A music teacher blew his mind and made him believe in his dreams, now a local educator wants to do the same for others, using accessible, inexpensive technology.

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A Vancouver elementary school teacher wants to bring music education into the 21st century with a new digital-based curriculum he has designed that can be facilitated by anyone, anywhere.

Music education is often the first thing to be cut in school board budgets, and private music education can be out of reach for families, said Michael Meroniuk, 35, the Vancouver-based musician who designed the program. “I really want to keep music education alive in schools.”

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With the aim of ensuring every child has access to a quality music education, the Nootka elementary school music teacher has spent the last few years building The New Sound, a music-production based curriculum that can be delivered online, in-person or in a hybrid model, that he hopes to see implemented in schools across the country.

The curriculum focuses on composition, song form, and creating through technology. Music students learn the skills of music producers, something that could equip them for careers in music. It’s a perfect fit for the Tik Tok generation, who are producing and publishing their own music online, but it’s also well suited to music-shy and neurodiverse students who often get shut out of music education, said Meroniuk.

“Students who struggle emotionally with singing and being anxious during traditional music class settings can find a way to speak musically through composition and creating,” said Meroniuk, who has been test-driving the program as a supplement in his own classes at Nootka Elementary School.

“The kids love it,” he said.

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Public school music classes changed Meroniuk’s life when he was a secondary student in Salmon Arm.

“I grew up in a trades family: millwrights, mechanics, electricians, truck drivers. Fantastic family, but I never fit in,” said Meroniuk.

He struggled to see a meaningful future for himself, and fell into a “dark space” in his teens. Music changed that. “I was lucky. I had an amazing music educator in school, Brian Pratt-Johnson.

“My teacher blew my mind and showed me that dreams are possible. He showed me that I could pursue music. It took me out of that dark space,” said Meroniuk who went on to the jazz program at Capilano University, and later got a Masters in education technology from UBC.

He also became an in-demand session musician and guitar player, playing summer festivals, and touring Canada with the likes of Jo Jo Mason, Hey Ocean, and Juno-nominated jazz artist Mathew V.

Now Meroniuk wants to help others do the same, especially those in rural communities that don’t have access to the kind of inspiring teacher he had. The curriculum emerged naturally from his own lesson planning.

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“It took me four hours to write a one-hour lesson for my own classes,” he said. It seemed like a good idea to design something he — and others — could continue to use.

The program has a year’s worth of material, with all the lessons already set up. “Anybody with basic computer knowledge can teach a class. It can be used in conjunction with a traditional music program, and it allows experienced educators who don’t have music degrees to implement music in their classes.”

Meroniuk is keenly aware of budget restrictions — according to MusiCounts, a Canadian music education charity, 57 per cent of schools that reached out to them in 2022 reported having an annual budget of $500 or less — so he plans to make the program affordable.

“Music teachers don’t have big budgets. The goal is to keep music in schools.”

Meroniuk is in preliminary talks with several school boards about the curriculum, and hopes it will take off.

For Meroniuk, it’s all about finding new ways to teach, and get kids inspired. “Teaching for me is about passing the torch, keeping the tradition of this amazing art and discipline alive.”

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