Into the Woods – Summer Master Class 2016 with Catherine West

I must admit that towards the end of summer, the question did arise as to why I was about to spend one of my few remaining precious weeks of vacation, inside, doing work related activities. But of course, it didn’t take more than a few minutes with Catherine West for the many responses to make themselves heard in my mind, body and soul.

It was a week that touched on many subjects and highlighted the various connections between them. We reviewed the tremendous treasures held in the Volumes as well as their pedagogical significance. We celebrated Canadian music with all of its rich opportunities for exploring Canadian culture and history. Then we extended such cross-curricular connections to other cultures, fine art and even science. We learned songs, dances and games from around the world and we played with different ways of adapting children’s stories for use in the Music classroom and for performance. Throughout the week, we reflected on what skills each piece or activity encompassed and how they might be assessed, what ages they were appropriate for, how they might be extended, what particular cultural sensitivities might need to be considered and what background information might need to be shared with our students.

So many interesting topics, so many and varied songs and activities, so much information and new ideas to ponder, yet Catherine managed to direct it all at a pace that allowed us to fully absorb the materials and enjoy the process. And amidst all this intense learning were moments of true beauty that will continue to resonate in us and in our teaching in ways that are less easy to describe but perhaps even more important.

Summer or not, I am extremely grateful to have had the chance to spend a week with Catherine as well as the special group of dedicated and highly creative colleagues in our course. By the end of the week I was filled with renewed purpose as a Music teacher. I felt nurtured by Catherine’s warmth and support and motivated by her masterful modeling and her vast knowledge and experience. Lucky for me, this was not my first workshop with Catherine West and the week rang true to my experiences of the past. Catherine always broadens my horizons, making connections between the music we teach to young children and neuroscience, wildlife preservation, Medieval architecture and any number of other vast and varied subjects. She inspires me to reach deeper and further as a teacher, a musician, a citizen of the world and as a human being.

Karin Johnson is a Music teacher in Burnaby, BC and a Past President of the BC Orff Chapter.