method of teaching

The musical arts and creativity have been integrally positioned in the curriculum at Miles Macdonell Collegiate (MMC) since the early 1980’s.  It was recognized at the outset of my education career that there was an apparent disconnect at the time between the music education practices and the practices of the professional world of music – especially so from a creativity perspective. How ironic that the notion of creativity and the Arts, which are inextricably linked, was not the normative practice within school music rooms –  imagine physical education without bodily movement.  As result of such a perception and my personal background as a musician and writer the music production course as MMC was founded.  The term “music production” has evolved to currently imply the use of technology to create digital music; loops, beats, MIDI programming, etc.  The term music production as used at MMC denotes the act of creating music – producing an artistic musical experience that equally demands the discipline of acquiring knowledge – notational, theoretical, cultural, aesthetic, psychological, symbolic – and the imaginative use of that knowledge.  The guiding principle in creating the music production course was the understanding that music was a language but not in the umbrella amorphous sense glibly heard in general discussions.  Rather, music was seen as a language that needed to be understood and practiced as a lingua franca, ripe with symbolic meaning (sonically and notational), conventions of practice, cultural meaning, and a grasp of the communicative power of both the written and aural traditions. The theme for student composers is, “the eyes inform the ears and the ears inform the eyes”.  All students learn to notate music because it is a critically informing aspect of the musical language – there is deep meaning in notation.  As well as referencing instruments while composing, eventually all students are increasingly directed to create without using their hands on an instrument.  They are coached to turn inward and use their imagination thus releasing them from the tyranny of their compromised instrumental technique, for their ideas soar but their hands cannot fly in the same manner. The cut and paste world of music technology does not approximate the same type of creative engagement as when students turn inward for idea creation although as “software sandboxes” for creative play the digital experience is valuable and engaging.  MMC students do have access to state of the art technology and an on site professional recording studio but they are viewed as tools not necessities for creating music.

With learned assurance, MMC music production students engage in an exchange of ideas through sharing compositions, critical commentary from colleagues and the teacher, and most importantly, an open forum structure and environment promoting spontaneous thought as well as reflection.  The most insidious inhibitor to creative expression – fear – is addressed immediately in grade 10 through a series of exercises and discussions that address the notion of “self”, external validations and the relationship to their anxiety regarding creating and presentation.  In other words, beginning students enrolled in music production at MMC spend their first weeks of the course reflecting upon their earlier educational experiences and subsequently many of the students re-assess their perceptions of knowledge, learning, and meaning. 

The music production course content is ideally broad and precise in nature.  Students are taught theory in a novel manner that is conceptual and relational to practice, hence students are able to address topics and create music that is normally associated with more advanced learning institutions.  It should be noted that the highest majority of students exceed the associated expectations of a high school composer – even those students who entered the course without any previous music instruction.


Time is another variable that is treated somewhat differently in music production regarding student assignments.  Beyond the regular obligation of students attending to exercises and assignments, each student at the end of the term must submit a portfolio of three compositions that reflect their learning, craft, and imagination.  However, happily for many students they have the option of continuing to work on their initial Grade 10 composition(s) through Grades 10 and 12 thus having approximately three years to complete their “masterpiece.”  It takes time to teach for creativity and nurture the minds of young creators.  The idea of allotting a week for creative work in classrooms that are pressed to address the demands of established curricula is, for all intents and purposes, an exercise in half-measures and dissatisfaction for both teacher and student.  It is questionable whether such “teaching for creativity” experiences are profitable either intellectually or emotionally.  Teaching for creativity is truly visionary for it can possibly change how students view their world and the world of others.  Such an idea is the essence of the music production course at MMC for it is keenly accepted by both teacher and student that most participants in the course will not become practicing composers – just as most math students won’t become engineers.  Nonetheless, music production students at MMC often learn more about themselves and how they are positioned in the world, both personally and socially, through the opportunity to learn how to think creatively.