Multiculturalism in Canada: An Opportunity to Nurture and Develop the Individual Musical Identities of Students within the Music Classroom

By Gillis, Catherine | The Canadian Music Educator, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Multiculturalism in Canada: An Opportunity to Nurture and Develop the Individual Musical Identities of Students within the Music Classroom


Gillis, Catherine, The Canadian Music Educator


2008 Kenneth Bray Undergraduate Essay Competition

The Canadian Music Educator proudly presents the following prize-winning submission for the 2008 CMEA/Acme Kenneth Bray Undergraduate Essay Competition.

As I was teaching in a German high school for a two-year abroad experience, one of my first observations was that most people seemed to do everything the same way. Most people ate the same food, they all celebrated the same events, they shared the same history, and they all sang the same music. My initial reaction was that it was a somewhat boring and uncreative society. I then realized that it was not that they were uncreative; rather, they all shared the same culture and simply had many things in common. Often, people would ask me questions about Canada such as typical foods, standard holiday traditions, structure of schooling, birthday celebrations, etc. For the most part, these questions were usually left open-ended. There were many questions that did not have a straightforward and complete answer, and these were usually answered based on my own personal experiences, such as Christmas or birthday celebrations. I realized that I could only speak for my immediate family and myself on many topics. What I experienced as a Canadian was not necessarily shared by other individuals in my country. Through many discussions with individuals in Germany, I began to consider how my identity has been influenced by living in a multicultural society, and how exactly I identify myself as a Canadian.

My time abroad enabled me to reflect a great deal on what it means to be Canadian, and how individuals interact with other members of society. We all have an individual-collective relationship with society and it is important to try to understand how the two influence each other. Living in Canada means living among many diverse cultures. While trying to understand other individuals with whom we live, we have to also try to further develop our understanding of our own culture. It is important that we continue to focus on our backgrounds, our current influences, and contribute to the development of our own culture within a multicultural society. As we attempt to understand both ourselves and other cultures, we must use an approach that will be effective in learning about both. I believe that it is important that if we consider music to be a cultural phenomenon, we must understand the role of identity and self within this larger concept of culture. As music educators, we can help students to find their musical identities. It is necessary that we understand how these various identities can be nurtured, respected, and valued within a music education program. The purpose of this essay is to gain a better understanding of identity and multiculturalism within Canada, and how music educators can contribute to the development of a musical identity within a music education program.

Multiculturalism in Canada

Canada is a nation with citizens from diverse religions, races, ethnicities, and languages who are coming together to live in one country. An important part of being able to live together requires respect for others and an understanding of how society is comprised of individuals and collectives. Multiculturalism, as a policy, has gone through different stages in Canada from ethnicity, equity, civil, and to its current stage, integrative (Kunz, 2007, p. 8). The current integrative multiculturalism policy is focused on inclusive citizenship, has a mandate of integration, and is faced with potential problems such as a 'clash' of cultures (Kunz, 2007, p. 8). This current form does not allow for any denial of opportunity due to an individual's differences, nor does it give any special treatment to individuals due to his/her differences. It hopes to avoid the previously used method of assimilation. Although there have been positive movements in the evolution of policies, Canada's approach to multiculturalism is still 'a challenge in practice' (Kunz, 2007, p. …

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