Monday 29 January 2024

Playing a musical instrument good for brain health


The study found playing keyboard instruments was particularly beneficial for brain health

Playing a musical instrument or singing could help keep the brain healthy in older age, UK researchers suggest.  Practising and reading music may help sustain good memory and the ability to solve complex tasks, their study says.

In their report, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, they say music should be considered as part of a lifestyle approach to maintain the brain. More than 1,100 people aged over 40, with a mean age of 68, were studied.Scientists at the University of Exeter observed their brain function data as part of a wider study that has been finding out how brains age, and why people develop dementia.
They looked at the effects of playing an instrument, singing, reading and listening to music, and musical ability.The researchers compared the cognitive data of those in the study who engaged in music in some way in their lives, with those who never had.Their results showed that people who played musical instruments benefitted the most, which may be because of the "multiple cognitive demands" of the activity. 

Playing the piano or keyboard appeared to be particularly beneficial, while brass and woodwind instruments were good too

Simply listening to music did not appear to help cognitive health.

The benefit seen with singing might be partly because of the known social aspects of being in a choir or group, the researchers say. "Because we have such sensitive brain tests for this study, we are able to look at individual aspects of the brain function, such as short-term memory, long-term memory, and problem-solving and how engaging music effects that," lead author Prof Anne Corbett told the BBC.  "Certainly this confirms and cements on a much larger scale what we already know about the benefits of music.
"Specifically, playing an instrument has a particularly big effect, and people who continue to play into an older age saw an additional benefit," she said.

In the study, people who read music regularly had better numerical memory.

Prof Corbett said: "Our brain is a muscle like anything else and it needs to be exercised, and learning to read music is a bit like learning a new language, it's challenging." Researchers did not test potential benefits of taking up a musical hobby for the first time later in life, but Prof Corbett said she believed, based on current evidence, it would be "very beneficial". Prof Corbett said that, although more research was needed, promoting musical education could form a "valuable" part of a public health message, as would encouraging older adults to return to music in later life. "The message is around how people can proactively reduce their risk of cognitive decline or dementia, and really thinking about engaging with music as a way of doing that. This study does suggest that it could be part of a much wider lifestyle approach to improving brain health as you age." "We regularly play at memory cafes so have seen the effect that our music has on people with memory loss and, as older musicians ourselves, we have no doubt that continuing with music into older age has played an important role in keeping our brains healthy."

You can see the article on BBC's web site - HERE

Monday 8 January 2024

Band gives you the TOP skills

 Keep your kids in band if you want them prepared for the future according to a study done by the Indeed Hiring Lab.

"Interpersonal soft skills are going to be even more important in the age of AI, according to Sadek. These include creativity, adaptability, critical thinking, problem solving, time management, emotional intelligence and communication.

All of these skills are developed through the arts and specifically - Band. 

Read the full article here - 

Looking for a job or career change? These skills will be in high demand in Canada in 2024

Monday 6 November 2023

WCAAG is Looking for Volunteers

 Westwood Collegiate Arts Advisory Group.  

The parent group WCAAG supports the arts programs and staff at Westwood Collegiate. Westwood parents who are interested in the arts, or have children enrolled in an arts program(s) meet once a month to plan for the annual “For the Love of the Arts” arts evening, as well as lend support to staff for events such as the musical when selling tickets and running a canteen.

For the Love of the Arts (FLOTA) is an evening that celebrates the arts programs and students. This school year FLOTA will be held on Monday April 8, 2024. Set up for the event will take place on Sunday, April 7, 2024 and it takes the efforts of parents and students to set up the gym for the big event. The night of the event, parents are needed in many capacities from taking tickets to preparing refreshments. Planning begins at the monthly meetings with email sign ups shared prior to the setup and event. The funds from the evening are used by the arts department at Westwood to buy items such as costumes, upgrade equipment, or purchase instruments.

What are the arts programs at Westwood? The arts department is made up of band, choral, dance, drama, graphic tech, musical theatre, photography, and visual art.

Your help is instrumental in making the various arts events throughout the school year successful and well attended. We would love to see you at the monthly meetings, or volunteering to help with FLOTA or other arts events would be greatly appreciated!

For more information you can contact Mr. Brian Toms at

If interested, please scan this QR code and fill out the database form!

We’ll be in touch shortly!


Wednesday 6 September 2023

Jazz Band

Jazz Band begins the week of the 11th.  Monday - Sr. Jazz at 7:20 AM. Tuesday - L.T.J.O.  7:20 AM and B.I.G. Band at 12:03PM.  No Instrument Need for the first class, but you can bring yours if you like and put it on the shelves.

Tuesday 23 May 2023

What to do about Cell Phones at Concerts


Conductor Nezet-Seguin schools audience in concert etiquette after cell phone interruptions.

"Can we live without the damn phone for just one hour?"

It's a phrase not soon to be forgotten by fans of The Philadelphia Orchestra, where conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin lectured his audience after their ringing cellphones interrupted the show -- multiple times.

During a May 7 concert, after a ringtone pierced through the air midway through Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 -- for the second time -- Nézet-Séguin decided he'd had enough.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Montreal-born conductor stopped the orchestra, turned to the crowd and firmly, but civilly, gave them the business.

The phrase "Can we live without the damn phone for just one hour" appeared to resonate with audiences beyond Philly's Verizon Hall, making the rounds on social media.

See the full article here - concert etiquette after cell phone interruptions

Monday 24 April 2023

End of the Year Information

As we inch closer to the end of the band year, I thought it prudent to post some dates for parents and students:

MAY 1st - SR. JAZZ '24 Audition Music comes out.  This audition is open to all band students. Auditions begin in June. There will be a sign up sheet in the band room for an audition time. See dates below.

MAY 26th - Sectional cut off.  Each student must complete a minimum of 2 for each band they are in by this date and record them in the sectional book. - ALL STUDENTS

MAY 28th - (SUNDAY) mass rehearsal for super secret surprise wink wink  ;) 2 - 5pm.  ALL STUDENTS.

MAY 29th - Concert Set up at 3:30PM - 4:00PM - ALL STUDENTS

MAY 30th - Final Band Concert and Awards Presentation - 6:30PM in the Gym - ALL STUDENTS

MAY 31st - Final Jazz Band Concert and Awards Presentation - 6:30PM in the theatre - ALL JAZZ BAND STUDENTS

JUNE 1st - Final Choir Concert in the theatre - ALL CHOIR STUDENTS

JUNE 5th - Final Written Reflection Due - ALL STUDENTS

JUNE 5th - 16th - SR. JAZZ Auditions.

JUNE 12th - all music and instruments must be handed in by this date with the exception of those students still completing their Sr. Jazz audition or are invited to join GRAD BAND.

JUNE 28th - GRAD BAND at the Concert Hall at 7:00AM for their performance at GRAD.

Thursday 23 March 2023

Slow return to Music Making Across Canada


The schools are once again alive with the sound of music — but the pandemic took a toll

Teachers face skills gaps, deteriorating instruments, fewer students pursuing music

A teacher stands to the right of students, everyone playing ukeleles and singing, in a music classroom. A large treble clef and musical notes decorate the wall behind her.
Winnipeg music teacher Jewel Casselman leads students in a ukulele lesson on Thursday. The kids are finally getting their hands on the ukes after pandemic restrictions prevented students from sharing instruments.(Randall McKenzie/ CBC)

Winnipeg music teacher Jewel Casselman is back in her element, leading elementary-aged students in song and guiding them on musical instruments after three years of pandemic restrictions and adapted lessons. Her students are finally getting their hands on ukuleles she purchased back in 2019, for instance, and they're having a blast.

"You get to make music. You don't really get to do that in math class," noted 11-year-old Arun Sharma, a Grade 5 student.

"When we couldn't do [music class] in the pandemic, I was a little upset," added Grade 4 student Anna Lockerby, who's nearly 10. 

The pandemic silenced traditional music education with a raft of restrictions — no singing, no playing of wind instruments, limits on indoor sessions and no instrument sharing, among others.

Even after other subjects and activities returned to normal, school music classes, bands and ensembles hadn't, with some only back this school year. That interruption has had a definite impact, say music educators: a gap in music skills, a swath of deteriorating, unplayed instruments and multiple cohorts who haven't experienced or have let music class fade from their lives.

Yet passionate students, teachers and advocates are striking up the band to remind Canadians of the value of music in the classroom. 

WATCH | Music is back in Canadian schools, but the pandemic has taken a toll, say educators: 

Music programs struggle with lack of funding, aging instruments

4 days ago
Duration 2:12
Many music programs have now resumed in schools across Canada after being shut down by the pandemic. But some teachers say a lack of funding and aging instruments are making it difficult to effectively run these programs.

Losing music at school was difficult for many, said Casselman, whose students currently include second and third-graders who've hardly sung at all due to the pandemic, as well as Grade 5s who haven't sung since their primary years. 

"Music is in them and it's all around them — and then when they couldn't play it or sing it or dance, it was really hard," said the 35-year teaching veteran. "[We've] had to backtrack and go back and reteach things."

Learning music "can help you with much more stuff than just singing. It can help you with finding a rhythm or hearing stuff that might be a bit harder, and identifying sounds," said nine-year-old Brian Huggard, one of Casselman's Grade 4 students. "Sometimes it can actually sound really good."

Middle school-aged students -- two male on the left and two female on the right -- stand smiling and flanking a silver-haired music teacher, whose arms are around them.
Casselman, centre, is seen with Grade 4 and 5 students, inlcuding, from left, Brian Huggard, Arun Sharma, Anna Lockerby and Smayana Sharma. The veteran educator was named 2023 MusiCounts teacher of the year at the Junos. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

From kindergarten onward, learning music stimulates student minds and "benefits their brain growth and their creativity," said Casselman, who was named the 2023 MusiCounts teacher of the year at last week's Juno Awards

It also crosses into other subject areas, she added, and inspires new music fans, concert-goers, musicians, producers and more.

"In music class, when you learn music, you can, like, find your voice," said Grade 4 student Smayana Sharma, 9. 

'A core subject'

The Canadian public school system's music education programs were already hurting prior to COVID-19, "so when the pandemic hit, it just created a situation that was almost untenable," said Kristy Fletcher, president of MusiCounts, the national music education charity associated with The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

A woman bends to hand items to students seen seated, from behind. A man smiles at a student with his hand raised and music notes appear on the blackboard behind them.
MusiCounts president Kristy Fletcher participates in one of the charity's Band Aid Celebration events with singer-songwriter and musician Dallas Green of City and Colour in Toronto in December 2018. (Brandan Albert/MusiCounts)

She praises Canadian educators for their creativity in teaching the music curriculum while bound by restrictions on singing and playing wind instruments, for instance. However, she notes that another pandemic rule — no sharing of instruments — has also severely hampered school music going forward.

"The sharing of instruments is fundamental to the music program because teachers don't have enough instruments. Music programs don't have enough instruments for each student to have their own," Fletcher said.

With instruments at many schools typically 20 or more years old, music teachers were already doing whatever possible to repair and keep that aging inventory in playing order, she continued.

Add in a hiatus of a few pandemic years and now, "in many schools, you just have instruments that are literally unplayable and unusable."

On average, Canadian schools receive less than $500 a year for music programs, according to Fletcher. Some have no money for a music program and require fundraising in order to operate. 

MusicCounts provides instruments, equipment and resources to Canadian schools and "we currently can help maybe one in six schools, so we have a ways to go," she said.

Four smiling adult women stand behind a group of 16 sitting and kneeling elementary students, alongside bright signage, drums and other percussion instruments.
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, standing from left, singer Ruth B., Fletcher and St. Elizabeth Elementary School music teacher Natalie Andrews pose with students from the Ottawa school at a MusiCounts event in 2017. 'STEM programs are incredibly important,' Fletcher said. 'But so is music. So are the arts.' (Barry Roden/MusiCounts )

After countless conversations with administrators, Fletcher understands that music programs are regularly the last line item on very stretched school budgets. Still, she feels they absolutely deserve more consideration.

"We talk a lot about STEM and obviously STEM programs are incredibly important.… But so is music. So are the arts," she said.

Fewer student musicians amid COVID-19

The return of music classes has broken through the "exceptionally quiet" school hallways of the past few years, said Ottawa high school music teacher Lani Sommers.

Laggy online sessions, unwieldy band practices outdoors or awkward classes via video conferencing have mostly disappeared, but music teachers are facing a new obstacle — a noticeable drop in student players compared to pre-pandemic times.

"Students didn't sign up for music class in order to play from home or online. They signed up to play and make music together," Sommers said.

That matters because in-school exposure and experience gives students an equal opportunity to learn. "The effects of having no elementary instrumental music for two years has really trickled up to high school," she said. "Not everybody can afford music lessons privately."

Beyond benefiting students' cognitive development, motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination and creativity, Sommers pointed out that music education can also positively affect social emotional growth: students' ability to listen to and collaborate with others, set goals, build resilience, a sense of community and more.

A smiling woman in glasses, a denim shirt and leggings holds her flute while standing behind a music stand, with a family living room seen behind her.
'We need to make a little bit of noise and make sure that people know what was lost [due to the pandemic],' Ottawa high school music teacher Lani Summers. 'If you were never a band student and you didn't participate, then you don't know what you're missing.' (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

"We need to make a little bit of noise and make sure that people know what was lost, because … if you were never a band student and you didn't participate, then you don't know what you're missing," said Sommers, who is also a volunteer with the Ontario Band Association.

"Music truly is a universal language that everybody can learn."

Music '90 per cent about collaboration'

Ottawa high school senior Isla Rennison has played flute since Grade 7 and added percussion not long after through her cadet troop, but she truly didn't realize how core music was to her life until the pandemic hit. Online lag prevented her from performing synchronously with classmates. The alternative — everyone but the conductor on mute or playing along to recordings — left her feeling utterly isolated.

"Listening to other people, working on my dynamics, working on my timing … you don't learn those without playing with someone else in the room," she said. "Music is like 90 per cent about collaboration." 

A teen girl with long blonde hair and wearing headphones shares a small smile in this screen capture from a video interview.  A dining room hutch is seen behind her.
Accustomed to making music alongside other students, Ottawa flute and percussion player Isla Rennison said performing alone at home or in laggy online sessions left her feeling incredibly isolated. (CBC)

Pressing forward, the 17-year-old is now trying to quickly level up her skills while also dealing with the shortfall of musical peers. Like Sommers, she's seen students drop music during COVID-19 — including friends who played for years, but moved on after becoming disengaged with pandemic lessons.

"We don't have enough students to make a senior ensemble, so we have to bring in Grade 11s, even Grade 10s, to the mix to help boost our ensemble, which means we're not able to play those pieces that are really challenging to us," she said, given the experience gap of the younger players, whose ranks have also thinned.

"[We've] lost two years of building that skill, working together, progressing, learning."

Rennison has joined Sommers in visiting Ottawa-area elementary schools to perform, introduce kids to different instruments and hopefully inspire them to play.

"A lot of people don't feel like they can pursue music," said the teen, who along with playing in school ensembles and at cadets has also started a punk band with friends.

"You don't need to have a future in music [professionally] to pursue music.… I don't think I'll ever not be a musician," she said. "Music brings me a lot of joy."


Jessica Wong

Senior digital writer

Based in Toronto, Jessica Wong covers Canadian education stories for CBC News. She previously covered arts and entertainment news, both national and international, and has been a digital journalist for CBC since 2001. You can reach her at 

With files from Deana Sumanac-Johnson and Furkan Khan

Playing a musical instrument good for brain health

  The study found playing keyboard instruments was particularly beneficial for brain health Playing a musical instrument or singing could he...