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Making music matters to Minnekhada kids

For a few moments, the noise is deafening. Ryley Huber is pounding out a beat on the drum kit. Jessie Wong and Anne Hung are playing clips from their dance video. And other students are chatting or noodling about on assorted instruments.

For a few moments, the noise is deafening.

Ryley Huber is pounding out a beat on the drum kit. Jessie Wong and Anne Hung are playing clips from their dance video. And other students are chatting or noodling about on assorted instruments.

Chaos in the classroom? No, research.

For a few weeks before spring break, a dozen Minnekhada middle school students collaborated with Susan O'Neill, an associate professor in SFU's education department who is studying ways of involving students in music so they stick to it as they get older and maybe even become music advocates.

The music world is changing and educators need to keep up and find ways of helping kids stay motivated when there are so many distractions, O'Neill said.

She's a director of Research for Youth, Music and Education (RYME), which is reaching out to middle schools to establish beachheads for youth engagement in the arts. For six weeks, she worked with Minnekhada students to get them to think more about music, why it's important and how best to share their thoughts with others.

A video of the project will soon be screened on the school's website.

"We're creating a sense of a lifelong valuing of music in their life and giving them some of the language as to what's important - that it's important to have music and that it be sustained when they go on to have their own children," O'Neill said.

With video cameras, music recording equipment and instruments at their disposal, the students have come up with a variety of ways to say why music matters to them: Some learned popular songs and then recorded them; Cam Fletcher interviewed members of the Port Coquitlam metal band Magnus Rising; and Jessie Wong and Anne Hung choreographed a dance routine to the song "Don't Stop Believing" by the classic rock group Journey.

Video was the medium of choice for Grade 8 students Kelsey Baker and Michelle Cross, who asked people in the school why music matters and filmed their responses using an iPod Touch.

Some of the clips are funny, others poignant but the girls say they all tell a story. "Music is something that changes you... depending on your mood. You can be yourself. Without music, I couldn't live," Cross said.

Joel Edgar and Kishan Vijeyagoo-newardane learned the music and lyrics for Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" and recorded it - a feat that required them to learn to play drums and keyboard.

"Any song will say a lot about music," Edgar said, but the boys chose the melodic yet powerful "Viva La Vida" simply because they liked it. "We're trying to say that if anyone wants to, they can do it, and there's a lot of opportunity to show their potential."

In fact, one of the surprising outcomes from the project is the ease with which the students picked up music and learned to record it on the digital recording equipment available in teacher David Erickson's music room.

O'Neill said that even students with little or no music instruction can record music using digital devices, which opens up a whole new world to them.

"With the launch of the recent iPod Touch 2, a new version of Garage Band. It's unbelievable what young people are going to do with digital music. It really changes the learning."

But the key question she hopes to answer is whether getting young people to think more deeply about music through research and projects will convince them to take it more seriously. Maybe they'll even be more willing to fund the arts when they become adults and taxpayers, she said, adding: "Kids have to realize it's valuable."

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

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