Opening Address: On the Benefits of a Music Education
The situation where you find yourself this morning is one of anticipation. You anticipate that the faculty will help ready you for a four-year degree, or a one-year diploma in musical education. At the end of that journey, you hope to become equipped for whatever comes next; a career in performance, perhaps, or a job in the music industry, or maybe, broadly speaking, participation in the “culture” industry, which in Ontario at least, represents over one Billion annual dollars and hundreds of thousands of work positions.
I would like to suggest that your journey this weekend is another stop on a path that you have already begun – an exploration of the world around you, and a deep dive into self-learning. As you lay hands on your instrument, play keys, learn songs, and sing, you have the opportunity for an expression far greater than simply knowing a canon of songs, you can know yourself.
Consider, through ear training you develop the ability to recognize a set of musical relationships and gain the confidence to utilize those relationships in real-time. Ear training hones your skills so that you can listen to what is happening around you in each circumstance. Such a useful and transferable skill, yet so rarely applied in real-world situations.
Artists, musicians, in particular, can develop the strength to become good listeners. Listening is rarely a born trait, rather listening and being a listener is developed over time and through repetition. In a musical context, we praise the artist who can hear what’s going on in the band and respond in an authentic, clever, humorous, or emotive manner. Jazz folks call this having “Big Ears.” I might point to a faculty example, pianist Robi Botos, and his recordings. Both with his band and in a supporting role in working relationships with so many wonderful singers, Robi demonstrates big ears and a big heart, taking in the sounds and spaces happening around him, making choices in the moment, and responding with audacity – which makes his performances such a pleasure for hearing and participating.
As musicologist Ingrid Monson writes, listening is active because musicians “are continually called upon to respond to and participate in an ongoing flow of musical activities that can change or surprise them at any moment” (Monson 1996, 43). Big Ears are called for in culturally sensitive contexts in our learning environment. Faculty, staff, students and administration bring their own cultural touchpoints in the form of lived experiences and learned knowledge. In our ensembles, for instance, faculty and students work together to play music in genre-specific contexts with one another. There is a simplicity in this description, for it is complex to start with only a set of paint and brushes, or the 26 letters of the alphabet and emerge three and half months later with a cohesive and energizing artistic work. This is part of the wonderful and exploratory forms of polytechnic collegiate learning – and as well, one of the real ways that students get to discover musical forms and work towards their learning outcomes.
It is at this point, that I’d like to turn attention to Black History month and outline the ways that music is absolutely dependent on the cultural labour of Black artists. Popular music and musicians are in the debt of Black ancestors going on two hundred years, and before that time immemorial. More than 350 years of human trafficking put African people in positions of enslavement across the Caribbean, North, and South America. Current injustices which capture, incarcerate, and kill Black and Indigenous people are continued violent processes of colonization. Current injustices are cast out based on sexual preference, gender, and whom one loves. Human history connects past injustice with continued systemic forces of institutionalized racism and therefore, we must unmake what has been made.
At Humber, we are engaged in processes of unlearning, which includes processes of dismantling, and processes of decolonizing the classroom and our shared spaces. This moment in history represents a reckoning toward social and gender justice; efforts and actions taken towards reimagining a new path forward are at work in our curriculum, in our grading, and in our conversations. There have always been artists who were anti-racist, who promoted freedom, who fought and suffered for equality, and we stand on their broad shoulders.
Any musical form is a product of its geographic and social contexts informed by the lived experiences of artists who play. In my opinion, some of the most exciting, improvised music addresses racism, sexism, politics, and advocacy head-on. You will see that in our concert today with Cuban ex-pats Daymé Arocena and Dánae Olano, who call for gender and racial equality and inclusion. After this weekend is over, we invite you to celebrate with us artists who are meeting music and advocacy in the present moment, during our Artist in Residence Week. Tia Fuller, Ambrose Akinsumire, and Antonio Sanchez are just a few of the artists who will speak to our community. For the first time, we’ve booked Allison Miller to kick off our producer in residence week. Her contemporary sound and dynamic playing paired with the beautiful sounding recordings, and her participation in the musical group Artemis, contribute to what Terri Lyne Carrington has named “jazz without patriarchy.” Carrington speaks of a need to find racial, gender and environmental justice in musical spaces. I identify environmental justice with Indigenous justice, reconciliation and calls to action from reports such as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. All people, including faculty, staff, and especially students, are equal, included, and belong in Humber Music, and belonging requires us to make space for all in an expanding room.
As you go through the workshops today, we hope you have a blast learning from and speaking with faculty and one another. We hope for mutual inspiration as we hear your opinions and experiences, and we look forward to connecting at different points over the coming weekend. Thank you.