Many music teachers are the only people in their discipline in their schools. As a result, the music room can feel like a lonely spot, professionally speaking. Without much support from like-minded people, desolation can set in if the teacher must face too much adversity, such as funding woes, timetabling issues, or challenging families. It is for this reason the Alberta Music Conference can be such an important event.The Alberta Music Conference that took place in November of 2011 was graced by a man who seems never to have let that desolation get the better of him, Senator Tommy Banks. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Banks made a name for himself as a musician on CKUA, a television personality on CBC for 15 years, and most recently as a Senator. He has been awarded the Alberta Order of Excellence, and is a member of the Order of Canada. To have a chance to sit down for even 5 minutes with this brilliant man was a memory unto its own.
For me, my history with Mr. Banks began when I graduated from High School 14 years ago. I was awarded a scholarship to university in his name, and not knowing who he was, I was simply grateful. When he was appointed a few years later to the Senate, I began to lightly follow his political career. To my dismay, he was appointed to Energy, Environment and Natural Resources initiatives, as opposed to Arts and Culture. Yet he never lost his voice for music.
So much so that at the conference in 2011, with only one month left before his retirement from politics at the age of 75, he announced to us that he was intending to return to playing music. At 45 years his junior, I immediately realized the dedication to music he had, but his words further solidified that understanding. His presentation to us completely removed any feelings of desolation I previously had.
First, Banks explained why the Arts are so fundamental to our purpose. "When man discovered fire, there had already been painting." The Arts are so intrinsic to our very being that before one of the most important inventions of our species, it already existed. A reminder to me that every student has talent, we just need to help them hone it.
Then, he explained what the biggest problem is. "Children are born as creative beings ... and then we beat it out of them. We have to stop doing that." A pointed, simple statement that explains that the only cause of the downfall of the Arts is ourselves and our society. This should remind us that if our students are to truly be innovative, we can't suppress their creativity.
"The Arts has the least contributions from any level of government of any industry." This statement from Banks shocked me, and told me that Agriculture, Forestry, and even Energy, all of which are sectors of commercialism, all get government contributions, whereas an industry that I considered to be the least commercial got the least support. It angered me.
Then Banks completely debunked an assumption I had made, that the Arts were purely for expression, and not commercialism. "In 2007, Arts and Culture had a $46 billion impact on the Canadian economy." It made me realize that the Arts makes a significant impact on the economy with very little support. These two statements, combined eloquently, completely legitimized my field of study. I no longer felt disenfranchised.
Finally, Banks called us to arms. "It starts with people who develop appreciation for the Arts in our youth. It starts with you."
I like to think of myself as a man passionate for the Arts. Our school does many Fine Arts activities, and we've worked hard to put our Fine Arts programming on equal footing with core courses and sports. Every once in a while, we stumble from that equal footing, thanks to things deemed more important such as standardized tests and Grade Level of Achievement. Tommy Banks, however, has made a lasting impact on me, to never allow myself to fall when I stumble. Instead, I will walk tall, and aim to legitimize the Arts for my students the same way he did for me.