Music Education | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Music Education

Music education in Canada has progressed from rustic beginnings in the colonial period to the present time when music training is available both for amateurs and professionals, and, indeed, is an increasingly important facet of general education.

Music Education

Music education in Canada has progressed from rustic beginnings in the colonial period to the present time when music training is available both for amateurs and professionals, and, indeed, is an increasingly important facet of general education. Historically the main branches of music education can be identified as private teaching, school instruction (public and private), and music in higher education. However, music education in the 1980s has evolved into a sophisticated complex of activities involving institutions, professional organizations, government agencies and cultural groups.

Colonial Period to 1918

Missionaries and military personnel furnished early forms of musical activity. As permanent settlements developed, church choirs and bands, however informal and unsophisticated, became the wellsprings from which a vigorous musical life emerged. Religious orders provided most of the instruction in French Canada, with the result that music was closely associated with convent schools and other church institutions. Their contribution in English-speaking regions should also be recognized, particularly that of the Irish orders in Newfoundland. French and English origins of Canadian culture account for much of the diversity in music education. For example, solfège in Québec was based on the fixed doh system of continental Europe, whereas the movable doh tradition in English Canada had its roots in Britain. Early American influences can be seen in the singing schools of Upper Canada, where Protestant churches were prevalent.

Egerton RYERSON listed vocal music as a subject in the common schools of Upper Canada in 1846 and has been considered the champion of school music ever since. As chief superintendent of education, he formulated his educational plan after extensive travel to Britain, Europe and the US, where school systems had introduced singing on the strength of Pestalozzi's educational theories.

The question of "who should teach school music" and what training they should receive was never resolved satisfactorily. Ryerson attempted to provide such training within his Normal School, but the most successful results in the schools were achieved in cities such as Hamilton and London, Ontario, and Ottawa, where trained musicians were hired. As the population increased, these special music teachers assumed the role of supervisors and were expected to conduct in-service programs for the regular teachers.

Generally, rote singing was the main activity, although more competent teachers also taught sight reading and voice culture; written examinations suggest a certain preoccupation with the rudiments. Achievement in music was dependent upon the expertise and interest of the individual teachers; consequently the outcome was uneven from school to school. By the late 1880s enthusiasm for John Curwen's Tonic Sol-fa system had been transplanted to Canada by British immigrants such as A.T. Cringan, who taught in the Toronto schools. Their missionary spirit was heightened in a controversy over a proposal to sanction a rival American method.

Music in the rural schools was neglected or often nonexistent, but in the cities music supervisors mounted massed concerts and demonstrations to display their accomplishments, especially on the occasions of royal visits or Empire Days. These events were characterized by the singing of patriotic airs and a certain amount of flag waving. In the Prairie provinces, where there was an influx of European peoples, school officials encouraged the use of national songs in their zeal to Canadianize the population. Too often music in the schools relied upon these utilitarian benefits rather than on a sound educational philosophy.

In the late 19th century, music was an important subject in ladies' colleges and finishing schools, but the general curriculum for boys was tailored to university entrance and professional careers and usually did not include music. Later on, when girls attended regular high schools, the curriculum retained its commitment to the interests of the university and, consequently, music was not able to achieve any major status in secondary education.

A colourful array of private teachers in the 19th century freelanced as organists, band conductors and music dealers; teaching was just one facet of their endeavours in a society which revelled in amateur artistic pursuits. The appellation "Professor" was common among these versatile entrepreneurs, some of whom left a trail of bad debts or were otherwise involved in social scandal. The more pretentious female teachers advertised themselves as "Madame" and, flaunting their superior European training, often claimed to be schooled in foreign languages. Such idiosyncrasies aside, even though much of the teaching was of a dubious standard, there were some outstanding individuals, most of whom gravitated to the cities.

Apart from degrees awarded to James Paton CLARKE and George William Strathy, BMus and DMus degrees were not granted in Canadian universities until the 1880s. In the British tradition, they were extramural programs administered through syllabi and examinations in theoretical subjects without regular instruction being given. These early beginnings did not establish music as a discipline in higher education.

The turn of the century brought a profusion of conservatories, although many were merely glorified studios and relatively few enjoyed any permanence or prestige. The major conservatories affiliated with universities in an arrangement whereby the former gave instruction and the latter conducted examinations. By the early years of the 20th century, the Associated Boards of the Royal Schools of Music (England), the McGill Conservatorium and the Toronto Conservatory had established their examinations on a national scale. They served private teachers well through their graded syllabi and examination standards. The competitive festival movement, which had its origin in Edmonton (1908), also stimulated private instruction. After 1890, women's musical clubs became the patrons of music by sponsoring recitals and providing scholarships.


The Toronto Conservatory became a Canadian mecca for musicians during the principalship of Sir Ernest MACMILLAN from 1926-42 (see ROYAL CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC OF TORONTO). The number of local conservatories decreased but several remained as centres of musical life in their respective regions: these are the Halifax Conservatory, Mount Allison Conservatory, McGill Conservatorium, Regina College Conservatory, Alberta College Music Centre (Edmonton) and Mount Royal College Conservatory (Calgary). Although teachers from overseas dominated the scene, gradually more Canadians came to the fore - yet most of them still went abroad for advanced study.

The player piano and phonograph enhanced the place of music in the home, and in a striking way the growth of radio broadcasting increased the potential for American influence on Canadian society. Therefore, the establishment of CBC radio in 1936 was as vital to the cultural unity of the nation as railways had been for economic development in the 1880s (see BROADCASTING, RADIO AND TELEVISION).

In order to improve professional standards, private teachers formed organizations, first in the cities and then province-wide. In 1935 the 4 western associations took the initial step towards a national organization (which became the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers' Associations in 1961) at a conference in Vancouver; Ontario joined in 1942 and others followed in due course. Another example of western initiative was the founding of the Western Board of Music (1936), a co-operative venture involving the universities and provincial departments of education in the 3 Prairie provinces. Significant changes in general education owe their existence to the child development movement in the US and the focus in educational psychology on the growth of the individual. The specific changes in music were related to the "song method," with less emphasis on reading skills and the paramount importance of music appreciation.

Teachers could obtain learning materials from the Victor Talking Machine Co or tune in to radio programs prepared especially for schools (see EDUCATIONAL BROADCASTING). In practice, "progressive education" was not accomplished in the way it was idealized. Many classroom teachers dabbled in the "new," while the old generation of music specialists continued to stress basic skills. Inconsistent results in elementary grades reflected the inadequate training in normal schools, but in several provinces summer music sessions helped to improve the situation.

In some places music introduced as an option in junior high schools eventually led to its acceptance in secondary schools, but in most cases music was extracurricular. Glee clubs, orchestras and operettas became a tradition long before music teachers as such were appointed.

Music in the Protestant schools of Québec paralleled progress in Ontario, but in the Catholic schools the situation was static. Recognizing the need for improvement, in 1934 the Montréal Catholic School Commission appointed Claude CHAMPAGNE as director of music education.

Between the wars some universities retained their extramural degrees but, with few exceptions, music in higher education did not expand rapidly even where faculties of music were established - at Toronto (1918) and McGill (1920) or at Laval, where a school of music was created (1922). However, in the 1930s the Carnegie Foundation of New York financed record collections in many universities, a chair in music at the University of Saskatchewan, and an expansion of extension programs at the University of Alberta which led to the founding of the BANFF CENTRE FOR CONTINUING EDUCATION. Through a Carnegie grant, Ernest Hutcheson examined the need for advanced training at the University of Toronto (1937). When recommendations of that report were finally implemented (1946), it represented a landmark in Canadian music education.


The remarkable growth of music education since WWII can be attributed to developments in higher education and secondary schools, particularly in the field of instrumental music. The creation of the CANADA COUNCIL in 1957 added further momentum through its sustained support of the arts, nurturing vital areas of Canadian culture on a general level.

The University of Toronto was at the heart of this cultural transformation. Advanced training was offered in the conservatory's newly created Senior School (1946), which featured an opera division that ultimately led to the CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY. At the same time, the Faculty of Music introduced a degree in school music to prepare specialists for secondary schools. Under the leadership of MacMillan, Arnold WALTER gave direction to these programs with insight and vision. Among the students enrolled were many returned servicemen, and from this nucleus came a new generation of Canadian performers, composers and teachers.

The school music degree was based on American patterns - a combination of practical and theoretical music with courses in the liberal arts. Of faculty members recruited from the US, Robert Rosevear and Richard Johnston were strongly committed to music education. Concurrent with developments at the university, Brian McCool of the Ontario Department of Education effectively promoted programs in the schools. In order to meet the demand, the department's summer school certificated a multitude of the instrumental teachers who had performing experience but little if any university education. Consequently, there have been marked philosophical differences in the ranks of Ontario's teachers.

Across the country the climate was conducive to change. Instrumental music was already emerging in the high schools of Montréal and parts of BC. Consequently, by the 1960s similar developments in other regions demonstrated the need for specialized teachers and, in time, most universities either created new music departments or expanded their course offerings. This unprecedented growth in higher education necessitated the recruitment of additional faculty but since Canada had produced few students with graduate qualifications, universities turned primarily to American personnel to fill these positions.

The province of Québec experienced its own profound change in the late 1960s when the Parent Report, followed by the Rioux Report, led to a comprehensive plan for music at all levels within a modernized educational system. Based primarily on North American models, these revisions brought Québec into closer line with other provinces.

Québec's unique venture was founded as the Conservatoire de musique et d'art dramatique in 1942 by Wilfrid PELLETIER. Pelletier strengthened the influence of this institution even further after he became director of music, Ministère des affaires culturelles du Québec, in 1961. The CONSERVATOIRE DE MUSIQUE DU QUÉBEC consists of 7 teaching institutions throughout the province. By basing admission on competition and training professional musicians through specialized, cost-free institutions, the Conservatoire has given Québec a system of professional training unmatched in any other province.

Individual instruction in both private and institutional settings has been influenced by the growth of applied music in higher education, particularly in the appointment of distinguished performers and artists-in-residence. To some extent, this has checked the predilection of Canadians to study abroad.

The recent flowering of summer schools, institutes and special projects has stimulated a more competitive milieu for aspiring professionals, including opportunities at regional and local levels. The National Youth Orchestra, JEUNESSES MUSICALES, the Banff Centre, CBC Talent Festivals and the National Competitive Festival of Music, to name only a few, have become familiar names to Canadians. Nevertheless, it is evident that the quality of individual instruction in private domiciles and commercial studios associated with music dealers is still inconsistent.

Elementary school music has retained close ties to the song method with an increasing interest in Canadian folk songs (see FOLK MUSIC). Listening, rhythmic, and creative elements are also integrated into eclectic curricula. Since the 1960s, Orff and Kodàly programs have flourished in a number of Canadian schools where specialized teachers have been used. Nevertheless, Canada has not taken full advantage of these international systems because music instruction is usually left to classroom teachers.

There is a diversity of choral, instrumental and general programs in junior-high and secondary schools. Many of them are performance-oriented with a continuing stake in the competition festival, but philosophically there has been a trend towards a more balanced curriculum in order to foster aesthetic sensitivity. In the 1960s the John Adaskin Project addressed the lack of contemporary music in schools. This dialogue between composers and teachers, enhanced later by the books of R. Murray SCHAFER, proved to be a catalyst for creative approaches and alternatives. Recent excursions into new areas of folk, contemporary and popular culture have raised concerns within the profession, especially where traditional priorities have been threatened in a rapidly changing society.

One measure of maturity in Canadian music education has been evidenced by the formation of its professional organizations: the Canadian Music Educators' Association (1959), Canadian Federation of Music Teachers' Associations (1961), Canadian University Music Society (1965, originally Canadian Assocation of University Schools of Music) and the Fédération des associations de musiciens éducateurs du Québec (1966). Through professional development and publications, they provide valuable leadership and, in 1978, co-operated in hosting the World Congress of the International Society for Music in Education, held in London, Ontario. On that occasion delegates from around the world became more aware of our cultural achievements and, for the first time, music education in Canada came into an international limelight.

Since 1978

The increasing diversity and complexity of school programs can be attributed partly to the realities of the multicultural population in Vancouver, Toronto, Montréal and other large urban areas. The spectrum of learning, especially in the elementary grades, embraces many different repertoires, using cross-cultural approaches to explore various world musics. In general, the dominance of popular music is evident in curriculum content at all levels of education. The popularity of guitar classes, stage bands and swing choirs has changed the character of school music; improvisation and other aspects of jazz education have found a secure place in the curriculum. As well, many junior highs and secondary schools now offer specialized courses in which computers and other technological tools are used for the creation and performance of music. Musical Instrument Digital Interface equipment has facilitated an expansion of creative classroom activities. In the last 2 decades, special schools for the arts have been established within the public school system both at the elementary and secondary school levels.

Research in music cognition has focused attention on the development of critical thinking in music. Consequently, the collective values associated with participation in performing ensembles have been de-emphasized in order to provide musical experiences and learning activities that will benefit the particular needs of students as individuals. Such changes are designed to create student-centered programs in which the process of learning is just as important as the product. As the instructional goals of school music have become more sophisticated, there has been a concerted effort to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of music education.


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