Some Kind of (Wonderful) Spark

Documentaries about music education are a rare find – though when you stumble across one, they have a way of tugging on your heartstrings.

Music, unlike other academic subjects (I’m thinking of you, mathematics), has such a universal, emotional appeal. Anyone and everyone can sense a connection to music. You don’t need formal training or years on the road or in the studio to have such deep appreciation for the world’s most beautiful language.

Enter Director and Producer Ben Niles, creator of ‘Some Kind of Spark’, a film documenting the lives of seven inner-city children attending a special music program at Julliard in New York City. (Mr Niles is no stranger to making movies – his latest film, ‘Note By Note (The Making of Steinway L1037)’ won top honors at the Sarasota Film Festival and was screened in over 30 countries in 5 different languages.)

‘Some Kind of Spark’  features the personal stories of these children and their teachers, shot over a two year period, beginning in 2010. It shows the powerful impact music can create, regardless of who you are and where you come from. It follows these kids inside the classroom, in their homes, and on stage.

The film also acts as a chilling reminder about the decline of money invested in music education in US schools over the past quarter century.  (It’s not much different here in Canada, unfortunately) This trend, Niles notes, is not looking good for future generations:

[It’s] compromising our children’s education and jeopardizing our culture. Low-income children-children who also tend to be from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in the performing arts-are missing out on the immense value of music training on a child’s development. Children who study music do better on standardized tests in both math and reading and are more likely to go to college. And music programs are proven to be an effective tool in keeping kids off the streets and preventing teen violence. Through music study they learn many life skills such as problem-solving, self-discipline, creativity, empathy, compassion, and the value of hard work. Not to mention that many students-including the poor, the disadvantaged, and the emotionally disturbed-who might otherwise be unreachable can often be taught through the inspiring power of music. (http://www.somekindofspark.com/)

As an independent film, the film’s producers will not take money from Julliard to help fund post-production costs, citing that it is not meant to be a promotional tool for the world-renowned school. It’s aim is to squarely raise awareness about the powerful influence music can have on our children’s lives.

To raise money for this project, Niles’ team has put in place a few online campaigns to garner support. One is backed by Women Make Movies, which allows any donation to be tax-deductible. There’s also an online campaigned featured on  Kickstarter.com.

So, music friends, if you are in a position to donate, please do! Any amount is appreciated. It’s a project we can all feel good about.

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Want to de-stress, strengthen your lungs and improve musically? Join a choir

With the success of television shows like Glee, it’s not surprising that students young and old are starting to appreciate how much fun singing can be. But did you know how beneficial it can be, both physiologically and psychologically? A few studies have shown that the benefits of singing, while great in a one-on-one environment, can be multiplied when in the right group or choir setting.

20121121-120917.jpgSo, prospective and current vocalists, have you through about joining a choir or singing group? Here’s a few reasons why you should consider it:

Exercise major muscle groups in the upper body

Singing exercises all the major muscle groups in the upper body; your abdominals, diaphragm, shoulders and back all get a workout each time you belt out a tune. Singing is an aerobic activity that improves the efficiency of your cardiovascular system and encourages you to take more oxygen into your body, leading to increased alertness.

Additionally, with the help of stronger back and shoulder muscles, singing helps improve posture, especially with performing groups. In a choir, it is very vital to sit and, more often than not, stand properly and gracefully.

Develop healthier lungs

Any vocal student or teacher will tell you a fundamental key to proper singing technique and endurance is correct breathing. In a choir or group setting, singers often will learn to negotiate very long passages in one controlled breath, which is very, very good for the lungs. Inhaling deeper fills every inch of our lungs’ capacity and enhances the way we use them, making them more efficient and stronger over time.

It’s been observed that singers breathe remarkably slower than the non-singers. Research suggests breathing slowly, whether regularly or by practice for a few minutes a day, is enough to help some people nudge down bad blood pressure. Meditation, yoga and similar relaxation techniques that incorporate slow, deep breathing have long been thought to aid blood pressure, by relaxing and dilating blood vessels temporarily.

Build confidence and musicality

Students who sing together will increase their self-confidence and also build and understanding of teamwork as the unit works together towards a common goal. In other words, it gets the group physically and mentally active in a new way, and gives them the chance to learn and grow from the other singers in their group.

No to mention the fact that it lets students be creative! Singing groups provide a great artistic outlet for students to express themselves and gain personal satisfaction, improving their overall sense of musicality and appreciation.

Become a better singer

As rehearsals pass and time goes by, choir members will notice development in their singing proficiency, even if minute or gradual. Individuals who’ve had no prior vocal training, those that would see themselves stumble over the harder pieces at first, will slowly increase their repertoire and musical stamina. And, in a group setting, it’s possible this progress will be even faster thanks to encouragement from not only a choir director, but from your fellow singing peers.

Even seasoned vocalists who’ve had, or continue to have, vocal training will see their development increase as their choir experience expands their repertoire and adds to their weekly practice routine.

Eventually, the team of singers (both novice and advanced), will have been exposed to varying speeds of songs, reading new music and memorizing lyrics, which builds up stamina. As a choir matures they will develop a kind of group ‘cohesiveness’, ultimately bringing them more commanding voices and polished techniques as they go.

Get rid of stress

If you’re one that regularly spends their week in front of a computer monitor, scanning heaps of prescribed school reading, or sits through hours of traffic on the way to school or work, a change of scenery and pace is always a good thing. While stress adds up in our daily lives thanks to work or family struggles, being part of a choir or singing group will allow you ‘de-stress’ on a consistent, proactive basis. Think of singing as a way to let off steam in a healthy and positive way. Furthermore, music has a way of igniting our emotions; singing, in turn, is one of the few activities that allow you emotionally peak and delve into an elevated mental sphere, to find release and resist burnout.

Choirs are often seen as the perfect complement to any singer’s regular practice routine. Just like playing in a band would benefit a guitarist or drummer, performing in a choir or singing group will help all singers improve, whether it’s a weekly practice or monthly get together. Ultimately, choir rehearsals won’t even feel like practice – just another opportunity to sing your heart out.

And, as Ella Fitzgerald once said, “The only thing better than singing is more singing.”

 

French music lessons now available in Barrhaven, Riverside South communities

Barrhaven Music Academy opens its doors to students seeking music lessons in both French and English

Press Release

Barrhaven Music Academy’s studios in southwest Ottawa.

OTTAWA – With the rise of French-speaking families moving to the city’s southwest neighbourhoods, a call for music instruction in both official languages has finally been answered. After officially opening its doors earlier this month, Barrhaven Music Academy is now providing students the chance to learn music in English, French, or both.

“We have a great team of qualified, professional teachers working with us and we are happy to offer French music lessons to our community,” explains co-founder Ashley Martyn, 25. Students of all ages can now register for piano (the school’s most popular instrument) and violin in either language. Barrhaven Music Academy aims to offer French music lessons for all instruments in the near future.

As University of Ottawa alumni, Martyn knows well the importance and benefit of learning in more than one language. Four years of post-secondary study in a bilingual atmosphere strengthened her knowledge and appreciation of both English and French, and she wants Barrhaven Music Academy’s students to have those same advantages while learning in an environment that “provides a bridge to professional, academic, cultural, and personal growth.”

It’s no wonder that Barrhaven, with a population climbing to 84,266 in the 2011 Census, has seen a rise in demand for French language services. The community is already home to three French elementary schools: Michaëlle Jean, Jean-Robert Gauthier and Pierre Elliot Trudeau; together all three have a combined population of nearly 1,300 students.  There’s also Barrhaven’s first French high school, École Secondaire Catholique Pierre-Savard, built in 2009, housing students from grades 7 to 12.  And, don’t forget the adjacent community of Riverside South, home to an additional 3,300 households and projected to be the fastest growing community in the city with an anticipated annual growth rate of 13.5%. Two French schools are nestled within Riverside South’s boundaries as well: École élémentaire catholique Bernard-Grandmaître and the French Catholic Secondary School Franco-Cité, with a student body of over 1,100.

Founded in 2009 as a home-based music studio, Barrhaven Music Academy has shown notable growth and acquired an excellent reputation as a haven for quality music education. Their newly-renovated location on Woodroffe Avenue include a handful of teaching studios with state-of-the-art sound isolating technologies and warm, inviting colours that promote a fun, friendly learning environment.

With the introduction of French music lessons, Barrhaven Music Academy is enthusiastic to give francophone families the opportunity for their children to learn music in their first language. “It’s another way we can give back to our community,” Martyn affirms, “and music itself is a universal language.”

For more information on Barrhaven Music Academy and to register for lessons, contact 613-459-6027 or info@barrhavenmusicacademy.com, or visit their website at http://www.barrhavenmusicacademy.com.

Practice! Practice! Practice! 10 Tips Every Student Should Know

Practicing is essential, no matter what instrument you’re learning. And good practicing etiquette will improve your playing ten-fold. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your practicing time:

1. Don’t just play, think. Thinking and visualizing what you want to achieve out of each practice session will help you improve at a much faster pace. Before you start practicing, ask yourself what the end goal is, and visualize yourself getting there.

2. Good posture. Whatever instrument you play, or if you sing, check that you are standing or sitting correctly. Your back should be straight, chest up, and feet planted firmly on the floor. Check that you are properly holding your instrument and that you are relaxed and comfortable. Poor posture can affect your playing ability and could even lead to injuries if not corrected!

3. Make sure you warm up. Spend a few moments, at the start of each session, to warm up. This can be done through finger exercises, scales, triads, rudiments, solfège (for vocal students) and many other warm-up exercises. The key is to keep them simple and start slowly; working your way from easiest to more challenging pieces.

4. Stay positive. Be a self-fulfilling prophecy – if you believe it, then it will come true. Stay positive about everything; even those pieces or studies that seem difficult today! I often remind my students to look back in their methods books to songs they used to find difficult, and now can play with ease. Perceive everything as a challenge, but also keep in mind that any challenge can be overcome with the right positive attitude.

5. Sight read. Sight reading is a great way to improve musicality in many ways. It can help with reading notes, rhythm, ear training and theory. To get the most out of sight reading, be sure to do a little bit each time you practice.

6. Hear what you sound like. One of the best ways to improve your own playing is to hear it being played back to you. Recording yourself while practicing will allow you to focus entirely on listening, and you will be amazed at what you didn’t hear while playing. It doesn’t have to be high-quality recording, either – I use iPhone’s Voice Memos, a standard free app. Hearing your mistakes from a new perspective (or for the first time!) will help in correcting them faster.

7. Get into a routine. Strive to practice daily – even for as little as 20 minutes. It’s best to get into a routine for practicing; in the morning, after school, or before going to bed. It’s better to practice a little bit everyday than for hours at a time only once a week.

8. Be comfortable. Where you practice is another important thing to remember. Ideally, you would want a practice area that comfortable and free from distractions, with proper lighting, good ventilation and a comfortable seat.

9. Have all the right equipment. Don’t start practicing unless you have everything you need! Make sure your books, sheet music, metronome, tuner, amp, capo, and CD player or laptop (if needed) are all within reach for easy access. This gives you more time to focus on the music, and you’ll be able to play everything properly and with precision.

10. Reward yourself! Every time you accomplish a tough piece or learn a song you’ve always wanted to master, go ahead and reward yourself! Self-motivation is great and will further inspire you to keep learning.

In the Studio with BMA’s Tashi Bernard

We spent the day laying down some vocal tracks at Fat Dog Productions with one of BMA’s vocal teachers, Tashi Bernard. She will be teaching out of our new location once it’s officially open in July.

Tashi recorded a version of one of her favorite tunes, Etta James’ At Last. Click here to listen to the finished product!

Six Tips for Choosing the Right Music Teacher

Looking for a new music teacher but don’t know where to start? Here are some key things to think about to get you on your way:

1. Get Referrals.
Talk to friends and family who have children enrolled in music lessons. Talk to the band, orchestra and choir teachers at your school and ask for any recommendations they may have. If you have a teacher already in mind, ask them if you can contact a few of their existing clients to get an idea of their teaching style.

2. Know What You Want.
Before you start your search, ask yourself exactly what you, or your child, want to acheive. By knowing what you want before starting to look around, your search will be much easier and you can narrow in on a teacher who will tailor lessons to your needs. Consider the following:

  • What are your short and long term musical goals?
  • What are your musical tastes and styles? Is this what you want to learn to play?
  • How much time to you intend to invest in practicing?

3. Attend a Recital.
Again, if you have zeroed in on a particular teacher or school, attend one of their recitals. You’ll get a very good idea of their students’ levels, styles and overall versatility and musically. Talk to other parents in the audience about their child’s lessons to get an idea if you or your child would be a good fit as well.

4. Style.
If you are looking to learn a particular musical style, such as jazz or classical, make sure the teacher in question is qualified and open to teach it. Some teachers and musicians choose one style to master throughout their career and may not be comfortable crossing into another. Similarly, if you are looking to get a feel for a handful of genres, look for a more well-rounded teacher with a comprehensive, diverse repertoire.

5. Look at Credentials.
Performance experience and music degrees do not necessarily define an excellent or ideal teacher. More likely that not, however, having a Bachelor of Music or an RCM diploma is a good indicator of this; given that it shows a range of experience, dedication and pedagogy. Experience in performing can also point to a great teacher, as it demonstrates an ability to work with other musicians and develop a sense of creativity. Years of teaching experience, in addition, will also help determine how comfortable an instructor will be in passing on their knowledge of their craft. These three factors should all be taken into account when browsing around.

6. Go With Your Gut.
Most importantly, go with your instincts when meeting or talking to a teacher for the first time. Did they make you comfortable (or tense?) right off the bat? Do you feel you (or your child) could connect well with the teacher? By analyzing your first interaction with a potential teacher it will be easier to predict if you are compatible and able to build a solid, long-lasting teacher-student relationship.

Overall, the best strategy for finding a suitable teacher is to gather as much information as you can. As long as you feel you have all the necessary facts and relevant details, you will feel confident in your decision and be ready to start your musical journey.

It’s official! Barrhaven Music Academy has a new home

I’m happy to announce that Barrhaven Music Academy will be opening its newly-renovated doors on Woodroffe Avenue in July 2012. We’ll be located in the heart of the community in order to better serve our growing student body.

I’ll be blogging regularly with updates about our progress as we move along! Follow BMA on Twitter (@BHMusicAcademy) for all the latest details.