Music to Your Ears | TWO LOCAL MUSICIANS SHARE THEIR PASSION AND SPIRIT | Extended Edition

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Columnist and author, Ken Campbell’s book, Selling The Dream, noted that parent’s of Colorado Avalanche centre, Matt Duchene, had spent $300,00.00 on their son’s hockey career. In an interview with columnist Jeff Hull, Campbell states, “One parent I spoke to for the book spent $20,000.00 a year on hockey for his kid.” Those are some deep pockets! But wait a second, you thought this was an article on local TSO musicians Bridget Hunt and Roberta Janzen…. Just keep skating with me faithful reader, and I’ll try and shoot from the crease.

You may remember, if you have children in the Toronto school district, back in May of last year, the TDSB proposed a 2 million dollar cut to instrumental programmes. If the proposal had gone through (fortunately, it was voted down by the Trustees), 23 part time music instructors for grades 1-6, would have been looking for work. Also included in the cuts would have been instructors of strings, steel pan programmes and Orff (a musical literacy program) for grades 5-8. Although given a reprieve, the Board will be looking to cut 30 million for the 2014-2015 budget, so the music program may be on the block once again. Think about this; 2 million dollars potentially cut for 188,304 kids (the number of children in the Toronto school district). That works out to $10.63 per kid per year, compared to two sets of parents who spent $320,000.00 on two kids. Now, $300,000.00 was spent over a number of years, but still, the numbers are staggering. It really speaks to the emphasis placed on sports in our society.

I may be talking Canadian Sacrilege when I compare the amount of money parents spend on their children’s hockey programmes to that spent on the arts (music in particular), but hopefully this article will inspire you to incorporate (more) music in your children’s lives. Some of the systems offered by Graham Slee HiFi would be of immense value to any aspiring musician. And if violinist Bridget Hunt and Cellist Roberta Janzen had any say in the matter, you’ll also spend some time at Roy Thompson Hall with them. Let’s meet two of your neighbours, Roberta and Bridget. They are both parents and players with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. They are full of spirit and passion. And I had the pleasure of hanging out with them at one of my favourite coffee houses, Pan Perdu. We talked about programming at The Symphony, their lives and the importance of music education. Their conviction and energy could generate the Maple Leaf zamboni and arena for the next two decades!

Bridget Hunt plays on a violin made by French luthier (that’s a violin maker to you and me) from the late 1800’s. Pretty cool when your main tool of work is a piece of art that’s about 120 years old! Bridget refers to her violin as “my Baby”. The petite blond reminds me of a thoroughbred, in the gate before the bell rings. She enthusiastically tells me about the programmes at the TSO, and as the proverbial gate opens, words whoosh out of her at breakneck speed. She tells me that the TSO season runs from September to June and during this time, they curate programmes designed specifically for primary, junior and senior level students, including a French language program, through the TDSB (Bravo)! They will reach approximately 45,000 students each season. Bridget introduces me to the TSO Student Concert Series. They are hour long programmes and the primary level includes Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Leroy Anderson’s Waltzing Cat, among others, this year.

Roberta Janzen continued the dialogue a few days later. Another petite string player, she is as warm and open as the 1830, Milanese Antonio Merighi cello she plays. She talked about a child’s first experience at Roy Thompson Hall. “Being in the Hall is so different than turning your stereo on. It’s a communal experience. It’s a journey with a group of people and there is a certain energy in the Hall. The kids sometimes prepare a piece, often on a recorder, to play along with the Symphony. I remember the first time I played one of these series. The kids pulled out their recorders and played Puff The Magic Dragon. I just welled up. There’s nothing like it, it’s such an emotional experience!” She finishes the thought, “Imagine 1,500 kids in the Hall experiencing an amazing, vast, sound palate of a Symphony Orchestra for the first time in their lives. It’s so beautiful!”

Bridget emphasizes the children’s shows. “We have people who are hired by our education department and our head concert planner, who decide years in advance, which pieces will be played for the Children’s Series.” For example, the TSO offers a series called Young People’s Concerts. It is a great introduction to symphonic music for children, ages 5-12. It is a multidisciplinary, hour long concert. In February, in honour of our winter athletes and the Sochi Games, the third of five in the series, the TSO will present Orchestra Olympics. Bridget effuses, “This is going to be a really fun show!” She also emphasized the affordability of this program. “There are family pack deals where you can spend either $17 or $29 on tickets if you buy three or more.” And who said Culture had to be expensive!

The TSO offers programmes for various levels of music development. The Morning With The Toronto Symphony Orchestra caters to high school students, allowing them to observe the orchestra’s final preparation before a concert. A very unique and exciting opportunity for young musicians! Bridget continues about not “dumbing down” children with their music education. “I feel very strongly about this. You can take a child that’s ten, to listen to the most funky, contemporary piece of music, like something composed by Philip Glass, and they’re like, that is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard!”

Both women were emphatic about the education component of music. Certainly there are innumerable studies linking academic excellence to studying an instrument (and no doubt many of those researchers must have taken piano)! “Counting beats helps children develop their understanding of whole numbers. Music notation helps them identify shapes and spatial relationships, which forms the basis of geometry,” states Adriana J. Moton of childstudy.net. But it’s not just mathematics that benefits from music lessons. Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, “To learn to read, you need to have a good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound to meaning connections. Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with an active engagement in playing a musical instrument.” Another study out of Northwestern linked music lessons and the maintenance of brain acuity, and that the study of music prevents cognitive decline later in life.

So, when should a child start learning to play an instrument? The ladies had differing opinions. “I honestly can’t give you a blank answer,” says Bridget. “I look at my kids and see a difference in personality, work ethic, all that kinds of stuff. My daughter, she could have started when she was two. Whereas my son,” she smiles, “he likes doing things his own way. But they both started around 4 or 5 on piano.” Roberta clocks in a few days later on the subject. “It’s what your kid thrives at that’s important. My (8 year old) son prefers the visual arts. I wouldn’t force my kid to study music. There is a fine line. You want to give your child a sense of joy and the love of music. If they’re not the kid who is going to sit down everyday to practice, you can’t force it. Playing an instrument isn’t going to be for every kid. More importantly, being exposed to music at school and having it be a part of your life is paramount.”

But if your child is so inclined, what is the best instrument to start your child off with? Violinist Bridget says, “Piano. It’s a great instrument to start your kids on. You see the chords, you hear the melody. You don’t have “this or that” to worry about (she pretends to use a bow with one hand and play notes with the other). “String instruments are great, but they are very difficult to play. But kids can do anything at that age. They are so malleable, they’re much more flexible and they learn more quickly. Starting at a young age is important.” What these two women definitely agree on is that “if you want to be good at something, you have to work at it,” says Roberta. Key words here are Discipline, Hard Work and Practice. In fact I don’t think the ladies realized how much they spoke about the hours and hours spent practicing their craft. This was so matter of fact for them. It seems indelible to who they became.

And music has been present in both of their lives at a very young age. For Roberta’s son, music was present in vitro – she played while she was pregnant and noted physical movement whenever she played certain pieces. Back in the Prairies, Roberta’s mother took lessons while her children were very young. Roberta’s two other siblings played violin and piano. She laughs, “I think my mother wanted a trio!” Her eyes soften as she goes back to her childhood, “I’d sit in the rocking chair and listen to my mother playing Bach and Brahms.” She started studying piano at five years old, and the cello at six. “I think that minds are wired to suit different instruments,” she states.

For Bridget, music was all encompassing. “A lot of practicing! When I lived in Saskatoon, I’d fly to Calgary every other weekend and stay with my teacher, Dr. Lise Elson.” I asked her how she found her teacher. “I participated in a competition called the Canadian Music Competition. I don’t know whether it’s even in existence any longer. It’s like a Kiwanis Competition. I went every year from ages 12 to 18. And this is where I met all of my closest friends. It was there, where you have phenomenally talented people around you! You’d find out who was studying with who and that’s how I found Lise Elson. She was one of the biggest influences on my career. She pushed me to go to Indiana University.” After studying at Indiana U., Bridget went to New York to study at the Manhattan School of Music and at 24 she joined the TSO.

Roberta and Bridget met at Banff, where they were roommates, “I think we were 12,” says Roberta. She studied in England at the Royal Conservatory of Music with eminent teacher, William Pleeth. I get a quick lesson in the importance of lineage. Pleeth taught Jacqueline du Pre, the famous cellist who’s spectacular career was ended by multiple sclerosis. But she lights up when she talks about her time at Stoney Brook University in New York, under the tutelage of Dr. Timothy Eddy. “The importance of a music teacher can create an atmosphere in their classroom or studio, of an expectation or attitude. This can become a very powerful force in who you are. A great teacher will draw out your best. And I wanted to give him my best. It teaches you to aspire to your highest level.”

It was a wonderful couple of days, getting to know Bridget Hunt and Roberta Janzen, and their thoughts on music education, their histories and what the TSO has to offer. Go to the website, TSO.ca, and learn more about the TSOund Check series for 15 to 35 year olds, who can attend a concert for the price of a movie; the What Makes It Great Series, hosted by Ron Kaplow, who explains exactly why a certain symphony is great! Or, if you are a romantic, take your Sweetie on Valentine’s Day to Roy Thompson Hall to hear the Symphony play the score of Casablanca while Bogie and Bergman break their hearts on the big screen. There is so much being offered and I know Roberta and Bridget would love to have you and your family experience the emotional richness of the Symphony at Roy Thompson Hall, located at 60 Simcoe Street.

Discover Great Children’s Concerts from the TSO here: Click Here

Learn more about the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Here: Click Here

 

joy head shot

Joy Tanner

Joy Tanner hails from Pittsford, New York. Graduating with
honours with a double major in English and Theatre from
SUNY Potsdam, she also holds a diploma from the British
American Drama Academy (London/Oxford). She moved to
Canada in the early 90?s, and has been acting professionally
on both the big and small screens for over 20 years. She is
best know for her roles in Cold Squad, Life With Derek and
DeGrassi The Next Generation. Recent film credits include
The Phantoms, The House At The End Of The Street and
Neverlake.

 

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