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Musical connections

Partnership an enriching experience for students, teachers across N.L.

special feature: Community Collaboration

Part of a special feature that illuminates the synergistic relationship between individuals, communities and community organizations and Memorial, with a focus on Memorial’s supporting role to community-led work.

By Courtenay Griffin

Grant Etchegary has big ideas when it comes to teaching and music.

“With music it’s so easy to make connections, it’s just a matter of making contact,” he said. “It’s just a natural vehicle for that kind of thing.”

Creating opportunities

A retired music educator from Holy Heart of Mary high school, Mr. Etchegary has spent a lifetime creating enriching opportunities for students and teachers alike. Many of those opportunities have come about through his 30-year involvement with the Rotary Music Festival in St. John’s.

“The Rotary Music Festival has gone above and beyond in providing excellent musical opportunities for students,” he said. “It’s really popular, there’s waiting lists from schools who want to come in and perform and be part of the clinic.”

A non-competitive event each spring, the festival provides music education experiences to public schools and community ensembles.

Taking place over a period of 10 days at Memorial’s School of Music and Holy Heart Theatre, an estimated 4,000 students and their teachers perform, participate in clinics with experts across North America and get feedback to improve their performance.

Mobilizing resources

“Our partnership with the Rotary Music Festival runs deep,” said Dr. Ian Sutherland, dean, School of Music. “Ultimately, partnerships like this are about finding high impact ways to mobilize the university’s resources for the benefit of the entire province, not just our own students.

In this case, the festival brings in young musicians that end up having a phenomenal music development experience that can be transformative in their lives,” he continued. “We want to support and enable that.”

While the School of Music has long supported the Rotary Music Festival in hosting and facilitating the event, in recent years collaboration has expanded to include the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL).

Members of the student jazz ensemble smile together in the CITL production studio.
Members of the Rotary Music Festival jazz ensemble with CITL staff in the production studio.
Photo: Submitted

“The first year we became involved, we were asked to record each music teacher while they conducted their ensemble,” said Donna Downey, manager of media services at CITL.

“When we talked with Grant, we came up with the idea to run a live video of the teacher through to a back room where the clinician was, and record the clinician’s feedback on the teacher’s performance as they were conducting.”

The resulting video integrated the play-by-play commentary over the video of teacher, allowing them to view and use it as a tool to improve.

A couple of years later, Mr. Etchegary approached CITL to do more.

“He wanted to do something different to expose kids who were in other schools to what the festival had to offer,” said Ms. Downey. “He wanted to do something live, and so we had the idea to do a live concert from our studio.”

“It was the perfect space to showcase a jazz ensemble, and it was just another enrichment opportunity for the kids involved,” said Mr. Etchegary.

“The kids were given difficult music and had two rehearsals before playing a concert that was going to be webcast live from a studio, so this gave them a real taste of what it might be like to be a professional musician.”

A one-hour performance of the auditioned student jazz ensemble was webcast to schools around the province, where other students could watch.

Between each piece played, Mr. Etchegary and the students spoke to viewers about the instruments and jazz genre.

After the concert, the video was made available as a teaching and learning tool.

“People across the country were watching it, and teachers from around the province have reached out to me as a result,” said Mr. Etchegary.

“The content we recorded is being used all the time in classrooms. It’s not just about music, it’s meant to be educational so teachers can use it as a resource.”

Making an impact

Chris Miller, a music teacher at Admiral’s Academy in Conception Bay South, says the resource has had a positive effect on his students.

“The live jazz concert has provided the opportunity to expose my students to the jazz genre of music, and they see students their own age playing and enjoying the experience. That makes an impact,” he said.

“In many cases, it’s the first time the students have gotten to hear a live jazz band. This type of exposure is vital for student retention.”

While the technology behind these projects is not new, having access to the ideas, expertise and resources to make them happen is invaluable.

“For many of these students, it will be their first interaction with Memorial University,” reflects Dr. Sutherland. “From that perspective, the collaboration with the Rotary Music Festival brings a significant benefit to the university in terms of engaging the wider population of the province.”

Mr. Etchegary seconded the value Memorial’s support has brought to the Rotary Music Festival.

“None of these opportunities would be possible otherwise.”

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