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Music to their ears

Unique program inspires pre-service teachers — and their students

Teaching and Learning

By Marcia Porter

It’s just a few hours before showtime at the School of Music.

Korona Brophy, who directs the Faculty of Education’s Lab Band and Orchestra Program, along with aspiring music teacher, Emma Clark of St. John’s, arranges chairs and music stands preparing for an influx of Grade Five students.

Over three decades

It’s the Lab Band and Orchestra Program’s annual holiday concert, and though this ritual has been repeated numerous times for more than 30 years, no one event is ever the same.

That’s because every year a new crop of Grade Five students from elementary schools around St. John’s signs up for the program, and a new crop of pre-service teachers prepares to teach them.

“Working with children and sharing my teaching experiences with pre-service teachers is something I really enjoy,” said Ms. Brophy, who has instructed the program for the past 10 years, after retiring from her 30-year career as a music teacher.

“We’re getting pre-service teachers ready for teaching, showing them how to do assessments, reports, and how to motivate and work with children.”

The Lab Band and Orchestra Program was initiated in 1976 by legendary music educator and teacher Leo Sandavol, who taught at Memorial and was a band teacher at St. Pius X School in St. John’s. It’s an integral part of the Faculty of Education’s Instrumental Music Teaching Methods (ED3920) course and attracts would-be music teachers from across the country.

1/ String theory

The lab band and orchestra includes string instruments such as the violin, cello and guitar. While students are learning to play over the year, they also bring developing musical know-how back to their school band programs.

Photo: Marcia Porter

2/ Toot your own horn!

With 45-minute lessons twice a week at the School of Music, Grade Five students gain confidence, experience and a repertoire of songs.

Photo: Marcia Porter

3/ Music mentoring

Young aspiring music teachers not only learn about teaching young musicians, they inspire students to continue making music.

Photo: Marcia Porter

4/ Inspiring instructor

Korona Brophy joined the Lab Band and Orchestra Program 10 years ago, after 30 years of teaching music in the public school system. In her spare time, she also directs the Celtic Fiddlers.

Photo: Marcia Porter

5/ Guitar girl

The Faculty of Education's Lab Band and Orchestra Program has been reaching out to Grade Five students in the St. John's area since its origin in the 1970s. Many students in turn go on to enjoy careers in music as teachers and performers.

Photo: Marcia Porter

6/ Terrific teaching experience

The Lab Band and Orchestra Program is unique in the country and draws students from across Canada looking for that practical experience working with young musicians. Aspiring teachers such as Anna Moreau of St. John's says she is "profoundly lucky" to be part of the program.

Photo: Marcia Porter

7/ Mellow cello

Children not only learn to play an instrument, they make friends with young band students from around the city.

Photo: Marcia Porter

This year’s cohort of students is homegrown, from communities around Newfoundland and Labrador.


Young musicians have arrived at the D.F. Cook Recital Hall for their final rehearsal. Soon, clarinets, flutes, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, violins, cellos, and electric and bass guitars are in student hands. Percussionists take their places at the back of the stage where they’ll move between the drums and bells.

“I love this,” said Ms. Clark, who assembles her own flute and helps tune other wind instruments.

“Lab band is so cool.” — Emma Clark

Even though her mother is a music teacher, Ms. Clark says she “never expected” to pursue a teaching career. Her experience in lab band, and in her conducting classes, changed her.

“I was a performance major in my fourth year, and I had a couple of music students, and began to discover that I’m a teacher. Lab band is so cool. All of us have never taught all of these instruments until now, but you have to stay ahead of them to stay ahead of your students.”

“All my years”

“You make friends and learn lots,” said trumpet player and St. Matthew’s Elementary Grade Five student Desmond Young, one of the first to take his place on stage. “And you sort of get a step ahead of the band program at school. I think I’m going to do band all my years.”

Working in 45-minute classes twice a week, students do progress quickly. It’s great for their confidence.

“When we started out we didn’t even know how to put our instruments together. Now, we can play all kinds of songs.” — Veronica O’Brien

“I can go high and low,” said Mr. Young, whose repertoire for the evening concert includes Jingle Bells, Jolly Old St. Nicholas and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

“We’ve learned to get a really good sound,” said Veronica O’Brien, a clarinet player and a Grade Five student at Cowan Heights Elementary. “And when we started out we didn’t even know how to put our instruments together. Now, we can play all kinds of songs.”

Pre-service teacher Anna Moreau of St. Johns loves seeing how children who had a difficult time when they first started gain confidence in their skills.

“Teaching makes me happy. I love working with kids.”

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