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Vol 38  No 15
June 8, 2006


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Address to convocation

Dr. Kathrine Bellamy

First of all, I want to express to the university Senate my sincere appreciation for the honour of receiving this degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland and, also, my thanks to the public orator for his comments. Being chosen as one of the honorary graduates of this university is a distinction that moves me deeply.

I offer my sincere congratulations to the graduates and their immensely relieved parents, guardians, families and friends. I rejoice in your accomplishments and I am delighted to see that so many of you decided to further your education to this point and ­ I hope - beyond. I wish you every success as you take your place among the professional musicians and educators of our province, country and world.

In accepting the invitation to receive this degree, I realize that I stand as just one person in a long line of music educators, I mean, the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland. From their first days in Newfoundland in 1842, the Sisters of Mercy were involved in music-making. In fact, we can read an account of their performance of Mozart’s Twelfth Mass in a newspaper of August 1842. Thereafter for as long as the sisters were in the classrooms of Newfoundland, music education and music making were integral parts of the curriculum in schools under their charge. In honouring me today, I feel that the university is honouring all Sisters of Mercy and also the long tradition of which I am a part. On an equally personal level, this honour belongs not only to me, but to all those who taught me, encouraged me, and shared my journey along the road of music and education, especially to my parents who first introduced me to the world of music, to my brother ­ who was careful to report me whenever I missed practicing my scales, to the members of my congregation and particularly to my students, many of whom are here this evening.

Being invited to address convocation is an additional and unexpected honour. Nevertheless, the thought crosses my mind, that with the growing interest we have been observing lately in the preservation of historic sites and monuments, I may be here today as an artefact.

To be truthful, when I realized that I had agreed to address convocation, I was appalled at my temerity. What would I have to say to the learned faculty, to the graduates and their families and friends who are assembled here? I believe it is incumbent upon me to offer some advice to the graduates. Well, the truth is that when I was your age I was in no need of advice ­ I knew everything ­ my world was filled with certainties. But when you get to be my age you realize that you know very little! Then I remembered reading somewhere that when Maureen Forrester was awarded an honorary degree in 1982, the famous contralto decided against making a speech but instead, treated her audience to a ten-minute performance featuring works by Handel and Schubert! Not having a voice like Maureen Forrester’s, that avenue is closed to me. Therefore I should speak to you from my own experience.

My first observation to you as graduates of Memorial University of Newfoundland, is a reminder that you have inherited a wonderful and rich tradition of scholarship and service. The example of your professors and of the alumni who have gone before you is an incentive for you to continue on the road of exploration, scholarship and service in the cause of education.

The one certainty is that you will all face challenges ­ after all, that is what makes life exciting - and you have the training to overcome them. As educators you face special challenges that are not shared by those who have chosen to follow other professions. In spite of the great advances made by Memorial University in music and the arts, the value and the costs of music education ­ and indeed, of everything done in our classrooms ­ is being questioned like never before. When more and more demands are placed on the finances of schools and school boards, it forces administrators to make choices ­ to place a monetary value on each subject area.

Most parents and educators agree with the idea of having music in the schools. But, when faced with so many other demands on scarce dollars the inclusion of the arts in every student’s education can sometimes be relegated to a distant wish rather than an exciting reality. It doesn’t have to be that way! All that’s needed is a clear message sent to all those who must make the hard choices involved in running a school or school system. The basic message that you must preach day in and day out is that music programs in the schools help our children and communities in real and substantial ways.

Michael Greene, CEO at the 42nd Grammy Awards in February 2000, said: “Music is a magical gift we must nourish and cultivate in our children, especially now as scientific evidence proves that an education in the arts makes better math and science students.” Music, of course, is about communication, creativity, and cooperation and, by studying music in school, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives, and experience the world from a new perspective. Many things that contribute to the quality of life and richness of experience cannot be quantified, counted, measured, enumerated, or have a dollar figure put on them ­ and this is precisely why they are so precious.

Perhaps the basic reason that every child has a right to an education in music is that music is a part of the fabric of our Newfoundland and Labrador society ­ indeed, every human culture uses music to carry forward its ideas and ideals. The importance of music to our tradition and our reputation is without doubt ­ as witnessed by the growing numbers of artists from this province who have won national and international acclaim. I need only mention the Holy Heart Choirs, the Quintessential Vocal Ensemble, and Shallaway, the former Newfoundland Youth Symphony Choir ­ each of which has won prestigious awards at home and abroad. Indeed, it is unfair to signal out these particular musical groups, but time does not permit me to mention the many other musicians who are such wonderful ambassadors for our province on the national and international stage. But just for a moment, think of the individuals who form these choirs. Apart from the music itself and the skill and discipline involved in performance, membership in such groups provides children ­ and adults ­ with almost limitless opportunities for new experiences, and for learning about other countries, their culture and their traditions.

However, music education is not only for those who aspire to public performance. Musical training and the understanding of music are important in shaping individual abilities and character ­ and are for everyone ­ the musical consumers, if you will. The vast majority of those we teach will eventually be the patrons of our concerts and are the people who will ensure that the next generation will have the skills to carry on the great musical traditions of our people.

As a teacher, my most challenging and fun-filled years were when I was working with children. You will learn more from the children in your classes than you ever learned out of a book. It is deadly for a music teacher to face a class with a preconceived notion of how the music will sound. Children are tremendously creative and have their own ideas that often provide new insights for the teacher. Furthermore, when children are introduced to music that has substance and challenge, the more enjoyable it becomes ­ and the more successfully they will perform. Indeed, this is true of any subject when taught by a competent, passionate teacher, with a student-centred approach.

Another branch of music that has been of absorbing interest to me is music history. However, I have often wondered how successful I’ve been in this department. Witness some of the answers I received in some of my quizzes:

• A virtuoso is a musician with real high morals. A Contralto is a low sort of music that only ladies sing.

• To end the concert the choir presented pieces of Mozart.

• Bach was the most famous composer in the world, and so was Handel. Handel was half German, half Italian and half English. He was very large. Bach died from 1750 to the present.

• An oboe is like when you take two blades of grass between your thumb and blow until it screeches.

• Finally, from an essay written by a student describing her sister’s experience at Memorial: She was taught all of the primary languages, a variegated curriculum of music history, all of the basics, and most importantly where to look for work.

Thankfully, however, such responses were the exception and I hope that most of my music history students were infected with the same love of the subject that has been my enduring passion. Many of these students are graduates of this University. And although I loved teaching music history, the best response I ever received for my teaching efforts was from a Grade One student at Our Lady of Mercy School: After one rather strenuous practice, I asked the children if they were tired. One six-year old replied: “Oh no, Sister, I love it. It's like, when you sing, you open up your heart!" When you get a response like that, you know you're doing your job!

So, in conclusion, I congratulate you all and I charge you with the task of making a difference ­ for all professions and skills have a role to play in meeting the needs of our world. I hope that your years at Memorial have taught you valuable lessons about life that you will use no matter where you go. I hope you have learned to ask the deeper questions about complex issues, and to look for the truth behind the headlines. Education is about so much more than simply learning ­ it is about expanding your mind and heart until they are wide enough to help you live well in this complicated and difficult world. Whatever your experiences have been here at Memorial University, I hope that you have cultivated endless curiosity, maturity of thought and vision, and a sense of boundless compassion for this world that is so much in need of people like you. Remember the sacrifices made by your parents, your families and your teachers that have brought you to this day, and realize that great dreams for the future are resting on your shoulders. And wherever you go in life, please do not forget where you came from; for, in the words of T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Thank you very much.

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