Bill Cahn  

The Adopt-A-Player Program Enables Toronto Symphony Orchestra Musicians to Make In-Depth Community Connections

Bill Cahn
July 18, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Bill Cahn has had an illustrative career as a percussionist, performing with the NEXUS percussion group and the Rochester Philharmonic for many years. Recently he's written a book, Creative Music Making, on the subject of freeform improvisation, and he shares some of his thoughts in this fascinating article.

The Toronto Symphony's Adopt-A-Player program has a 4th or 5th grade class "adopt" several TSO musicians, with the goal of creating a new piece of music in five weeks. Bill explains how the program works and features material from a Handbook written by TSO clarinetist/composer Raymond Luedeke. Musicians, symphony staff, and volunteers all work with the students to create a musical/theatrical piece.

Bill then describes how he used improvisational techniques with Toronto Symphony musicians, staff, and volunteers during an Adopt-A-Player orientation session, to prepare them for working with the kids. For some of the players, it was the first time they'd ever created a freeform piece!

- Ann Drinan

The Adopt-A-Player Program

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Adopt-A-Player program, now in its eleventh year, serves both as a vehicle for pro-active community involvement and as a forum for the professional development of the orchestra’s musicians. The Toronto version of Adopt-A-Player is modeled after similar programs in England.

Selected musicians from the orchestra are "adopted" by individual schools in Toronto. Each musician collaborates with a grade 4 or 5 class one day a week, for five weeks. Under the guidance of their adopted musician, the students learn about the elements of music and eventually create a new piece of music. Each class performs its new composition for fellow students, parents, and the community at a "Showcase." The schools’ participation in the Adopt-A-Player program is arranged through the Music Departments of the Toronto, Toronto Catholic, and York Region District School Boards.

The orchestra’s clarinetist/composer Raymond Luedeke is the program’s artistic mentor. In a 48-page 2005-6 Handbook written by Mr. Luedeke, the program goals for students are presented:

  • To foster creative thinking.

  • To learn to organize and evaluate creative ideas.

  • To learn to function creatively within a group context.

  • To learn the enjoyment of our musical heritage through a personal connection with a cultural institution – the TSO.

  • To learn the basic elements of music (orchestration and instrumental color, harmony, melodic line, rhythmic patterns and form) through the creative process.

The 2005-2006 schedule involves eighteen groups of 4th and 5th -grade students with their classroom teachers. Each student group is from one of the metropolitan Toronto schools. The Adopt-A-Player program provides the opportunity for each of the student groups and their teachers to work closely with one of the participating TSO musicians. The participating students and teachers are presumed to have little or no prior musical training. According to the 2005-06 Handbook, the program consists of the following events:

  1. Two teacher/musician orientation workshops facilitated by Mr. Luedeke. This year, he was also assisted by Bill Cahn, a member of the Toronto-based NEXUS percussion group and the author of Creative Music Making, a pedagogy for the study of freeform improvisation as a means of enhancing musicianship.

  2. A TSO rehearsal at Roy Thompson Hall in which each group of students meets with its adopted TSO musician.

  3. Five visits by each adopted TSO musician to a host group of students in their own school over a period of five separate weeks. The goal is for each of the fifteen participating TSO musicians to facilitate their host group of students in creating a musical/theatrical work.

    Musicians, students, teachers, and docents start with a blank score. Each individual has a contribution to make. Through teamwork, cooperation, discussion, sharing, trial and error, a creative piece emerges. Everyone’s ideas are valued and considered. Over this period, individuals become part of a team. The vision becomes a shared one and everyone has a role to play that is vital to the outcome. The students are the creators and performers while the musician is the catalyst and interpreter, and the teacher the overseer and the continuity factor. The TSO volunteer docent facilitates the teacher and musician. The blank score eventually develops into a performance piece.

  4. A Sharing Day is held at the completion of the sessions. Each class shares their piece with other participating schools. Parents, siblings, friends, and staff are invited to share in the musical achievements of their class at one of the Sharing Concerts hosted by a participating school.

  5. The students and their teachers are provided with free tickets to a TSO performance at Roy Thompson Hall to hear a piece designated in advance as a model for the students. Parents are offered discounted tickets.

  6. Administration of the Adopt-A-Player program is provided by the TSO education director, Roberta Smith.

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