Monday, June 25, 2012

Observations on the Road

My setup in Sault Ste. Marie
before a day of voice exams
For the last few weeks I've been on the road examining for both The Royal Conservatory in Canada and for Carnegie Hall Royal Conservatory's The Achievement Program in the US. To give you an idea of my travels, here is a list of the communities I've examined at in the last year alone:

  • Matawan, NJ
  • Spotswood, NJ
  • Spring Valley, NY
  • Brooklyn
  • Boston
  • Davenport, Iowa
  • Waterloo, Iowa
  • Chicago
  • London, Ontario
  • Sarnia
  • Sault Ste. Marie
  • Halifax
  • Calgary
  • Edmonton
  • Lethbridge
  • Grande Prairie
  • Grimshaw
  • Dawson Creek (where I am now)
Observing the similarities and differences between communities has been eye-opening, including these kinds of real-world issues in various places:
  • The difficulty of being able to afford lessons in the midwest, and the challenges that parents face overseeing a child's daily practice when both parents have long commutes to work.
  • The unique way that home-schooled children are able to fit multiple practice sessions into their everyday learning routine, resulting in increased musical fluency and confidence.
  • How the Brooklyn Conservatory has embraced the TAP program as a way to bring standardized assessments into their integrated programs and achieve greater relevance in the community
  • The difficulty in getting students interested in music lessons everywhere.
  • In Grande Prairie, the extensive performing experiences that piano students can have (master classes, guest artists, community concerts, festivals), which can be far more extensive than students in far larger places, thanks in large part to the astonishing amount of work that private teachers do to create a musical culture in their community. 
  • The desperate need for private piano teachers in the smaller communities of northern British Columbia. 
  • In spite of these challenges, the sheer number of musicians who have gone on to universities and careers after growing up in these grassroots musical communities. 
Once these students arrive at universities, their musical horizons have partially been formed. The real engine behind the increasing standard of musicians in North America is the power of smaller musical communities, driven largely by the efforts of private music teachers.

Which is where I fit in.

As an examiner brought in by the Royal Conservatory, I have the opportunity to observe an extremely accurate snapshot of their strengths, their weaknesses, and their passion for music. I grade each exam and write my remarks. When the students review their results, they'll be able to get a remarkably clear idea of where they are on their musical journey, as well as where they stand in relation to thousands of students who also played the same exams.

Teachers also benefit enormously from this process. By viewing the exam results of their entire studio, they can chart their own strengths and weaknesses as educators, as well as plot the way forward in their pedagogical development.

Potato Crusted Halibut with
tartar sauce, almond rice, and
cowgirl salad
But I also love to travel for the sake of traveling, and in every city that I visit, I'm driven by an inexhaustible desire to find interesting and unique restaurants. The picture at left is from lunch yesterday at Dawson Creek's Browns Social House, whose seafood is as good as what you'll find nearly 2000 kilometres away in Vancouver. On Wednesday, I fly back to Toronto to embark on my summer teaching adjudicating, and opera coaching schedule. 


  1. I used to play for Trinity Episcopal in Matawan. Love that community.

  2. Yes, great people there.

  3. Interesting observations Chris! I would love to hear more about the marking rubric for voice and how it may help all of us adjudicate music festivals across this country...could there be support for us from the RCM/TAP program?

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. I do know that the RCM/TAP will be putting on a huge number of workshops across the continent to introduce the new voice syllabus in the coming months, and their presenters (probably either Robert Loewen or Susan Ambrose) should be able to answer some of these questions better than I can. The next year will be a crossover year, so both the old and new syllabi will be in effect.

  4. Thanks for the interesting bird's eye view of music education. Keep them coming!