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MusiCounts at St. Augustine

When Arts Integration Teacher Mike Furlong learned that St. Augustine Catholic Elementary School would receive $5,000 in musical instruments, it was music to his ears.

Furlong, who was nominated in 2014 as Hamilton Music Teacher of the Year, decided “to do more to deserve the recognition” and, with the support of Assistant Superintendent of Education and former principal Sandra Scime and Superintendent of Education Morris Hucal, applied for a MusiCounts grant with the goal of building the school’s music program. After working for years with a limited set of instruments and seeing firsthand his students’ passion for music, Furlong said, “It was time to bring the music program to a new level.”

In March, the charity announced that it would be distributing $595,000 in musical instruments to 69 schools nationwide through its Band Aid Program. For the past several weeks, Furlong has been working closely with music supplier Long & McQuade and MusiCounts to get the biggest bang for the school’s $5,000 share of the grant.

“’Every nickel he saved he put toward another instrument,” said Principal Marc Trotta.

“St. Augustine will now go from having a small number of keyboards, xylophones and rhythm sticks to a full repertoire of musical instruments.”

On April 23, students and staff assembled in the school gym for the big unveil.

The first wave of gift-wrapped instruments was carried into the gym to a ceremonial drumroll provided by the St. Mary Crusaders Drumline. The first batch of instruments yielded an acoustic guitar, several bongos and djembes, a music stand and a ukulele.

“That’s not all, no that’s not all,” cheered Furlong as more students brandishing parcels entered the gym.

The final tally was five guitars and cases (plus one for the instructor), eight soprano ukuleles, a baritone ukulele, 7 bongos, one bell set (2.5 octave xylophone) with snare and practice pad, 23 djembes (in assorted sizes), four music stands, four tuners, six capos, and one guitar stand.

“Altogether, 47 instruments plus accessories,” said Furlong. He added that St. Augustine’s now fielded a proper class set of hand drums.

The hand drums were put to the test by a group of students who were chosen from the assembly for an impromptu music lesson. The drummers were instructed to rap their bongos to the words, “I like cheese.” The phrase took on a life of its own as the students picked up the chorus and the drumline picked up the beat.

“Boys and girls, I can’t wait,” said Furlong. “Next week you will all get to try the instruments. We need to get them in your hands.”

The instruments will not only be used in the classroom, but for extra-curricular programs and activities. Furlong plans to offer a guitar and ukulele club during lunch and after school. He’s also working with Corey Pearce, Director of the St. Mary Crusaders Drumline, to create a competitive percussion ensemble at the school.

“We’re going to make your music knowledge better so you can be as good as these guys here,” said Furlong, gesturing to the Drumline.

The St. Mary Crusaders Drumline was created by Corey Pearce, an E.A. at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School, five years ago. Pearce, an experienced percussionist, built the drumline from the ground up, adding groups of instruments at a time.

It took “a lot of work and a lot of years,” said Pearce. Today St. Mary is the reigning provincial drumline champion, with a fourth championship title in the works. Save for two students, drumline members have had no prior experience. The corps is made up of students in Grades 9 through 12, including Justine Calcagno, a Grade 8 student from St. Augustine School. Calcagno, the only non-St. Mary student on the drumline, joined the squad two years ago after Pearce visited her school on a recruiting mission.

“They’re taught from scratch,” said Pearce. “There’s no requirement for doing this. As long as you’re following school rules, we’ll find a spot for you.”

It’s this inclusive approach that keeps students returning to the drumline year after year.

“What I like most about it is the community,” says Zach Riley, a Grade 11 student at St. Mary. “The people are very warm. Overall it’s a lot of fun.”

Urging the St. Augustine students to “take advantage of the fact you’re getting more instruments,” Pearce said: “If you take the opportunity, you are going to find things.”

There are many proven benefits to music education, added Furlong.

“I have seen music bring children out of their shell, bring together children from completely different social groups, melt the hearts of jaded children, and shelter children from difficulties at home” he said.

Music has the power to activate the whole brain, he added.

“It sparks our emotions. We move to make it, and it makes us move. We use the language centres in our brain to read and sing the words, and the spatial mathematical side to keep time and visualize pitch.”

He noted that music has also been linked to improved test scores and greater educational achievement. It also speeds the development of reading and speech, and keeps students involved and engaged.

Said Furlong: “Students see huge value in music when they get into it, and parents see that too."





Photo: Lachlan Perigord
Photo: Lachlan Perigord

Photo: Lachlan Perigord
Photo: Lachlan Perigord

Photo: Lachlan Perigord
Photo: Lachlan Perigord

Photo: Lachlan Perigord
Photo: Lachlan Perigord

Photo: Lachlan Perigord
Photo: Lachlan Perigord

Photo: Lachlan Perigord
Photo: Lachlan Perigord

Photo: Lachlan Perigord
Photo: Lachlan Perigord

Photo: Lachlan Perigord
Photo: Lachlan Perigord

Photo: Joanne Glavic
Photo: Joanne Glavic

Photo: Joanne Glavic
Photo: Joanne Glavic

Photo: Joanne Glavic
Photo: Joanne Glavic

Photo: Joanne Glavic
Photo: Joanne Glavic

Photo: Joanne Glavic
Photo: Joanne Glavic

Photo: Joanne Glavic
Photo: Joanne Glavic

Justine Calcagno, a grade 8 student at St. Augustine Catholic Elementary School, has been a member of the St. Mary Crusaders Drumline for the past two years.
Justine Calcagno, a grade 8 student at St. Augustine Catholic Elementary School, has been a member of the St. Mary Crusaders Drumline for the past two years. "We have a piano at home, but I really didn't know how to play before this," she says. "Through drumline, I learned to read music."