Ten Years of Teaching Music - Jeff Holbrough

When I was first hired in January of 1989, I was still in Teacher's College.  I was in the last of the lucky years - I got hired.  I had no idea where I was going to teach, or at what school, but I knew it was going to be in London.  I studied vocal music in my undergraduate.  I took a number of instrumental courses, what I had to, to get my Music Education degree.  In Teacher's College, I was in the Intermediate/Senior panel, and all of my practice teaching was done in vocal music at the high school level.  I remember sitting across from my new principal - Eric Ross.  He was telling me that I was going to be teaching Grade 7 homeroom, and instrumental music, and possibly some primary vocal music.  I was a little shocked.  I had not done much instrumental, and my vocal experience was all at the high school level.   Well, I did what every other music teacher does.  I just did it.  I called upon some colleagues, who were very supportive and off I went.  In the first two years, I knew nothing about curriculum.  I honestly didn't have time to look at curriculum.  I mean, I remember getting them in my mailbox at school, looking at them and then putting them on the shelf, where they peacefully laid.  Ministry guidelines had very little if any effect on what I did in the classroom.  I figured if I can get these kids to play, at a high level as fast as possible, then I can back off and spend more time in the listening and creating areas.  My principal was the most supportive man I have known.  He did not pressure me to implement the curriculum from the Ministry.  That is not to say that he did not observe - on the contrary - in my first two years, "green contract", I was watched from afar as Eric used to say.  Once I felt comfortable with what I was doing, I developed my own program.  As Prof. McKellar used to say - "you are the best at what you do, so trust yourself, and do it."  So I did, and I would say that I have been quite successful at it.  My job as a music teacher is to teach my students about music.  How to read music, play music, and most importantly, make music a part of their everyday life.  I do that.  I will freely admit that I don't spend much time, any time for that matter, worrying about whether or not I am teaching the curriculum that the Ministry has set out.  Now, that might change with the new Arts document, but I doubt it.  I have taught through three major shifts in policy not only in music, but in education as well, and although my job is much more tiring, it really hasn't changed that much.  Musically it has changed even less.  Then here we are, in 1998, amalgamation and all that stuff, and we have to fight for all we have again.  There are rumours floating around everywhere that instrumental music in the elementary panel could be cut completely.  Time will tell.  It makes me think of what Don McKellar said to me when I was interviewing him - you have to fight for every inch.  That was in 1951.  Makes you wonder how far have we really come?  Under this government, the Arts, and specifically music has been de-valued.  I couldn't imagine my students' lives without music - and lucky for me, neither could they.

Reflections of a Distinguished Career in Music Education
An Interview with Professor Donald McKellar

This is a paraphrase of an interview that I conducted with Professor Donald McKellar, Professor Emeritus at the University of Western Ontario. He was the founding chairman of the Music Education Department and was the Associate Dean of UWO, Faculty of Music during the years when Western's Faculty of Music became the largest in Canada.
I began teaching in 1956 at Nepean High School in Ottawa. At that time, there was not an instrumental program, or any music program for that matter in Ottawa. I was hired to start the program. It was an interesting time then - in the 50's. I told my principal what I needed to begin an instrumental program, instruments, music and such and he said fine. There was never any question of money. Far different from now. We really had nothing to go on. Nothing to compare ourselves with. We really were pioneers in our field. The only model we had was that of North Toronto Collegiate, under Jack Dow, and Barrie High School under Allan Fisher. These were the two programs in Ontario that everyone modeled their programs after. I remember sitting watching the Barrie band playing in a concert. They were playing
God Save the Queen and it was at that moment, with tears in my eyes that I decided that this is what I wanted to do. Most of the high school music programs were being directed by ex-servicemen that were involved in music during war time. It was Major Brian McCool who started a summer training program for music teachers. It was developed to train music teachers quickly and get them into the schools. Our objective as music teachers was to get kids playing at a high level as quickly as we could. Our program was based upon people hearing what we were doing. In the 50's and 60's, very few people in the province had heard their own children playing in a band or orchestra. We had to get the message out - this music stuff was great. One of the biggest influences on music programs in the 50's was that of the music festivals. The Toronto Music Festival was the be all and end all. Everyone wanted to go there and beat Barrie. That was one of the driving forces behind many programs in Ontario. You have to understand that money was almost unlimited. Teachers were incredibly enthusiastic about music - I mean this was something new and every inch that was gained was gained through flying by the seat of our pants sometimes. In 1961 I was asked to come to London. At that time teacher jobs were advertised in the Globe and Mail, and I saw a job advertised for London. It was a job for Wheable. I was being asked to start up the instrumental program in London. I was from St. Thomas, so I took it. I taught at Wheable until I was asked to start the music program at the University. When you talk about music programs in schools, there is so much to talk about. I mean, performance was the key, but we were in the business of making musicians. We had to teach them to read the music. That is how you create music programs. To talk about the documents - well, there really isn't that much to say. I mean I taught through just about all of them. The documents don't make the program - the teacher does. The music programs that are thriving, I mean really doing well in both the elementary and secondary level, is because they have a dynamic teacher pushing the kids to excel. It has nothing to do with the documents the government pushes on us. I mean we paid some attention to the documents that came out, but very little. We were expected to look at the documents, but we were not necessarily expected to use them. I mean you know what it is like. You are a master at what you do - you don't need a document to tell you how to do it better. You came from the best music school in the country - you have the skills, and you also have the energy and the dynamics. That is the key.

*** An interview was conducted with Tim Carroll, Music Teacher, St. Michael C.S.S.  This interview is available on compact disc - E-mail for details.