Learning Through The Arts
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 1 Dec 2005, p. 172-181
Simon, Dr. Peter, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The Royal Conservatory of Music - in the midst of an exciting growth period - some details. Creating educational programs that use the arts to develop aspects of thinking, learning, and communicating. Some history of the RCM. The structure of the RCM - the six main areas of activity. The Telus Centre for Performance and Learning and what those facilities will mean for Canadians. The role of the arts in our society. Some scientific evidence. Support for the centre.
Date of Original
1 Dec 2005
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
Dr. Peter Simon
President, The Royal Conservatory of Music
Learning through the arts
Chairman: William G. Whittaker
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests

Anne Fotheringham, Owner, Fotheringham Fine Art, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Kathryn Ballantine, Grade 12 Student, Rosedale Heights School of the Arts; Bluma Appel, Chair, Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research; Ana Lopes, Vice-Chair, Board of Directors, and Chair, Governors' Council, Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Marie Moliner, Regional Executive Director, Ontario, Department of Canadian Heritage; Dr. Marta Witer, Optometrist; Ian Ihnatowycz, President and CEO, Acuity Funds Ltd. and Acuity Investment Management; Sylvia Morawetz, Principal, S.A.M. Solutions, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Grant Kerr, Pastoral Staff, St. Paul's United Church, Brampton; Florence Minz, Chair of The Board of Directors, Royal Conservatory of Music; Helen Burstyn, Chair of The Board of Directors, Ontario Trillium Foundation; and Joe Natale, President, TELUS Business Solutions.

Introduction by William Whittaker

Music, which is the Royal Conservatory's raison d'etre, is central to the human experience as illustrated by the following random quotations, some of which are no doubt familiar to you:

"If music be the food of life, play on"--William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night;
"If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music"--Gustav Mahler;
"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent"--Victor Hugo;
"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music"--Aldous Huxley;
"Music is the shorthand of emotion"--Leon Tolstoy;
"You can't possibly hear the last movement of Beethoven's seventh and go slow"--Oscar Levant, explaining his way out of a speeding ticket; and
"I worry about the person who thought up Muzak may be thinking up something else"--Lily Tomlin.

I end my random quotes with one about the Beatles: "Theirs is a happy, cocky, belligerently resourceless brand of harmonic primitivism..."

In the Liverpudlian repertoire, "the indulgent amateurishness of the musical material, though closely rivaled by the indifference of the performing style, is actually surpassed only by the ineptitude of the studio production..."

Mr. Gould, who was a better musician than music critic, was of course, a graduate of the Royal Conservatory receiving his Diploma in Music at age 14. Other people from Canada's music history who were affiliated with the Royal Conservatory, were Edward Johnson, Nicholas Goldschmidt, Lois Marshall, Teresa Stratus and Jon Vickers. I am certain there are others who I missed when researching my introductory remarks.

I am embarrassed to note it has been sometime since the Canadian Club of Toronto and our club have had a speaker from the Royal Conservatory--a terrible oversight given its importance to Canadian culture and the City of Toronto. While both clubs have recently had speakers from Toronto's other cultural institutions, the last speaker we had from the Royal Conservatory was Dean Boyd Neal who spoke to us over 50 years ago on "Music and the Empire." Times have certainly changed!

I note the Empire Club is not alone in ignoring the Royal Conservatory. The narrative of the Toronto Historical Board's plaque on the lawn of Glen Gould's childhood residence at 32 Southwood Drive in the Beaches district of Toronto details his career but does not mention his association with the Royal Conservatory. While the Empire Club is making amends in inviting Dr. Simon to speak to us today, perhaps someone should speak to the Toronto Historical Board about changing its plaque!

The Royal Conservatory of Music, the largest and oldest independent arts educator in Canada, was founded in 1886 as the Toronto Conservatory of Music. It was the first institution of its kind in Canada: a school dedicated to the training of singers and musicians, and also to instilling a love of music in young children.

In 1947, the Royal Conservatory was granted its Royal Charter in recognition of its status as one of the Commonwealth's great music schools. Since that time, the Royal Conservatory has evolved and grown to its present-day core programs: the RCM Community School, The Glenn Gould School, the Young Artists Performance Academy, Learning Through the Arts, the Frederick Harris Music Co. Limited and RCM Examinations.

Dr. Simon became President of the Royal Conservatory in 1991 when it became independent from the University of Toronto. His tenure as president has been one of achievement for the Royal Conservatory, the latest being the Telus Centre for Performance and Learning, which you will hear more about today.

Peter Simon began his relationship with the Royal Conservatory as a student of Boris Berlin's in the 1960s. He received his Doctor of Musical Arts in 1983 from the University of Michigan while studying with Leon Fleisher. From 1986 to 1989, he was Director of Academic Studies at the conservatory, leaving to become President of the Manhattan School of Music until his appointment as President of the Royal Conservatory.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Peter Simon, President of the Royal Conservatory of Music, to our podium today.

Peter Simon

Mr. President, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to speak today; it is an honour to be here.

As most of you know, the Royal Conservatory is in the midst of one of the most exciting growth periods in its 120-year history. Four years ago, our community of outstanding volunteers, faculty and staff decided to take on an enormous challenge--to raise $85 million to build a new home, a centre for performance and learning.

This facility will be the first in the world dedicated to creating educational programs that use the arts to develop aspects of thinking, learning, and communicating that we believe will be increasingly essential for success in the future--and allow the RCM to build on its unique legacy as the most socially relevant and impactful cultural organization in Canada.

The RCM was founded in 1886 when Canada was an emerging nation with a nascent industrial economy and limited educational resources. The RCM responded to the need for children to further their development by creating a national system for music education. It trained teachers, created and published a curriculum, and put in place standards through an examination system.

These efforts and those of the RCM's many graduates ultimately led to the creation of a vast cultural infrastructure across Canada consisting of music schools, orchestras, choirs, ensembles and music studios, all of which gave Canada an extraordinarily strong base for the development of the creative impulse among its people. It is safe to say that few cultural organizations in the world have had such an impact on the character of a nation as has the RCM.

The structure of the conservatory has evolved considerably since then and now includes six main areas of activity, all of which pursue our mission--to develop human potential through the arts.

The six areas are:

The Glenn Gould School through which the most gifted young musicians from Canada and many other nations receive their final level of preparation before inspiring us all on the great stages of the world;
RCM examinations, which set and evaluate standards of music-making;
The Frederick Harris Music Company, Canada's largest print music publisher, which publishes the works of more than 100 Canadian composers;
The RCM Community School, which offers instruction in multiple forms of music and also houses our acclaimed early childhood development programs;
Learning through the arts--a program used in 50,000 classrooms in public schools across Canada--which has elevated the academic performance and personal development of hundreds of thousands of students;
A new media area begun very recently, which develops technology-based programs and online tools that will develop the ear, simplify notation and eliminate barriers to learning and creating music for young people.

Our new home, which will be called the Telus Centre for Performance and Learning, will give us the kind of facilities and technological capabilities that will maximize the impact of all of these areas on the relationship that Canadians have with the arts.

It will also allow the RCM to enter a new field of activity--a seventh division--concert and event presentation. The new facility will have three great performing spaces--Koerner Hall, the Siemens Theatre and Mazzoleni Hall located in our heritage building, which has recently been named Ihnatowycz Hall.

It will be a great place to visit--where you can take a drumming class or a Cuban jazz piano lesson, follow it up with a lecture about opera, have dinner and listen to a great singer or pianist or orchestra in Koerner Hall and finish the evening with a drink on the roof top lounge. Personally I plan to just move in and live there.

With this facility, the conservatory will have the infrastructure to respond to the needs of Canadians in the 21st century in the same way that we did 100 years ago.

Indeed, we are a decade into an ambitious agenda to fashion new learning programs suited to the needs of Canada in a post-industrial, technology and knowledge-based economy.

Today, nations are seeking ways to educate people who can thrive in the fast-paced working and living environment dictated by powerful new technologies; people who can grasp the implications of disparate and vast quantities of data and through their creativity formulate strategies, new ideas and better solutions to problems.

If Canada is to succeed in an ultra-competitive, global environment then all educational organizations must re-double their efforts. Most significantly, our public education system must find a way to respond to new needs.

The public education system faces a particularly heavy burden at the moment. Among its challenges are rising expectations for student performance, a more prescriptive curriculum that has the un-intended effect of limiting the creativity of teachers, intense change in the composition of the student body and a media revolution that has made young people impatient with traditional lecture-style teaching.

The system is handicapped in addressing these issues by the pressures of day-to-day classroom life, and by a funding system that is geared to the present, and hence cannot support the kind of sustained research that leads to program innovation and is the basis for productivity gains and competitiveness in the private sector. As a not-for-profit organization whose fundamental obligation is to serve society, we believed it was our responsibility to help the public education system in whatever way we could because this is the most important issue we face.

In 1994, the RCM began a partnership with school boards to provide the kind of long-term research required to develop methods by which major gains could be achieved.

We believed that the key to achieving such success lay in the re-introduction of the arts in schools as the central means to engage students in the learning of all curricular areas. This may seem like a bold notion, but one that I assure you is well supported and of course has historical precedents.

At an anecdotal level, I am sure that many of you have had occasion to observe the high level of engagement and energy young people put into a school musical production or other creative project. It is amazing to see students, who barely register interest in math or physics, investing hundreds of hours of intense work in a creative project. Why is this so? Well there is a strong sense of pride when a student is involved in the arts. It is their project, not their parent's or their teacher's. Also the arts add a social dimension to learning and peer activity is important at school age.

John Polanyi, Canada's Nobel-winning scientist said, "A great problem that I and my colleagues have as educators is not in pouring information into human vessels, but in motivating people. Motivation comes from a sense of excitement and exhilaration. This can come directly through an experience in the arts. All the things we do in the arts allow us to experience creativity and this in turn enables us to learn." In fact, neuro-scientific research over the past decade has given us much more exact and supporting information.

First, it shows that the arts invigorate our sensory channels. Once stimulated we draw in and retain information much more quickly.

Second, the arts invite us to make an emotional response to information and absorb it into our personal experience. Again, studies show that emotion plays a disproportionate role in the function of memory.

Third, scientists have also discovered that the arts strengthen connections between different areas of the brain involved in processing and storing information. This helps us to spot patterns and commonalities between separate areas of knowledge.

Fourth, science has shown that meditation energizes us and bolsters the structure of the brain as we age. It is the arts that can give our children a means for inner reflection.

One in five children comes to school in a stressed state due to family breakup or hardship or unsafe living conditions. The arts are a lifeline for children like that.

Our children are also subjected to an ongoing media bombardment unlike anything most of us ever knew, most of it unfiltered and all of it with an agenda of some sort. They need a counterbalance to this ongoing sales pressure.

The final scientific discovery I will mention is that of multiple intelligence--the concept that each of our brains have different sensory pathways which are better suited to inputs of one type or another.

Among the "intelligences" are the kinesthetic, the linguistic, and the interpersonal. People are generally stronger in one or more of these areas than another and will comprehend information more readily when it is presented in a way that suits their strongest channels.

For the past decade, we have concentrated on finding a practical means to capitalize on these discoveries. To this end we created our program--learning through the arts (LTTA).

It is of course a challenge to see how a single teacher can present information in ways that suit the diverse brain structures of 25 students. This is especially true given that the average teacher in Ontario receives less than 10 hours of training in the arts through the entire life of their degree program.

Our solution, greatly assisted by the government of Ontario and leading corporations such as TD Bank, has been to offer professional development programs to thousands of teachers in the use of the arts to teach core curriculum.

We also provide teachers in our program with three partners--artists whose work teaching the curriculum provides a natural vehicle for reaching children, a majority of whom are not receptive to an ongoing lecture method.

We have found that dance was very useful in allowing students to gain a more hands-on, physical grasp of abstract concepts in science. Aspects of visual art have proved very helpful in improving students' capacity to detect patterns in geometry or biology.

Recognizing the importance of understanding media in the future lives of students, we launched a LTTA media arts project in which students deconstruct the tools of the ever-pervasive new media, much of it arts-based, and use them to create their own content.

Through these diverse activities we create the means by which students can activate their sensory channels and make a personal connection to the subject matter.

So, after a decade have we proven that our arts-based system is better?

In 2003 one of the largest ever educational studies conducted in Canada, led by Dr. Rena Upitis of Queen's University, found that achievement in math by LTTA students was 11 percentile points higher than students in other schools, students were also more eager to attend school and social behaviours improved.

That is a remarkable increase, especially if you consider the amount of money invested to make it happen--less than $50 per student, per year, about half the price of one ticket to see the Maple Leafs.

Imagine what could be done if we had the resources to fully embed our approaches in day-to-day classroom activity!

We have been truly surprised by how quickly the community has responded to our vision to build a centre that can house our programs. Telus Corporation came on as our naming partner, and individuals like Michael and Sonja Koerner, Ian Ihnatowycz and Marta Witer, Wilmot and Judy Matthews, Leslie and Anna Dan, Marilyn Thomson, Gert Wharton and many others, not to mention our friends in government, all supported us.

I believe they supported us because they sensed that something important hung in the balance. They wanted to join forces with us in a project that could bring renewal to a new generation that would ignite the limitless imaginative capacities of young Canadians and develop our nation's most important resource--its people.

It is our belief that those nations, that put arts and culture back into the forefront of learning and life, will produce the citizens the 21st century demands and the kind of environment we all want to live in, and to have our children live in.

And that is why, against heavy odds, a group of artists at Avenue Road and Bloor Street wanted to give Canada the world's first centre for creative education and thus renew the conservatory's 120-year tradition of community leadership.

Thank you for your attention.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Sylvia Morawetz, Principal, S.A.M. Solutions, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Learning Through The Arts

The Royal Conservatory of Music - in the midst of an exciting growth period - some details. Creating educational programs that use the arts to develop aspects of thinking, learning, and communicating. Some history of the RCM. The structure of the RCM - the six main areas of activity. The Telus Centre for Performance and Learning and what those facilities will mean for Canadians. The role of the arts in our society. Some scientific evidence. Support for the centre.