Guitars hang from wood panel walls around the room. A Foreigner song plays on the radio behind the counter. The next student enters, instrument in hand. The bell on the door to Riverside Guitar Shop doesn’t ring as often as it used to.
George Paquette says that the number of kids learning instruments is declining.
“The interest in music is not as widespread as it used to be,” Paquette said. “The internet and technology have really taken over a lot of kids’ time. They’re not spending their time learning to play an instrument. They’re spending their time learning to play video games.”
The 53-year-old storeowner opened shop in Pillette Village in 1988. He downsized and moved his shop across the street in 2010.
“When I was a kid our time was spent either outside playing road hockey or we were jamming,” said Paquette. “We were playing music. That’s the way it was.”
Paquette said that his shop currently has 60 students. It used to have 420.
“The thing is, kids dictate to their parents where the money’s going to be spent. The parents are spending the money, just not on music”
Paquette said that dying elementary and high school music programs also share the blame.
“They’ve cancelled out so much music in schools and that’s made a big difference,” Paquette said. “At least there was some influence there as well, but that’s all changed.”
Ryan Yamamoto is the music teacher at Riverside Secondary School in Windsor. He currently teaches one class of 26 grade nines.
“Elementary school music programs definitely impact the turnout in high school enrollment,” said Yamamoto. “They have some strong music teachers in elementary school that generate an interest. That plays a big role in the success of high school programs.
“It depends on individual schools. It depends on principals and whether they will support—whether music is a high priority.”
Yamamoto, who is originally from Toronto, puts the responsibility for the success of music programs on Ontario’s government.
“A bit of an eye opener for me here was the availability of funds,” said Yamamoto. “In Toronto I never had to think about where funding would come from. Here you see schools doing bingos and whatnot for funding.”
In a study done this year analyzing factors affecting music education in Ontario secondary schools, PhD candidate Laura Fitzpatrick of the University of Western concluded “music education is disappearing from secondary schools across the province.” She also concluded that enrollment in music courses at the secondary level is declining.
Ontario music teachers submitted 151 questionnaires to the study. Results found that 50 per cent reported a decrease in the number of Grade 9 students enrolled in music courses in their schools over the last 5 years. In 25 of these surveys, teachers attributed the decline to an overall decline in school population.
Teachers were able to comment on their responses to the questionnaire.
“Within our board there is no apparent effort to ensure elementary arts programs including music are delivered to all students. For example, in many schools, the arts are pushed aside to make room for extra literacy practice so that provincial test scores are good, or they are not taught because there are no teachers who are qualified or even comfortable teaching them,” said a teacher.
Another teacher surveyed said, “No music programs currently offering instrumental music at the elementary level feed into our school.”
The study also showed that 25 per cent of participating music teachers wanted to see change in their music program’s funding.
“I would like to see more money spent on the music program for instruments, music and the facility. The factors that impede implementation of (positive changes in the music program are) money, money, money. We do very well at raising funds at the local level, but we need much more for instruments, equipment, auditorium upkeep, trips, master classes, etc,” said one teacher.
The study showed that 24 per cent of participating music teachers wanted to see change in music education at the elementary level. Teachers said that there aren’t enough music specialists in elementary schools. Students are not prepared for high school music courses.
Kess Carpenter, 17, is studying guitar at The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in London, England. A Skype call to her flat reveals the Beatles and Queen posters that cover her walls.
Carpenter is a recent graduate of Walkerville Collegiate Institute in Windsor. She noticed a shrinking number of students in Walkerville’s music program, which requires students audition before enrolling.
“During my first two years of the program there were probably 40 per cent more students than there were in my final two years,” said Carpenter. “As the students got older, some of them left to pursue activities that they wanted to commit to more than music, or they just lost interest.
“A good chunk of students were only just starting high school when they became involved in music. They lost interest over time. A lot of students became involved with other recreational activities like sports. Others were committed to school assignments and other extracurricular projects.”
Riverside Guitar Shop does enough business to keep afloat, but it sees fewer students than it used to. Regular customers come and go with the instruments. For now, Paquette will have to wait for a new wave of fresh, young faces to open the door and ring the bell on the other side.