Music to our ears – Music for our souls

Dave Thomas

Waterloo Region is alive with the sounds of music. Whether you’re taking in a concert, streaming hits on your smartphone, singing in the shower or learning to make music, rhythm, harmony and melody are everywhere.

Sarah Pearson is a musician and music therapist who works with oncology patients at Grand River Hospital.  She says that music is an integral part of one’s humanity.  “Everyone is musical,” she says. “Music is something that is universally human. It’s a language that is different from our cognitive, verbal language. It speaks to the emotions, to the spirit, to the body.”

Our kids are exposed to music during elementary school. For many families that’s not enough for learners to fully develop their musicality. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for both adults and youth to explore.

The Suzuki Method, is “very process-oriented at first,” says violin instructor Anita Buttemer, who is also executive director of Suzuki Talent Education of Waterloo. “We emphasize oral learning first, while you establish your basic skills on the instrument, followed by music reading. You work towards performances such as music festival and orchestral showcases.  That shift happens gradually,” she says.

There’s also the long-established Conservatory Method. It focuses on measured levels of study to build a systematic progression of learning, while encompassing a comprehensive foundation, says Donna Mak, a piano teacher.

The main goal, both agree, is about developing a love of music. “We try to make the expectations clear. It’s not that we are trying to produce a whole stock of professional musicians,” says Buttemer. “We want students to have fun.”

Mak concurs.  “I think especially in today’s busy world where things are always on the go and society is saturated with noise, that the reflection exercised in studying music is more important than ever to each person’s well-being,” she says. “It teaches beauty and appreciation, encourages individual personality and creativity within a framework, and can build a child’s self-esteem when nurtured carefully.”

Rachel French of Kitchener has enrolled her two kids in piano for several years. “One major benefit to taking music lessons is that both kids have gained confidence from being able to piece together some beautiful music little by little,” she says. It can “add up to a major accomplishment that they can be proud of.”

French’s daughter, Kyla Reinsoo, 16, has completed her grade eight in the Royal Conservatory system: “My favourite part about taking lessons is the success you feel after completing a piece,” she says.  “I like playing songs that I spent time working on so that I can hear how it sounds all together.”

It can be difficult for some families to pursue private music lessons because of their financial situation.  The Community Music School of Waterloo Region is one avenue for low-income families. “One of our main goals is to ensure that music lessons are accessible to all, says director Caroline Hissa.

Families are referred to the school by community agencies, and teachers volunteer their time to provide lessons.  Now in its fourth year, the school has students aged five to 18. It’s worked out so well that there’s a waiting list. Hissa and the advisory board are working on building the capacity of the organization to respond to the demand in the community.  She is not surprised at the level of interest in music, because it’s not elitist, but universal. “Music is for everyone,” she says.

Whether you tap a simple rhythm, learn to cover your favourite top 40 hit or master a Beethoven sonata, you can add some music to your day.

Photo of Alvvays at the Starlight Social Club courtesy of Erika Preece.