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Land Acknowledgement

by kschoen 0 Comments

I presently make my home on Treaty 6 territory, land which has been occupied by many indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

As the descendant of refugees and the daughter of a military family that lived in many different places all over the world, I do not have a deep connection to this place that goes back many generations. I am grateful for the environment here that has allowed my roots to grow and create a secure space for making art and relationships. My work here will continue to reflect the principles of tatawaw*, and make a place for others the same way that a place was opened for me. 

My first approach to the concept of land acknowledgement was through the study of music history and the performance of early music on period instruments. The field of early music performance is very focused on European culture, and I began to wonder what early music would look like from a Canadian perspective. This led to much research in history, and I realized that any performance of period music from the land now known as Canada would have to include the music of the people who resided here before European contact. 

This led to experimental compositions and arrangements which presented Métis fiddle tunes beside the Indigenous, French, and Scots music that influenced them. 

I developed a concept of an “archaeological” approach to creating site specific musical performances. This would begin with the natural sounds of the land itself, and then add layers of music and sound that would reflect the subsequent waves of human activity in the area. With the Schoen Duo, we received a grant from the Edmonton Heritage and Edmonton Arts Councils to create a performance based on the heritage of the River Crossing are of Edmonton, where the original Fort Edmonton was located. 

While developing this project, we had the opportunity to collaborate with the Mountain Soul Singers. They provided traditional drum song for the River Crossing Soundscape project, and shared drum teachings with us.

After the River Crossing Soundscape was completed, I had an opportunity to present at the Open Recorder Days teacher’s conference in Amsterdam. It was very interesting to return to Europe (I had lived in Germany as a child) after doing all this work thinking about relationships to the land. I experimented with the idea of doing a land acknowledgment before my presentation, since I had by this point become very used to doing this before important events. This led me into thinking deeply about family history (my ancestors were anabaptist refugees from religious prosecution in Holland in the 16th C) and the concept of indigeneity (my audience in Holland was indigenous to the land on which the event was taking place – this is not the case with my usual North American white settler audience). 

At this point, we were all confronted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure of our usual performance venues made me realize that the concept of site-specific performances that incorporate the sounds of the land on that site could translate equally well into outdoor performances and online performance as music videos. My creative work pivoted in this direction. 

More recently, I had the pleasure of participating in a Land Acknowledgement development workshop with Jocelyn and Hunter Cardinal of naheyawin. Their workshop emphasized exploring your personal relationship to the land, so that you could have a personal land acknowledgement alongside the land acknowledgment of your organization. I am grateful to them for the tatawaw teaching, and their emphasis on how developing your personal land acknowledgment is an ongoing process. They also inspired me with stories of other performing artists who incorporated the land acknowledgement into their art form. 

This made me realize that these recent projects, working with the natural sounds of the environment and the subsequent layers of sound from human activity, were representing my own quest to understand my relationship to the land.

I expect this quest will continue. 


*tatawaw ᑕᑕᐊᐧᐤ

 a Nêhiyawak (Cree) word, often translated as “welcome”, but literally meaning “there is room”.

Music is a Language – Listening is Important

If I was talking to you, and I suddenly paused in mid sentence, you would probably be able to anticipate the next ________ I was going to say.

This is because you know the language well, and you recognize common phrases and patterns instantly.

If I sang, “Happy birthday, to you, Happy birthday to you …..” you would probably be able to finish the song for me.

You learned this song the same way you learned your language. By hearing it often in the same context, you began to expect to hear it again in similar situations, and could predict when people would probably sing it. When it was sung, you always heard the entire melody, so you knew when it would begin, when it would end, and the special place in the middle that was always different depending on whose birthday it was. And it felt good to sing it, because it was in an environment of happy celebration (which often included cake!)

But why stop with just “Happy Birthday to You”?

You can learn any music the same way that you learned “Happy Birthday.”

You can understand where it begins, where it ends, and the special places in the middle where something different happens. You can start without being prompted, and pick it up at any point to finish it. You can do this with a simple folk song or with a piece of complex classical music.

All you need to do is listen to it.

In the same way that as a baby you listened to your parents talking and absorbed your native language easily and accurately, you can listen to music and absorb the vocabulary and grammar of the language of music.

Every person can.

All you need to do is listen.

But you have to listen more than just once. Just like babies hear words many, many times before they begin to imitate the sounds, you need to listen to music repeatedly, until you can anticipate the next sound as easily as you can anticipate my next _______.

Then you will recognize the same patterns in other pieces of music, and anticipate when they will happen.
And you will be pleasantly surprised if a composer does something slightly different from what you are expecting, and show you something new! In this way you will learn more patterns, the same way that we learn the meaning of a new word from its context in a sentence.

Congratulations! You can now speak the language of music.

Effortlessly, the same way that you understand what you are now reading.


OK, I get it. Now how do I do it?

Your teacher will have many resources for helping you organize your listening. Approaches will vary depending on the needs of individual students. Here are some strategies to make learning easy by setting yourself up with a comprehensive listening program.

Get your playback devices organized

Download your assigned playlist on to the device you will actually use to listen to it. Yes, download. Do not rely on streaming services. If your computer is in an office where you never listen to music, put it on your phone or tablet. Parents, make sure you both have all the music on both your phones. so it is instantly available at all times. If your child has their own device, make sure they have access to the music on it, but do not expect them to be responsible for doing all their listening unsupervised. Use decent external speakers or headphones – do not rely on the tinny internal speaker on most mobile devices. If you use CDs, burn several copies – one for the car, one for the stereo, one for backup when one gets lost or damaged.

Listen repeatedly

Set your device to play the same track or playlist on repeat. You need to hear the same tune many times before you can confidently anticipate what comes next. Set a goal – listening to a piece 100 times before trying to play it yourself is not unreasonable.

Listen ahead

Don’t just listen to the piece you are working on right now. Alternate between listening to your current working piece and listening to the entire playlist. This allows you to look forward to the pieces you will be learning soon, reviews your memory of past pieces, and avoids listening fatigue from too much constant repetition of just one thing. Listen to other pieces for your instrument as well, not just the assigned repertoire.

Consider your listening environment

Listening in the car is super convenient. It is a wonderful way to seize an opportunity, so do take advantage of it. But remember that inside a vehicle is a noisy environment – engine noise, traffic noise, etc. will mask many of of the expressive elements of the music. This is fine if all you want to do is get to know the pitches and rhythm. But if you also want to anticipate dynamic variations, articulations, vibrato, and other nuances of phrasing that are not always written in the score, you need to listen in an environment where it is quiet enough to hear them. I recommend having a quiet time at home when you make a habit of listening to music.

Use both passive and active listening

Let the music play in the background during quiet activities and meals, and when you are sitting in the car. This is passive listening. Active listening is when you engage with the music as it is playing. For a beginner, this can be as simple as beating time with feet or hands while listening, or moving freely to the music. More advanced students can alternate playing a section of the piece with listening to a section of the piece, or play along with the whole thing to feel how the melody fits with the accompaniment.

Listen to a variety of versions of the same piece

Listening to different recordings of the same piece will draw your attention to the variety of nuances used by individual performers. Imitating these different ways of playing the same passage help you make your own artistic decisions about how to play it yourself.

Did you find this article helpful? You can download it here as a printable .pdf

The Three “Can”s in “Every Child Can!”

When I was preparing to teach the Every Child Can! class for the first time, I was also reading the book Drive by Dan Pink.  In Drive, Dan Pink reviewed much of the current (at the time of writing) literature about human motivation, and came to the conclusion that there are three things that an activity needs to have in order for people to feel motivated to engage in it. Those three things are: a sense of mastery, an sense of autonomy, and sense of connection (being part of something bigger than you are).

When I reviewed the basics of the Suzuki philosophy with this in mind, I realized that there are also three “can”s in Every Child Can!

  1. I can do it – mastery
  2. I can do it all by myself – autonomy
  3. I can share it – community

1. Mastery – “I can do it!”

This depends on the teacher’s training and creativity.

The teacher sets long term goals for the student, and then breaks down the path to those goals into the smallest possible steps. If those steps are small enough for the student to do successfully at that moment, then students will develop a sense of mastery of the immediate task at hand, as well as believe that they are capable of mastering future tasks.

2. Autonomy – “I can do it all by myself!”

This depends on listening to the reference recording.

If students have listened to the reference recording often enough to have an accurate memory of the music, they will receive immediate positive feedback when their efforts start to sound similar to the recording. This positive feedback is immediate because it comes from within the student,  instead of waiting for the approval of a teacher or parent. Students who can evaluate the success of their efforts with an immediate comparison to a clearly defined goal are the ones who will eventually be able to practice independently, and enjoy practicing more because they have a clear sense of progress.

3. Community – “I can share it.”

This depends on playing with other people.

Music is a social art – it requires an audience to be complete. A student’s first audience is the immediate family. Suzuki programs expand that audience in a very organic way as the students grow, beginning with playing for each other in group lesson. This eventually leads to preparing to perform out in the community, participating in other performing groups, attending institutes that draw students from a larger region, and possibly attending international conferences.

I am sometimes asked for tips on how to motivate a student who is reluctant to practice. If we look at these three points in that student’s situation, we will often find that there is a place where the implementation of one of these points can be strengthened. The Suzuki philosophy follows all three of these points for maximum motivation and participation, through teacher training, aural learning, and group lessons. If all three of these aspects of the Suzuki approach are implemented carefully, most students and their families will be highly motivated to participate fully.


Some thoughts on the implementation of the three “can”s:

1. Mastery: Mindless drill or developing skill?

The goal here is to help students become confident in their competence. Teachers need to analyze what the students are doing, to discover the root cause of any difficulty the students may be having. The problem may be as small as a transition between two notes. Isolating the problem and assigning a specific number of correct repetitions will solve the problem quickly, if the individual repetitions are short and students understands exactly what needs to happen for them to be successful. Short specific practice assignments are also easy to turn into games and make them more fun for students, adding to the enjoyment of developing mastery.

On the other hand, practice assignments that are long and lack specific goals can become very frustrating for students. Repeating an entire song takes more time, and if a student is not certain of why the repetitions are needed, there is less sense of accomplishment when the assignment is completed. Suzuki method places a large amount of value on review of known repertoire. Recent research in cognitive psychology confirms that recalling previously learned material strengthens long term memory. This also builds student confidence, in both performance of review material and in recognizing previously learned patterns in new pieces. Pattern recognition is a key aspect of learning. Teachers can help students develop pattern recognition skills  by assigning review  pieces that contain material that is used in their newest piece, or transforming old pieces by changing octave or key to create new patterns using older material.

2. Autonomy: Aural learning vs rote learning

Students need to be able to learn new things independently. Teachers need to teach students not to depend on the teacher. Aural learning is very good for developing independence. This requires regular consistent listening to the reference recordings. When students have a clear model of what they are trying to achieve in their aural memory, they can engage in some trial and error exploration confident that they will recognize when they have arrived at the correct result. To quote Dr. Robert Duke, “All learning is error correction”. A mistake is not a mistake, it is an opportunity to discover what you need to know.

It is very difficult for teachers (and sometimes even more so for parents) to allow a student to engage in trial and error  learning. It is very tempting to just give students the correct answer, to “help” them and speed up the process. All this does is help the student become dependent on being told the right answer. This is rote learning: being trained to follow instructions, not being shown how to discover how to do it  yourself. I am very distressed when I have a student stop abruptly in the middle of a piece, say “I don’t know the rest” and wait expectantly for me to provide the next note. Teachers can avoid this by providing a strong foundation of skills for the student. Pattern recognition skills will allow the student to hear groups of notes as familiar patterns instead of one note at a time, much in the same way they we recognize entire words when reading instead of having to sound out each letter phonetically. Pattern recognition includes common scale and triad patterns that indicate the key of the piece. The appearance of a note that is not in the key becomes an indicator of a key change, not an exception to be learned by rote. Students with these skills will limit their choices when figuring things out, increasing their chances of finding the correct solution more quickly. Students who have not had a chance to develop these skills will engage in random guessing with limited success, leading to frustration and a dependence on being given the correct solution by rote.

3. Community: Feeling our heartbeat together

Playing in a group is the one thing that will keep students playing music into their adult lives. Not all students will become professional musicians, but all do need to have the skills to be able to get together with a group of friends and play music together. It is this social aspect of music making that is most enjoyable, and it becomes most important when students reach adolescence and start to turn away from their parents and reach out to their peer groups. There are often community band and orchestra programs that are excellent for adult amateurs, but what happens if they meet on a night when you have a conflicting commitment, or there isn’t a program in your community? This is where playing chamber music can play a very important role. In chamber music, a small group of musicians lead each other without requiring a conductor. Much of the chamber music literature was written for home performance for the personal pleasure of the performers. Giving students the skills to access this extensive library of music to play with their friends will give them the ability to enjoy music making for their entire lives.

With chamber music as a long term goal, teachers need to look at which skills are required to play in small ensembles successfully. Feeling the pulse of the music as a group without relying on a conductor is an important one, perhaps more important than we realize, according to recent research by Dr. Laurel Trainor of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind. Her study of toddlers and their caregivers demonstrated that engaging in synchronized rhythm activities increased demonstrations of empathetic behaviour. This training can begin as early as the Suzuki Early Childhood Education class, where infants bounce on their parents knees in time to the music. The challenge for the instrument group teacher is to continue with activities that develop a group sense of pulse and response to each other. Students also need to be able to hear that their individual efforts make a difference to the sound of the entire group. There is sometimes a tendency to rely on watching the teacher’s fingers for ensemble cues. Focussing on feeling the group pulse to anticipate the next beat and hearing the precise beginnings and endings of each note gives students skills that can be used when there is no teacher present.

And who knows, if feeling the rhythm together increases empathetic behaviour, perhaps this is how we can help music to change the world.

Longer lesson or more practice?

Where should I spend my time?

I recently had a parent ask me if she could pay for a longer lesson time. This surprised me for two reasons:

  1. Parents are usually trying to find the most inexpensive way to get music instruction, not looking for ways to make it cost more!
  2. The student was not at a level where I usually recommend a longer lesson in order to cover the amount of material.

So I began to think:

  • This parent obviously values the time I spend with her child in the lesson.
  • Because the child is still very young, we spend a certain amount of lesson time drilling spots to establish physical coordination and kinaesthetic memory.
  • If the parent took the extra lesson time that she wanted to purchase from me, and spent it doing a few more repetitions in a slightly longer daily practice, then the student would not need to do so many repetitions in the lesson.
  • This would leave more lesson time available to introduce new things.
  • Therefore, it would be more economical for the parent and more enjoyable for the student to increase their practice time instead of their lesson time.

That was the best solution in this case. But when do we need to increase the length of the lesson?

  • When the student has prepared the practice assignment well, but we run out of time in the lesson to hear everything that was assigned.
  • When we have enough time in the lesson to hear a well prepared practice assignment, but we run out of time to include a necessary next step (such as music reading, or scales, or supplementary study material).
  • When the student and his family struggle with finding enough time to practice consistently, and cannot come to the lesson with the practice assignment prepared well enough to leave time for anything else. In this case, their lesson may be the only time in the week when they can focus on their practice points for enough time to be able to notice improvements. So instead of teaching the same lesson over and over for many months, we can create some slow steady progress by ensuring at least one careful practice session each week as part of the lesson.
  • When a student’s learning style is such that she just needs a bit more time in order to absorb the necessary information. This is where a teacher needs to examine her approach to the lesson. Sometimes this situation is better dealt with by teaching in smaller steps rather than increasing the lesson length. (This approach can also help when there are economic barriers to lengthening a student’s lesson.)

So my equation for lesson length calculations might look something like this:

L(Lesson length) P(practice assignment assessment) T(time available for new material)

When T = 0 then we need to make the lesson longer

P is affected by two things:

  1. effectiveness of student home practice
  2. efficiency of teacher’s practice assignment

Changing the value of P can allow more to be accomplished in a short lesson before it needs to become longer.

“Perhaps it is music that will save the world.”

“Perhaps it is music that will save the world.” 

Pablo Casals said this, after hearing the students of the Talent Education movement in Japan, April 1961. 

I write this on Remembrance Day. This is a day when I reflect on the effects of war. Not just to appreciate the sacrifices and commitment of the military, but also to remember how war and other acts of violence affect civilians. In my immediate family, we count both WWII veterans and WWII refugees, people who have given me personal stories about their war experience.  Some years I am thankful for movements towards peace in the world, and other years I am worried when events start to look similar to past events that foreshadowed future conflict.

This year, my student groups met to rehearse on the evening before November 11. I was thinking about Remembrance Day, and following current events, and hoping for a peaceful future for my students. This brought to mind what Pablo Casals said to Shinichi Suzuki after hearing a student performance: “Perhaps music can save the world.” So I took a moment with each class to speak to the students. This is what I said:

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. On this day, there are certain things that we do to remind ourselves about past wars and our hope for future peace. This reminded me of what Pablo Casals said to Dr. Suzuki: “Perhaps music can save the world.”

Think about this, and think about what we are doing here tonight.

  • We are listening carefully to each other.
  • We are taking turns, alternating between leading and supporting each other.
  • We are anticipating what our colleagues are trying to do, and helping them achieve it.
  • We listen respectfully to suggestions to improve the performance of our group.
  • We are flexible, and often try different solutions before we solve a problem.
  • We share the same goals.
  • We are cooperating to create something beautiful and expressive.

Do you think, if our world leaders all did these things too, our world would be a better place?

We are not world leaders. Some of you may grow up to become one! But what we can all do here and now, is take what we do in our group class, and use it to make our own small corner of the world a better place. Take this thought with you tomorrow, for Remembrance Day.