Why two Juno winners say Hamilton schools need more music money

In the face of arts cutbacks throughout Ontario schools, Hamilton songwriters Steve Strongman and Tomi Swick and music education charity Musicounts met with local music teachers Tuesday to encourage them to apply for grants to bolster their programs.

Steve Strongman, Tomi Swick and Musicounts meet with area teachers

Steve Strongman (left) and Tomi Swick both signed a piano that's being used to promote the Juno Awards in Hamilton this week. Both musicians have won Junos in the past, and were onhand to promote funding for music education at Juno House in the Lister Block. (Adam Carter/CBC)

In the face of arts cutbacks throughout Ontario schools, Hamilton songwriters Steve Strongman and Tomi Swick and music education charity Musicounts met with local music teachers Tuesday to encourage them to apply for grants to bolster their programs.

“Helping to breed the next generation of musician in a great musical city is fantastic,” Swick told CBC Hamilton.

Musicounts manager Mike Hurley was in town as part of Hamilton’s lead up to the Juno awards, speaking to music teachers in an effort to get them to apply for his organization’s grants in greater numbers – because as of right now, Hamilton is lagging behind.

Too often, cuts seem to fall on the arts. People forget the impact it can have on a kid's life.- Steve Strongman, blues musician

“Our numbers in the region in the last couple of years have been slightly lower than we’d like them to be,” Hurley said. Musicounts gives out grants of up to $10,000 to schools that show the greatest need to bolster their programs.

Musicounts has given out $130,000 to 13 Hamilton-area schools in the last decade or so. By contrast, the arts organization expects to give out $550,000 across Canada this year alone. “We want to get instruments into the hands of kids who need them the most,” Hurley said.

In recent years, that’s something that has become increasingly difficult to do. According to an annual report from education watchdog People for Education, only 43 per cent of elementary schools in Ontario last year has a dedicated music teacher teaching a music curriculum.

That’s the lowest percentage in the nation, and down from 49 per cent the year before.

People for Education says that now, 29 per cent of elementary schools don’t have a music teacher, period. Those kinds of numbers worry Swick and Strongman – Juno award-winning songwriters who say they couldn’t imagine their school years without music class.

“Too often, cuts seem to fall on the arts,” Strongman said. “People forget the impact it can have on a kid’s life.”

“If that wasn’t there, who knows what I’d be doing today, really?”

Swick went to both Hill Park and Cathedral Schools in Hamilton, and says he was given the opportunity to do “whatever he wanted” when it came to music. He says that people can’t lose sight of how important that can be for a child’s development.

“It helps with math, it helps with abstract thoughts, it helps with phobias and putting yourself out there,” he said. “It helps with so many aspects of life.”

According to a study based out of McMaster University, music lessons can help children as young as four show advanced brain development and improve their memory.

Music training can lead to improvements in literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, math and overall IQ, the study found.

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