By Stephanie Milliken
We often use music to express emotions, and to build relationships. Music instruction can also play a key role in a child’s development of invaluable social and life skills. An Instrument for Every Child (AIFEC) is a Hamilton-based music program that works in conjunction with Hamilton-area elementary schools, to provide young students from grades one to four with extra instrumental music classes. Gosia McCarroll works for AIFEC as a music instructor, teaching violin and piano classes.
Gosia immigrated to Canada from Poland eleven years ago, just before marrying her husband, a Canadian musician. The pair met on a cruise ship where both were working as musicians on contracts. After living in Toronto for six years, they moved to Hamilton, and have since been happy to call the area home. Gosia has worked with AIFEC for three years now, after meeting with Astrid Hepner, the Program Director. Prior to this, she worked in a variety of music-related jobs. Most notably, she worked as an instrumental teacher at the Long & McQuade music store in Mississauga, where her husband was working at the time. Gosia acknowledges how lucky she is to have been able to find work in her field so soon after immigrating here, as “it can be difficult for new immigrants to find a job that uses their professional training when they first move to a new country…they often have to do totally different things, at least for their first few years in Canada.”
Although Gosia found a job in the music field with relative ease, she still had to get used to working in a new environment. Having been raised in Poland, where she admits, “they are more strict in their music classes,” Gosia has had to adjust to the culture of music instruction here. She attended music-oriented elementary and high schools in Poland before continuing to study music in university, and thus learned how to be very disciplined about it. When she began teaching music classes at Long & McQuade, she said she initially “struggled with the idea that, here, we primarily intend for music classes to be fun, rather than disciplined.” At first, she thinks she was a bit “too ambitious and serious” with her students, but she has since learned ways of teaching music that fit her new context better. She realizes that music is about fun – and as a teacher, a good relationship with a student depends on a compromise of goals and understanding. There has been a learning curve, but she has developed a balance of fun and discipline in her teaching style that adjusts to fit the needs of the students with whom she is working.
Gosia speaks enthusiastically about her students and their accomplishments. Due to the fact that AIFEC instrumental classes are taught in groups, accommodating the needs of individual students while keeping the whole group on track, is something that she always has to keep in mind. “Some students benefit from more individual attention,” she says, “while others pick up the skills a bit more quickly, so flexibility is necessary in these environments.” Aside from learning practical music skills, students in these music classes “learn how to relate to and respect their peers and teachers, and they come to be like a little family.” Gosia believes that “the most important things that students can bring to the class, even if they learn in different ways and at different paces, is a willingness to learn, and their positive energy.”
The end-of-year recitals are some of the biggest events for the students, and their parents as well. “The recitals are great opportunities for the parents to see the progress that their children are making, and they can be involved in the exciting work that the kids, instructors, and organizers are doing together,” Gosia affirms. Now that the program is being run at the Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club too, parents have more chances to speak to the music instructors and see how the program is evolving. Gosia stresses how important she feels it is for parents to be involved in the music education of their children.
Gosia is optimistic about AIFEC’s direction and continued growth. At the moment, the program is active in eight schools, and every year they implement the program in at least one more school. The expansion of the program to the Boys and Girls Club has also meant that older students can continue to receive their lessons there past grade four. Music is a universally appreciated art, and AIFEC’s organizers and instructors are excited about providing Hamilton’s youths with high-quality music instruction.
Stephanie Milliken is a M.A. Candidate in Gender Studies and Feminist Research at McMaster University