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Salmon Cupid director of the Toronto All Stars Steel Orchestra, with student members of the group in Jume 2011. Students will have less exposure to steel orchestra if the cuts to the itinerant music program are approved. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Salmon Cupid director of the Toronto All Stars Steel Orchestra, with student members of the group in Jume 2011. Students will have less exposure to steel orchestra if the cuts to the itinerant music program are approved. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Campus Life

Is Toronto school board deaf to power of music? Add to ...

At the age of five, I had my first piano lesson. I wish I could tell you that I instantly fell in love with music, but the truth is, I hated those lessons. I had to sit still for 30 minutes and somehow, lessons always seemed to coincide with sunny days and street hockey right outside my front door.

Looking back on that experience today, I see its real benefits. Practising every day, as much as I tried to get out of it, put me in good stead for the monotony of math sets and the annoyance of daily French readings.

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I learned to love music, and in time, enjoy school. Soon after, I found myself liking to read, and eventually, not hating homework (I never liked homework, let’s be honest). So when I found out the TDSB was considering cutting the itinerant music instructor program, I was disappointed. (The board will consider the cuts at its meetings this month). Music is being treated as enrichment, as optional, while the truth is that it is an integral part of a full education.

The proposed cuts would eliminate the itinerant music instructor (IMI) program, which gives schools without music teachers access to music, and trains teachers so they can provide music to their classes for years to come. It is an innovative model, which stretches limited resources to accommodate as many students as possible. If the cuts go through, 150 schools will lose music entirely, and approximately another 150 will have their hours reduced.

These cuts hurt disadvantaged children the most. Those whose parents can afford to pay for private lessons will still have access to the benefits of a musical education; but for many, ending the IMI program will only serve as a further disadvantage. School boards are supposed to help children learn, not take away tools that make learning possible.

Music education has tangible benefits that help children over the long haul. Numerous studies tell us that students with musical training score better on intelligence tests, perform at a higher level for reading and test better in math.

But the studies tell us something we already know, but to which we don’t pay enough attention. Grade 3 students will play their first recorder over and over again, studying the music and trying to get it right. You won’t see that same eagerness with a set of math problems.

For me, it was my French horn that I couldn’t put down. And while my neighbours later told me they would always close their windows when I started to practise, my French horn kept me interested in school and excited about going every day. I am not a musician, but I feel I am better prepared in general because I got a taste of music when I was young.

If the benefits of a musical education are clear, why is the TDSB considering cuts to the program?

The TDSB is facing a massive budget deficit, and needs to make $27-million in cuts this year. Slashing the itinerant music instructors will save $2-million.

There are other options though, Price Waterhouse Cooper conducted a review of the board in November which identified tens of millions of potential savings, including $8.3 – $19.5-million in savings by consolidating payroll operations into one department. In addition to the PWC report, the TDSB spends 2.9 per cent on administration, compared with 2.4 per cent at the Toronto Catholic Board and 2.2 per cent at York.

Cutting music staff is part of a disturbing provincial trend. 44 per cent of schools had a music teacher in 2012/13, down from 49 per cent last year and 58 per cent in 1999, according to a report from advocacy group People for Education. The cuts to music teachers often come at budget crunch times such as these .

Before trustees considering cutting music teachers, they should look for savings that won’t harm students.

Zane Schwartz was one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 in 2012 and is a University of Toronto student. He served as a Student Trustee on the Toronto District School Board from 2010-2011, where he sat on the Budget committee.

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