Maureen Garry

Keeping music in the picture the top priority in Colwood

Maureen Garry bangs the drum for early music education

Music Monday is a national initiative that sees thousands of elementary school-aged students singing common songs in unison across the country.

On the West Shore, however, the event is largely associated with Maureen Garry, music teacher at David Cameron elementary in Colwood. Well known in the Sooke School District for her passion for music and seemingly never-ending flow of ideas, she’s one of those people who inspires others to reach beyond themselves, from young first-time musicians to her fellow educators.

This weekend in Richmond, Garry will receive the B.C. Music Educators Association award for Outstanding Professional Educator (elementary).

“She’s got a phenomenal amount of energy. Every time I talk to her there’s a constant smile on her face, and you know it’s very genuine,” says Mandart Chan, Belmont secondary music director and the BCMEA’s first vice-president. He nominated Garry for the award, which recognizes those who make an impact in their district.

The inspiration to do so, he says, came following an a-ha moment when he realized how much work she had put in, not only to expand Music Monday, but to promote elementary music education within the district.

“Maureen essentially singlehandedly brought together all of the schools and said, ‘let’s do it as a district,’” he says of the massive singalong, during which 2,300 local students from nine schools gathered in The Q Centre this past May.

“It was a huge gathering of musical elementary students, a lot of whom had never met each other before that … It was all because Maureen said ‘Hey, why don’t we all get together?’”

Garry admits to being “shocked” when she read the email congratulating her as winner of the award, adding it feels good to be nominated by her peers.

One of only a couple of elementary music teachers in the district when she began more than eight years ago, she is now part of a network of specialists at more than a dozen SD62 schools who keep music in the picture for every student.

As such, she gives much of the credit for Music Monday’s success, and the current upswing of momentum for music in the schools, to the combined work of educators around the district – and the unwavering support of SD62 superintendent Jim Cambridge.

“It’s nice to be recognized for some of the things that I do, but on the other hand, I don’t do these things on my own,” she says. “I look at this as sort of a group award, but I’m sort of a figurehead.”

Music Monday was a project Garry got on board with six years ago, when she organized a singalong in the school gym at David Cameron. Later, her school Skyped during the event with another in Sooke, and another year Colwood elementary students walked over to join in.

“Three years ago we were talking about how could we do something that was bigger than that,” she recalls. “I had this idea, and we worked with Sandra Webster-Worthy at the district level, and we talked about busing students in …”

The combined effort led to the first mass arena event in 2014, which Garry calls “a bit of an experiment.” It was broadened to include students playing instruments this year, and the hope is to expand it to middle and high school musicians next year, she says.

“For me, it’s kind of magical. Logistically it’s complicated, but once you get the busing and where kids are sitting figured out, it’s really fun.”

Garry, a founding member of SD62’s Music Specialist Association, says she’s been around teaching long enough to see ebbs and flows of funding for music in schools.

She’s thrilled to be in the middle of an upswing of support, one that has the Sooke School District being recognized as leaders in the field of music education.

“We’ve got nice solid programs in our high schools, we’ve got solid programs in all levels now,” she says, noting that for many people a love of music starts in early grade school. “I want kids to grow up with music being a piece of their life, whether they do it for fun, or play in a band or sing in a choir.”

Chan, who has worked alongside Garry on several initiatives over the years, characterizes her as a mentor to her elementary counterparts and a person who thinks outside the box.

“The amount of material she comes in with to share is phenomenal,” he says. “It’s truly inspiring to watch.”

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