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Ariel Barnes plays cello for a class of Grade 4 and Grade 5 students.

Vancouver public schools risk loss of music program

[googlemaps] A unique Vancouver-area program that brings classical musicians into elementary classrooms is under threat. Müzewest, a non-profit, provides…

By Ryan Erwin and Gen Cruz , in City , on April 8, 2015 Tags: , , , , , ,


A unique Vancouver-area program that brings classical musicians into elementary classrooms is under threat.

Müzewest, a non-profit, provides low-cost community concerts in and out of elementary school classrooms, but it says it may have to shut down its free classroom concerts after one of the major donors to Müzewest went out of business.

“We’re in a position of unfortunately having to axe the school component, but to me, that’s where the magic happens,” said Jennifer West, artistic director of Müzewest and Grade 5 French immersion teacher.

West: Music helps children process their emotions

In the past, Müzewest has used donations to host performances for schools. It’s hosted at no cost to cash-strapped public schools in B.C.

The potential demise of the school component of Müzewest comes at a time when B.C. schools are struggling to maintain any semblance of music programs in their curriculums.

“It’s important because children learn to process their emotions through music and fine arts and drama and dance. For some of them, they can’t put those feelings into words,” said West.

Jennifer West, Ariel Barnes, and students share their passion for Müzewest (3’09”)


For young children learning music can improve their performance in other areas of learning. A new study from Northwestern University showed that children who learn to play music have enhanced auditory-cognitive development. It can especially help children struggling with speech problems.

“A student gets the opportunity to feel a sense of purpose and belonging as they contribute to something much bigger than themselves,” said Mark Reid, president of the Canadian Music Educator Association.

Finding funding

Reid: Music programs can help students feel a sense of purpose

Losing funding is a problem that other art groups funded by few donors are experiencing. Cedar Lake Ballet, in New York City, recently experienced this first hand and will be closing its doors in June after losing the company’s single donor.

For Müzewest, its other donors consist of a few small cafes and some individuals. “This campaign is really like a cry for help,” said West.

Relying on an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, organizers and participants are hoping to make the experience available to more students.

As the deadline for the funding campaign fast approaches, Müzewest is struggling to meet its $4,100 target and, as of publication, is still searching for its first contributor.

The campaign aims to sustain the group’s concert series until the end of the season, and hopefully into the 2015-2016 season of concerts and school performances.

Without a successful crowdfunding campaign, students will no longer have classroom sessions with renowned musicians such as Ariel Barnes, lead cellist of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO).

“Most children don’t get exposed to this artform in this day and age, in this region of the world in particular,” said Barnes in support of the program.

“(Without this) they just might not have the exposure to it, (if) their families aren’t involved in it, or their families haven’t known it and therefore they won’t have that experience.

‘Heart and soul’

Müzewest was conceived to address the growing gap in music education in B.C public schools.

[pullquote align=right]We recognize the need for music. It’s part of the heart and soul of the programs in school[/pullquote]School districts across British Columbia have been having to deal with budget cuts in music programs from the provincial government almost yearly.

In Vancouver, the school board claims that it is trying to address the problem of dwindling music programs.

“We recognize the need for music. It’s part of the heart and soul of the programs in school,” said Mike Lombardi, a trustee of the Vancouver Board of education.

“The biggest problem is funding. We have the lowest per pupil funding in Canada,” he added.

Since public schools struggle to shoulder transportation and show costs, Müzewest was created to bring classical music into the classroom. It’s one of the few programs that travels to the schools and asks for no fees at the elementary level.

Making a difference

Music education in British Columbia is also aided by other groups and programs that range from subsidized concerts to hands-on learning.

Chamber Music In The Schools is the most similar program, but focuses on bringing small ensembles to secondary schools.

The VSO offers open rehearsals and elementary school concerts for schools that can travel downtown.  They also have the VSO Connects program with the Vancouver School Board which provides learning modules for elementary and secondary partner schools in the district.

“Having the musicians come to us is much easier to organize and doesn’t require the students to pay money to travel elsewhere to get a similar experience,” said Taylor Bone, a music teacher at Point Grey Secondary.

Müzewest hopes to expand to secondary schools if funding picks up.

The next two public Müzewest concerts will be held Apr. 10, 2015 and Apr. 11, 2015 at West Point Grey United Church.

In the classroom

Barnes visited one elementary school as part of the Müzewest program on Mar. 25, 2015. Students eagerly waited to hear the world renowned cellist play for a group of about 40 Grade 4 and Grade 5 students.

Ariel Barnes plays cello for a class of Grade 4 and Grade 5 students

He pulled out his $800,000 cello, made of black Italian poplar. Upon seeing the national artifact, the students were wide-eyed with whispered “wows” and giggles.

Barnes sat down and played three classical pieces and answered a number of questions from the inquisitive young students.

“It’s interesting to hear how music from back in the day is so moving,” said Aliyah Redl, a Grade 5 student who was in the audience for the performance.

“I have Grade 4 boys that can’t sit still for two minutes of math who sat for 30 minutes of a piano recital,” said West.  “For me, that’s magic.  It’s really important for their development.”

Other musicians who have participated in the program include classical pianists Alexander Karpeyev, Naomi Woo, and Sergei Saratovsky.