Since the arrival of Pinchas Zukerman as Music Director, Canada’s National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra, based in Ottawa, is touring both nationally and internationally on a regular basis. Recently, the orchestra toured to Israel and Europe in 2000, the US and Mexico in 2003, and in 2007 will tour to China and Japan. Within Canada, the orchestra has traveled extensively from coast to coast since 1999. A distinguishing feature of any NAC Orchestra tour is the outreach to children and youth, where Pinchas Zukerman and the musicians of the orchestra step off the stage and into classrooms to teach, encourage, and inspire students.
On our most recent tour to Canada’s prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in November 2005, the Music Education Office organized 98 events involving 73 musicians and 80 local partners that reached an estimated audience of over 18,000 students and teachers. With 10 times the number of educational events than concerts, the orchestra’s educational outreach is where the real and lasting imprint is made.
All tour outreach events are devised in collaboration with local partners, and they appeal to a wide range of ages and musical ability. Providing support for school music programs is one of our main goals; this may take the form of coaching sessions or interactive in-school performances for students. Another goal is to showcase young talent from within each community. We accomplish this by featuring young local musicians as soloists with the orchestra in concerts for student audiences, as part of youth choir lobby performances prior to NACO concerts, or as participants in public master classes led by Pinchas Zukerman and NACO musicians.
Schools with little access to the performing arts, typically those in rural or lower-income urban areas, are invited to participate at no cost in several age-specific music programs. Aboriginal students who attend schools both on- and off-reserve were specifically targeted for these programs on NAC Orchestra tours to British Columbia in 2004, and to Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2005. Recorders were one of the central teaching and learning tools, as were teacher resource kits and student newspaper guides.
NAC-produced teacher resource kits and student newspaper guides provide a foundation on which teachers can build engaging lesson units, focusing on the life, times, and music of great composers. Each kit includes a complimentary CD recording of the NAC Orchestra playing the music of the featured composer. The content and activities are carefully designed to address specific areas of the curriculum, and in particular, to enable music to be integrated into other curriculum subjects. To date, the NAC has produced kits on Beethoven, Mozart, and Vivaldi.
The newest NAC teacher kit, Vivaldi and the Four Seasons, was mailed to every elementary school in British Columbia in 2004 and in Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2005. In the fall of 2006 it will be mailed to schools in Quebec and the rest of Canada. The kit includes several references to Aboriginal art and culture, and features an original story entitled Creator and the Seasons, written by renowned Canadian author C.J. Taylor of the Mohawk Nation living in Quebec, and illustrated by Cree artist George Littlechild, living in Comox, BC.
During each of the previous two tours, the strings of the NAC Orchestra, conducted by NAC Youth and Family Conductor Boris Brott, presented several special concerts for student audiences that featured the music of Vivaldi. Joining Boris Brott as co-host for each of these concerts were First Nations musician-storytellers. In several cities where these concerts were presented, young classically-trained musicians of Aboriginal origin were featured as soloists with the orchestra. The students attending the concerts, most of them Aboriginal, were encouraged to sing or play on recorder an excerpt from the Winter concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. In Grande Prairie, Alberta, one of two concerts presented live to 500 students at the Grande Prairie Regional College Theatre was webcast over Alberta Supernet to elementary schools across the province. Bell Canada made it possible for the National Arts Centre to produce and stream this live webcast to an additional 13,000 Alberta school children who were watching the NACO concert remotely.
These tours also provided in-depth music education experiences, introducing Aboriginal school children to the recorder and to the life, times, and music of Antonio Vivaldi. Music Connexions encouraged students to respond creatively to the music of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and provided them with the opportunity to share publicly what they had learned over a 6-week period.
The 2005 edition of this innovative program began in early September, and culminated with a final sharing event on November 10th. The program involved mainly Aboriginal children from schools in Regina, Saskatchewan, Siksika Nation near Calgary, Alberta, Cornwall Island, Ontario, and St Regis, Quebec. The children shared what they had learned with NACO Music Director Pinchas Zukerman and live audiences, using broadband technology to connect three sites – First Nations University in Regina, Mount Royal College in Calgary, and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
Recorder clinics were arranged for participating teachers prior to the start of the program, and recorder clinicians traveled to schools to help prepare the children on recorder once the program was underway. The Vivaldi and the Four Seasons teacher kits and student newspaper guides supported the program and provided cross-curricular references, such as a unit on Climate Change and Canada’s One Tonne Challenge, to enhance the learning experience.
The other in-depth outreach program was designed entirely for students who attended First Nations (reserve) schools. The Kispiox Music Project in British Columbia in 2004 and the Prince Albert Grande Council (PAGC) Recorder Programme in Saskatchewan in 2005 were quite similar in content and format. Highlights from the Kispiox Project were broadcast on CBC Television’s The National in December 2004, bringing national exposure to this highly successful cross-cultural school music program.
More recently, the PAGC Recorder Programme culminated in a music-sharing session performed by approximately 65 children, who participated from three elementary schools within the Prince Albert Grand Council – a first nation tribal council in northern Saskatchewan. Over a 6-week period leading up to the NACO tour, the children selected to participate prepared a musical excerpt from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to sing and play on recorder. They also prepared a performance presentation representative of their own cultural tradition.
The final performance in front of a live audience on November 7th was shared with eight members of the NACO brass section, and brought together First Nation and Western cultural traditions. It took place at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre for the Arts in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan before a school and community audience of 500, opening with a traditional Grand Entry and a Welcome Prayer. Teachers received support material and teacher training on recorder to help prepare them to begin the program with their students. A local Kodaly specialist ably led the teachers in three 2-hour recorder sessions at the start of September. The NAC Vivaldi and the Four Seasons teacher resource kit and student newspaper guides, with their strong connections to Aboriginal arts and story telling, were used by the teachers throughout the 6-week program, and will continue to support their music programs into the future.
These experiences are rich and varied and have a profound impact on teachers and students alike. As one teacher involved in Music Connexions II from the 2004 tour described her experience:
“My class learned more about music in six weeks than they would have in an entire year based on my previous music program. The knowledge I gained will be used for the rest of my teaching career…Music Connexions will continue having a positive affect on the students I will teach in the future.”
And from another teacher whose students participated in the PAGC Recorder Programme from the 2005 tour:
“The NACOTeam treated us to a magnificent day, one that we will treasure in our hearts forever. Our memories of that day will inspire the students and their teachers to continue using our recorders and drums to make glorious music; to continue to grow in the world of music. Thank you for bringing Vivaldi and the story of the Creation of the Seasons to us through the gift of music.It was awesome!You are angels on earth.”
It is a privilege and a duty to pass along the gift of music to the younger generation. Pinchas Zukerman and the musicians of NACO know this, in their heads and in their hearts. It is about developing the next generation of orchestral musicians and audiences for classical music, but more than this it is about opening the ears and eyes of young people to new and wonderful sensory experiences. So long as orchestral players continue to step out from behind their music stands, and down off the concert stages into schools and community venues, we can rest assured that more and more children and youth will be touched by the gift of music and choose to make music a part of their lives.
Claire Speed is the Education Director for the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Canada. For more information about NACO and their outreach programs, please visit their websites at