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Lab band preparing music education students for more than 35 years

Moira Finn

April 29, 2013

With just one look around a classroom packed with 10-year-old beginner band and string students, it became immediately clear to Kim Codner that teaching elementary school band was not going to be the same as her experience teaching private music lessons.

"Engaging children in a classroom setting, instructing students with a diverse range of abilities, teaching multiple instruments . . . and their energy!" said the aspiring music teacher with a laugh, explaining just some of the differences she experienced.

Fortunately for Ms. Codner, and dozens of other bachelor of music education students, this initial encounter with the elementary school band and strings program was in the controlled setting of Memorial's School of Music, where the Faculty of Education delivers its MUN Lab Band and Orchestra program.

Thought to be the only one of its in kind in Canada – this innovative music education program brings together senior Memorial music education students and 50 Grade Five students from 10 elementary schools in the St. John's region. Memorial student-teachers meet with the children both in small group settings and in full ensemble for 45-minute sessions twice weekly during the fall and winter semesters. Observed, mentored and critiqued by instructors and their peers, the teachers provide instruction for percussion, woodwind, brass and string instruments.

"The Lab Band and Orchestra is an integral part of the Instrumental Music Teaching Methods course and, as the name suggests, is a sort of laboratory course for music teacher preparation, providing practical experience for our students in advance of their internships," said Korona Brophy, the Faculty of Education course's instructor for the past five years.

"Our music education students say this is one of the most beneficial experiences of their degree program because they get to work with students, to teach in a closely supervised setting and get feedback that is immediate and meaningful."

As a pre-internship course, the teachers-in-training design and implement lesson plans, provide evaluations and reports for each child, preparing them for their work placements and eventual careers as music teachers.

"I studied music in my undergraduate degree, but I was a voice major, so I had to learn to teach all the instruments in the lab band program," said Genna Putt, who is interning in Grand Prairie, Alta., in the fall. "Having the instructors right there with me and the support of my fellow students made this an easier experience for me."

Initiated in 1976 by legendary music educator and musician Leo Sandoval, an instructor at Memorial and band teacher at then-St. Pius X School in St. John's, it is estimated that more than 1,200 students and 700 teachers have participated in the lab band over the years.

"This program is the envy of teacher music education programs across the country," said Dr. Andrea Rose, a Faculty of Education professor who led the lab band program from 1990 until recent years and is credited with its growth and enhancing the curriculum to its current format.

"Students learn best by doing and the lab band is a proven means of active learning for our students as well as for the band and string pupils, many of whom not only become better musicians, but confident leaders in their own school band programs."

Dr. Rose says the support and encouragement of Dr. Kirk Anderson, dean, Faculty of Education, and Dr. Ellen Waterman, dean, School of Music, means the MUN Lab Band and Orchestra Program continues to be one Memorial's longest-running knowledge mobilization and community engagement initiatives and organizers hope to further the reach of the program by attracting at least two new schools to the program next year.

*originally appeared at