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CanU? Oh Yes We Can!

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Surprisingly, every year of CanU Jazz has been unique. In the beginning, no one really knew how this was to be done. Three hours of time. Several rooms with pianos and drums and guitars and microphones. Around twenty middle-grades kids from underserved schools pouring off school buses at the end of the regular school day. A handful of university students figuring out how to put pedagogy into practice. Let’s just say there was a lot of chaos and wonder—those were epic times.

Now we have a few years under our belts, and we know a bit more what to expect. There are a few variables, but for the most part, every year we get keen, curious, enterprising young fifth and sixth graders who are eager and hungry for information about how to play rhythm section instruments. The university students in the jazz pedagogy course become “jazz buddies” in feeling as well as in title. Some of them return year after year because they discover such a deep satisfaction in this work.

It’s a lot of fun watching the kids choose what they’re going to learn because they approach it with a sense of empowerment, and they’re enthusiastic about doing what it takes to learn. Some of them struggle more than others, but this year the big thing is the sense of cooperation and support that the students bring to the class. I’m gonna attribute some of that to the school teachers who have been tracking this project over the years, and also to the CanU staff—Roger Berrington, Britney Truman, and others—and how they’ve analyzed the outcomes each year.

What I’m seeing this year? The kids arrived knowing what’s possible, they’re eager to get it, and they’re bringing a desire to cooperate and a hunger for music.

Long story short, this year’s CanU class is a dream. The kids have chosen some really catchy popular tunes, and they are just working their hearts out to learn to play them. They’re looking forward to having a chance to perform them for their peers and parents at the big CanU windup showcase on
March 7. (If your faith in humanity is flagging, drop by—that whole event will fuel you for weeks!)

The “jazz buddies” are on the front lines, delivering instruction and supporting the learning experience. They have reflected time and again in their journals how rewarding this work is. I think it’s because they see themselves in those kids. They see the learning process from a different perspective. They get insight into their own struggles and their own victories. They learn more about empathy, an important element that often gets left out of the delivery of music education.

All of us have had a wonderful first term. The kids are terrific. We’ve loved having our CanU volunteer Josephine on hand to provide moral support and fix problems before they arise. I am inspired by the eagerness and accomplishments of the young musicians, and gratified to see these young adult mentors find new capacities in themselves. Bravo CanU Jazz!

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