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Coalition for Music Education in Canada Update

By 20 February 2014July 23rd, 2021No Comments

Principals of Music Award

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Meet Canada’s Principals of Music for 2013!

– Norman Mould,  Past Chair, Coalition for Music Education

I see and hear more confidence, joy, creativity, and engagement in both students and in teachers when music is involved in their learning.
Jane Couch, Principal, Stevenson-Britannia, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Well it certainly teaches them the value of team work. Some of our non-athletic students would never have this experience otherwise.
Michelle Armishaw, Principal, Sydney River Elementary, Sydney River, Nova Scotia.

I firmly believe they are more confident and are better able to collaborate with each other because of music.  I’ve seen students who are not interested in school, become more engaged because of being involved in a choir, a musical or a play.  I work in a mainstream board, where students with special needs are integrated into the regular classroom. I have seen many of these students shine in a choir or feel like they belong when they perform with their stomp group. Music does bring out the best in people.  Anthony McGrath, Principal, Our Lady of the Rosary, Concord, Ontario

Their participation in our Music and Fine Arts Programming promotes and develops an attachment to school and the desire to learn. This positive environment increases a student’s self-esteem and they become responsible and capable individuals who enjoy active participation in their learning. Many of these students who hold membership in our Music and Fine Arts Programming, also take on roles in our Student Leadership Program.
Tracey MacMillan, Principal, Nakausk School, Iqaluit, Nunavut

Quotations from the four Principals of Music Award winners for 2013, proving that they “get it.”  They understand the importance of having music as part of a well-rounded education; and they are prepared to ensure – through their attention to funding, advocacy, scheduling and resourcing – that the music programs in their schools thrive and are sustainable.

Interestingly, these four individuals followed quite different paths in arriving at the beliefs underlying their commitment to music education.  Some are nearing the end of their teaching careers, others are looking forward to many more years.  Two were in school music groups through elementary and high school, but the other two have never studied music and one of these was – shock, horror – a Phys Ed major!

So, how did they get here?

Jane Couch was born in Edmonton and raised in Winnipeg.  She played the flute and saxophone in both concert and jazz bands in junior high and high school.  Married to a musician, she does not currently have time to play herself.  Jane began teaching in 1994, becoming a Vice-Principal in 2006 and a Principal in 2011.

She recalls with fondness, from her days in school and university bands and orchestras “that feeling of playing or singing your best when surrounded by others doing the same, is one of the most comforting and exhilarating feelings. This has shaped my belief in creating opportunities for my students to also have that experience of being a part of the creative process with a group.” 

In the words of Ryan Miller, who nominated Ms Couch for the award, Jane “recognizes the importance of a structured music program and has scheduled mandatory choir at the primary (2/3) and intermediate (4/5) levels. In addition, Jane has increased the number of periods per cycle that the Music Teacher sees each classroom at each grade level. All of our students take an active role in their music programming and see music, singing and performing as an everyday skill and activity.”

Michelle (Mikki) Armishaw was born and grew up in Reserve Mines, a small Cape Breton village. Having started her teaching career in 1983, she has been at the same school for 20 years, initially as the Physical Education teacher. Following 4 years as a Vice-Principal, she became Principal 10 years ago. Mikki’s east coast sense of humour comes through when she is asked about her own musical experiences.

I have never studied music in my life. I read a biography on Anne Murray once… but I don’t think that qualifies!!! Currently, playing the radio is about my biggest musical talent! I do like to play golf and, in fact, have run into Anne Murray twice on different golf courses! If I see her again…I can tell her about by award! Ha-ha!”

Her tone becomes more serious, though, when talking about why she places such importance on the music program. ” I just feel that as the Principal I need to support (the music teachers’) efforts. They are so organized; the students really enjoy the music and band experience; the concerts are fabulous; and the parents are very supportive.”

Angela Favaro, her nominator, reveals some of Ms Armishaw’s scheduling strategies that ensure the program runs smoothly:

  • She schedules band as a pull out program allowing for instruction in small groups for like instruments, schedules a one hour weekly rehearsal for choir, considers after school band rehearsals as contact time for the music teacher.
  • She insists that teachers have their students at the music room door for the beginning of their class and pick them up at the end so that no instructional time is lost. She also insists that no students be left behind to catch up on work.

Anthony McGrath (pron. McGraw) is another small town, east coast product.  He was born in Tilting Harbour, one of nine fishing villages on Fogo Island, which is off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.  He grew up in a family with nine brothers and sisters. After high school he went to Memorial University “in the big city of St. John’s, NL.”

Following a year and a half teaching in Newfoundland, he began teaching in Toronto in 1987.  He moved into administration just over 10 years ago and became a Principal six years ago with the York District Catholic School Board.

Tony McGrath taught himself to read music while singing tenor in various choirs.  He does not play any instruments (“unless the spoons count”) but would love to find time to learn the piano.  “I have always loved music and as a teacher I integrated it throughout my day. It was always a great way to motivate kids.“

Mallorie Lister, who nominated Mr. McGrath, is impressed with his support of Music Monday as a way of advocating for the program: He encourages parents, students, and teachers to be involved in our Music Monday Celebrations. He even plays the Music Monday song on the PA every Monday weeks before our event to get the students and teachers excited.”

Tracey MacMillan is another small town girl, having been raised in the Northern Ontario community of South Porcupine (near Timmins).  She comes from a musical family (grandmother a piano teacher, uncles and aunts playing a variety of musical instruments). She sang in her elementary school choir and played the flute in high school performances.

Tracey, who began teaching in 1998, moved to Nunavut in 2000.  She clearly encourages her own students to reap the benefits of musical experiences.  “Annually, for the past 3 years, our students have prepared and  performed in Spring Musicals, Christmas Concerts, Elders Performances, Community Choirs, and as invitees to Government of Nunavut events. These students memorize their parts, act, sing, and dance with joy! We are proud of the performances of these talented young individuals as they embrace new approaches and, also, become sensitized to their own cultural dynamic.”

She is also aware of the importance of advocacy for music programs.  While cognizant of the benefits to the children of all this outreach activity, she also takes care to point out that “During the Christmas Season, over two nights, our students will entertain approximately 1000 parents / guardians / community members during their performances. In this way we promote our programming and grow support for our Music and Fine Arts activities.”

Her nominator, Darlene Nuqingaq, mentioned Ms MacMillan’s strong financial support, citing the school’s purchase in the past year of fold-out risers to showcase the school choir of 75+ students; a new sound system with cordless microphones to enhance their school musical performances, school choir outfits – miniature traditional amoutis for the girls and atiigis for the boys, and other musical resources.

These inspiring Principals, with their diverse backgrounds and differing challenges, do have some characteristics in common.  They all seem to recognize, as does Michelle Armishaw, that “music is a lifetime activity, just like healthy, active living!”    In their own ways, they also appear to hold the view, espoused by Tracey MacMillan, that “it is essential to promote a holistic approach in the education of the child. We have to meet the needs of our learners by offering programs that include intellectual, kinesthetic, social, aesthetic, and emotional development. A child will be better equipped to make a valuable contribution to their  families and communities if their education is broad-based and less linear.”  Clearly, studying music can play an important part in meeting those needs.

Furthermore, they all obviously have great respect for their colleagues who deliver the music programs.  They are not alone in this.  The Principals of Music Awards Selection Committee was greatly impressed with the number and quality of the nominations received this year.  (It is purely coincidental that all of this year’s winners are from Elementary Schools.)  On behalf of that committee, I would like to thank all those who submitted nominations and offer sincere congratulations to the winners and the many Finalists from across the country. We would also encourage music educators everywhere to continue to nominate their supportive administrators.  Without their support programs will not flourish and a bit of positive reinforcement never did anyone any harm.  As we always say, “It’s the Principal that counts!”

The Principals of Music Awards are presented annually by the Coalition for Music Education in honour of Mr. George Bishop, one of the founders and the first Executive Director of the Coalition.  The awards acknowledge the important role administrators play in ensuring that music programs thrive.  The award for the Northern region was funded by a grant from the National Arts Centre.