If you were to take a survey of current elementary and high school students asking them what their favourite subjects are, you’d probably get two types of students: the ones that like math and science, and the ones that like English and history. Sometimes though, you may get a student who would yell ‘recess’ a little too enthusiastically.

For those students whose favourite subject is indeed recess, you may presume they don’t like school all that much, how do you get them more engaged in their classes?

For Peter Katz, a Montreal-born, Toronto-based singer-songwriter, music programs in primary and secondary education could be a way for students to stay out of trouble.

“A lot of my friends who have gone on to become successful musicians were not necessarily the best students. I happen to be good in math and science, it was easy for me, but it didn’t nourish me the way that music nourishes me. Some of my friends that probably would have gotten into a lot of trouble [in school], had band or they wanted to practice their instrument. It gave them something to do other than go get into trouble. And it also gave them a sense of self, a sense of confidence, a sense of ‘hey, I’m good at something.’”

Music education is one of many programs that could get students to want to be in school. In Quebec, and in Canada in general, funding for music programs has always been an issue, however. For example, according to a 2010 study done by the Coalition for Music Education in Canada called A Delicate Balance: Music Education in Canadian Schools, “funding and lack of time/timetable pressures are the most significant challenges in implementing high-quality music opportunities in schools: 26 per cent of schools ranked funding as the most important challenge faced in their music education programs, and 24 per cent of schools ranked lack of time/timetable pressures as the most important challenge.”

The study also says that music “is taught as part of a more general arts curriculum” in only 23 per cent of schools across Canada, and only in 15 per cent of schools in Quebec.

At the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board whose schools are located in the Laval, the Laurentides, and the Lanaudière regions, 14 of their 26 elementary schools teach music, while six of their 10 high schools teach music, according to Jacques Tardif, a music teacher at Mother Teresa Junior High.

Tardif says that music programs are too expensive to maintain and therefore haven’t been updated in decades.

“The way it’s being taught right now at McGill for example, hasn’t changed in 100 years,” he says. “We are not where the kids are anymore, we are not servicing the population properly. […] [The kids] are not interested in this.”

Tardif then states that “Music education has not adapted itself to the new world.” He goes on to explain, “If you were here in the room where I stand, you would see something that very, very few schools have. I have a music program that I started in 1990, but in 2004, after 14 years of work, we got it totally transformed. It is now a class of 32 computers, with 32 keyboards. In 2005, there was a profile of our music lab on the Apple website as one of the world’s leading music programs in junior high school. And what we did back then was we actually transformed music education in our school to adapt ourselves to the new reality. This music program is growing, it’s healthy. A lot of music programs in the schools, it’s not even a full load for the teacher. This music program grew beyond the full load.”

For Chantal Cyr, the director of Vimont Musique in Laval, she believes Canada just doesn’t take music and the arts in general, as seriously in their schools as in the United States.

“You see what the States are doing,” she says. “Our students, or our children, our artists, do not measure up. They really don’t. I mean if you just compare the Broadway scene in the States compared to the Broadway scene here, it’s not the same. It’s definitely not the same quality. You go see a Broadway show in New York with a bunch of children in it, and you try to do the same show here in Montreal, you’d have a much harder time finding the talent that they do there. And I think a lot of that has to do with […] being able to work with the children at a much higher level than we can. We do find a lot of schools where administration and the whole organization of the schools don’t believe that the arts are as important the sciences, math, French and English; and it’s too bad because it’s a really big part of a child’s development.”

Katz agrees with Cyr that music can go a long way in a young kid’s life.

“Music provides so many things for young people. As soon as I started playing an instrument, I was never bored, ever. […] It gives you a purpose in your time. You always have a new goal because first you learn the really really easy songs and then you try to learn the next harder one. Whatever it is there’s always so much to learn with instruments. Obviously it’s a great creative outlet,” says Katz.

Katz explains that for him it was an opportunity to start writing and expressing himself. It was also how he related to a lot of his favourite artists. Being in a band when he was a teenager was also a great experience for Katz. “You develop your confidence, putting yourself up there and singing in front of people. You learn how to work together. You’re just using your brain in a really productive way versus sitting around doing nothing,” he adds.

“I think it just offers so many great benefits,” Katz concludes. “And it’s a shame there’s shortsightedness in cutting that.”