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Royal Conservatory to roll out music system in U.S.

Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music has struck a deal with New York's Carnegie Hall to roll out its music education system across the U.S.

Carnegie Hall a partner in plan to standardize music education

Carnegie Hall's Clive Gillinson, left, and Royal Conservatory of Music's Peter Simon, shown at Carnegie Hall, outlined a partnership aimed at improving music education in the U.S. (Chris Lee/Royal Conservatory of Music)

Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music has struck a deal with New York's Carnegie Hall to roll out its music education system across the U.S.

The deal, announced Saturday, will see Carnegie Hall lend its name to a program that could help standardize private music instruction in the U.S.

"One of the things we've long felt is that there is a lack, in the U.S., of a national exam system, a national ladder of aspiration for kids — or even adults — learning instruments," Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall's executive and artistic director, told CBC News.

Music education has historically been a state responsibility. Though many states have strong programs, the exam system is inconsistent across the country and students who move have to find their own way in each new system, Gillinson said.

A Carnegie Hall feasibility study showed that a standardized system would benefit students and be welcomed by music teachers, he added.

Sought out international partner

Gillinson said the concert hall, which brings music to dozens of communities through its outreach programs, went looking for a partner who could help it implement such a program and settled on the Toronto-based Royal Conservatory of Music.

The RCM study system, with its grade levels and exams, is familiar and understood in communities throughout Canada. The conservatory also understands the U.S. market, Gillinson said.

Royal Conservatory president Peter Simon said states such as Ohio, Wisconsin and Massachusetts already have many teachers using its system.

The plan is to make the teaching materials and the exam system more widely available, starting with 10 leading states, including California, Texas, New York and Florida.

"We're holding sessions where we take teachers through how they get engaged and put students in this system. We've developed a website where they can find out everything — how to register, how to get the books," Simon said.

That process will continue with the education of teachers and workshops at conferences and in various states. RCM and Carnegie are also meeting with state legislators and education experts in their efforts to woo teachers onto the system.

Simon believes it will take years to engage music educators across the U.S., but says the RCM has a "long-term view" on its investment. 

"We couldn't have national impact on a major scale without a partner, and Carnegie is absolutely the best partner to do this because it brings so much attention to this," he said.

Carnegie in schools

Carnegie already conducts music education in schools, prisons, hospices and youth-at-risk centres. It also works with orchestras throughout the country  in their own outreach and music education programs

Those are the first stop for the Achievement Program, as the U.S. education system will be called, but Carnegie plans to work with additional partners to build a comprehensive education system.

"If you get something that's really needed and really important, people talk about it," Gillinson said. "Word of mouth is incredibly important."

It's just an historical accident that the U.S. did not develop a national examination system, Gillinson said.

"The assumption is that it didn't exist for a particular reason. That's often not true. Sometimes, it just didn't happen because it didn't happen," he said.

"People have been saying to me 'Thank goodness, I've been pushing for this for years.'"

The federal budget put forward by Canada's Conservative government included a $7.5-million grant to the RCM to help it build the online component of the system. However, the budget has not been implemented because of the election.