Bringing Music Education to All Alberta Youth

The Cause

To quote Ronald Russo, a retired band director and music educator, “when students play music in an ensemble, they develop not only their musical technique and ear but also their ability to engage and empathize with others. Ensemble playing requires musicians to share their talents for the good of the group, rather than to stand out individually, and this in itself helps a young player to become more community minded.”

The Alberta Guild of English Handbell Ringers (ALGEHR) exists to support and promote the art of handbells and handchimes. Across our province, there are hundreds of schools where hundreds of thousands of young Albertans may have the opportunity to be exposed to this unique musical instrument. Bells and chimes are special because they require more than one pair of hands to play. Ringers don’t even need to know how to read music. Some even call handbell ringing a “team sport”. However, while many elementary schools in Alberta may be fortunate enough to have their own set of handbells and perhaps a music teacher who actually knows how to work with them, there are just as many that lack the knowledge, resources, and expertise to help our youth experience more musical satisfaction and success.

The “Bringing Music Education to Every Alberta Youth” program will increase and enrich opportunities for more students to learn about handbells through improved music teacher education and more accessible instruments. For many students who have limited social networks, music is often their safe haven where they can fully reach their potential. With decreased support for the fine arts, these at-risk youth can be left behind. In Alberta post-secondary institutions, formal handbell training for music teachers is sadly inadequate. To combat such challenges and to encourage more young Albertans to pursue the fine arts, ALGEHR proposes to purchase an extensive handbell collection from Concordia University of Edmonton. This acquisition would allow ALGEHR to make available loaner sets of bells and chimes to schools, youth and community ensembles. Before investing in these instruments, the loaner program would allow such groups to “test drive” them prior to purchase. In addition, ALGEHR will form partnerships with key stakeholders in music education to develop and support vital professional development and training for music teachers. As well, plans for youth workshops and bell “training camps” are underway.

Who Will it Benefit?

Our program will affect the lives of Albertans from all walks of life. Music is a universal language that is not only pedagogical, but emotionally fulfilling as it contributes to positive mental health and well being. There is a growing body of evidence that arts instruction can significantly strengthen students’ academic performance. A study conducted by The Music School in Providence, RI and the Kodaly Center of America theorize that learning arts skills forces mental ‘stretching’ useful to other areas of cognitive growth. It not only communicates emotions and ideas, it integrates itself with so many other subjects: math, science, history, language arts, second languages, other fine arts, and even physical education.

Sadly current cutbacks have resulted in decreased support for the fine arts. Through the “Bringing Music Education to Every Alberta Youth” program, hundreds and possibly thousands of students from over 350 Alberta school jurisdictions with varying degrees of music backgrounds will all learn to collaborate and work as a team as they play this “one” instrument. At-risk youth, who may not excel in academics, sports or may have limited social networks, will have the possibility of reaching their potential through music. Indigenous students in remote communities will benefit through virtual workshops and lessons. Junior and high school students will enjoy an additional option to their music education and choose to continue their journey with handbells. Music educators can list handbells as a unique addition to their skills. Adults will discover new skills and appreciate the fine arts more when exposed to this unique musical opportunity through handbell ensembles. On a broader scale, schools and communities will become enriched with the development of more musicians and artists who will diversify and elevate Alberta’s cultural scene.