Thunder Bay musician enjoying arts program

Rodney Brown is a musician, singer, and songwriter from Thunder Bay who now can add “teacher” to his list of achievements.
Brown has been involved in the “Learning through the Arts” program—an international program which encourages students to learn through drama, music, and visual arts—for several years.
And the program brought him back to two schools in Rainy River District last week—Our Lady of the Way and Sturgeon Creek.
Brown usually visits the district a couple of times a year.
“I really enjoy working with students,” he said. “I get some satisfaction back from it and it allows me yet another way to make music.”
Brown is just one of the many Northwestern Ontario artists to visit area schools to help teachers instruct the core curriculum through the different kinds of arts.
He said he ends up teaching anything from science and math to language arts and history through musical activities and song writing.
He spends three sessions in each classroom, teaching about beats and rhythm, with the final session set aside for the actual song writing.
“I meet with the teacher beforehand and see what they’re studying and where I can help,” Brown explained, noting he doesn’t actually teach the material.
“I just put the icing on the cake.”
Brown was helping teach social studies in the Grade 5 and 6 class at Sturgeon Creek, describing how he assisted the students in writing a song about the aboriginal people and explorers they were studying.
“We ended up writing a song about the Ojibway people, the Ojibway nation. And how they lived before the European explorers came and how their lives changed through the fur trade,” he explained, noting he tried to keep the theme as local as possible.
Brown also helped the Grade 3 and 4 class learn about habitats and communities.
“We explored sounds different animals make in certain habitats,” he remarked. “The kids with instruments came up with their own sounds and we made a song.”
Brown said he usually will write the chorus for the song ahead of time, then show the students how the verses go before they write the song together in class.
“We brainstorm to see what they know and then organize the verses,” he said. “I also show them how rhythm is connected to words.
“Adding words to rhythm and adding melody to the words and trying to get a song with good content is important,” he stressed.
The song then is recorded and the class receives a cassette tape of the tune.
“I really don’t have much formal training in music, but I really enjoy kids and getting the results,” Brown said. “I enjoy making up a song and having them enjoy it and sing and like it.”
Brown said he sees good responses from the children, adding he plays a wide range of music styles so everyone can enjoy it.
“Everything from folk music to rock ’n roll, and we have fun,” he enthused. “The kids are always eager to participate in the program.
He admitted the song-writing part can be a little boring for the students because they “really have to think about stuff.” But when it’s all done, he said they really enjoyed it.
“I think it’s really worthwhile,” he said, noting he has discovered the songs help the students remember facts. “Also, some kids excel at it where they might not otherwise realize music is something they enjoy.”
Brown believes the “Learning through the Arts” program is important, especially since a lot of schools have dropped the arts.
“They don’t really have an art teacher or a music teacher any more,” he explained. “So this program kind of fills that void.”
Brown said he thinks the kids should be taught the core curriculum with music, drawing, theatre, and dance because “those are the things that make people whole, happy individuals.”
He also feels the program is beneficial for all of the artists who visit the schools.
“It gives me a whole new realm of experience and has forced me to come up with some new ideas,” Brown admitted, describing how difficult it was for him to come up with a way to teach math through music.
He also said he gets pretty good ideas from the professional training the artists are provided with through the program.
Brown plans to participate more often in the “Learning through the Arts” program, as well as continuing his own gigs and song-writing.