not much, and needs are always changing, so the grants and requests for instruments, resources, and equipment are actually increasing this year. This seems to be like a never-ending challenge, but MusiCounts is happy to take it on.

Kate Bangay: Since that initial response to the pandemic, MusiCounts came to understand that those resources helped fill another gap. Educators can struggle with the limitations of their instrument inventory when it comes to bringing diverse music and perspectives into the classroom – imagine trying to teach hip-hop on a concert band instrument inventory, for example – and we quickly realized that there was an opportunity to support educators in bringing music that reflects students’ interests and identities into the classroom through teaching guides. Since then, we’ve created a suite of free tools for teachers like “Kanata: Contemporary Indigenous Artists and their Music” (authored by Sherryl Sewepagaham), “#BlackMusicMatters: Hip-Hop and Social Justice in Canada” (Authored by 2022 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Darren Hamilton and Jon Corbin), and The Big Heart Journey (authored by Taes Leavitt of Splash’n Boots). We’ve also developed a resource that teaches youth about the broad range of career possibilities in the music industry. Kids who are into music often get discouraged by what they perceive to be a lack of opportunities; not everyone can be the next Justin Bieber, of course, but kids often don’t know that they could be his lawyer, his accountant, his publicist, or his tour manager, as a few examples. TRACK: Industry Insights, helps youth and educators see the pathways to success in the music industry outside of performance. It’s a rich, vibrant industry with a place for everyone, but it’s cloaked in a bit of mystery. We’re hoping to break that barrier down.

Kristy Fletcher: MusiCounts has grown steadily, trying to meet the level of need we see across the country. And I think it’ll come as no surprise that the pandemic had a profound effect on MusiCounts. The two sectors we work within, music and education, were tremendously affected, and at the time we worked very quickly to respond to the needs of educators and students; how could we keep music education alive as classes shifted to virtual instruction and group music-making was prohibited? What came of this immediate need is a program called MusiCounts Learn, which was a huge shift for us. We’re now developing curriculum companion resources with the help of some truly incredible educators. These resources, which focus on listening- and inquiry-based teaching methods, empower teachers to bring diverse Canadian music into the classroom with ease. Resources like “Kanata: Contemporary Indigenous Artists and Their Music” and “#BlackMusicMatters: Hip-Hop and Social Justice in Canada” are completely free lesson plans that teachers - who have been really burnt out - can download and make use of immediately.

What we came to learn was that these resources weren’t just useful during the pandemic. Teachers were struggling to diversify and decolonize the music classroom, and these downloads were filling a gap in terms of variety. So MusiCounts has continued to build these tools - another one of our resources, TRACK, focuses on the breadth of career possibilities in the music industry beyond being a performer, which is knowledge a lot of teachers aren’t armed with.

Nick: The issue of music education in Canada being painfully underfunded—and schools not having the resources to offer music education in an inclusive and sustainable way—has, unfortunately, only gotten worse in my five years with MusiCounts. The pandemic has exaggerated this issue, and has put music class on the chopping block in all areas of the country. The fact that music education is often perceived as dispensable by school boards across Canada is so fascinating to me; the pandemic has drawn into focus why music is so essential for all of us. I’m sure we can all recall a moment when music helped us feel connected and supported, despite the pandemic making us all feel isolated. That said, this is not the time to pull back on music education. Kids need music now more than ever.

What has changed, however, is the scope of our approach to supporting music education. When the pandemic started and in-person music classes were drawn to a halt, we knew we needed to do more to keep music going for kids. We also knew that teachers across Canada lacked relevant, up-to-date resources to support them in exploring contemporary Canadian music with their students. That’s when we created MusiCounts Learn, an umbrella program that houses various interdisciplinary teaching resources to help educators evolve the conversations they have with their students in music class. We work with teachers all across the country in developing these resources, which feature topics including the relationship between Canadian hip-hop and social justice issues, contemporary Indigenous artists and their music, and the huge scope of non-performance careers that exist in Canada’s music industry. We’re proud to offer all of these resources free of charge at Building these kinds of resources is new territory for MusiCounts, but the positive reception has made apparent the need for this.