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“Changing attitudes and teaching strategies in music education classrooms to bring out the best in our students and teachers”

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lucian Stephenson.

Webinar! University of Cambridge Coordinator: Dr Pamela Burnard.


There is much talk and theorizing these days about narrative techniques and prescriptive approaches to love, equity and respect in music education as though these were new and novel methodologies. This presentation as a voice(s) inside a secondary school seeks to address this issue indirectly through the experience of a teacher (myself) who has been given a classroom full of ‘problematic’ grade eleven students. These students, for all practical purposes, are no longer cared for by their respective school system and they, in turn, have also given up on that system as well. They are all segregated on the basis of their poor reading skills and lack of self- discipline into a classroom that no one wants to teach. The highly unwanted job is given to a neophyte teacher, the author of this paper too many years ago, who ultimately had little choice in the matter. This teacher is highly unsuccessful in the beginning because he develops an intense dislike for these students in order to cope with their outward and self- destructive tendencies. Through ancient history, the opera, ‘provocative’ literature and a special fieldtrip the teacher discovers that he has more to learn from his students than they could ever learn from him.

The second narrative defends the teaching of popular music in the classroom through the issue of steel drum teaching and respect for the music it can generate. Without espousing an ‘anything goes’ philosophy the author believes nevertheless that there is a prevalent prejudice amongst music educators that discourages popular music as a mode of proper‚ music instruction either in performance or other modes of music education. This active form of elitism which discriminates against popular music can be traced back to at least 2500 years ago in western culture, is motivated by a belief in the superiority of one’s own musical tastes, an intolerance of other people’s predilection for popular music and an ignorance of its historical evolution. The suppression of popular music is a form of tyranny that victimizes its adherents and practitioners into a position of inferiority and helplessness. Patronizing it without an authentic understanding of its potential in music education can be just as damaging to its followers as the active suppression of it. Two personal narratives will demystify these notions of elitism and tyranny of popular music and reveal a strategy of teaching that allows for both popular music and the opera as an authentic inclusion in all curriculums of music education.


Yaroslav Senyshyn was a prize pupil of the late and great teacher Antonina Yaroshevich Manko, who also taught Larysa Kuzmenko a Composer-in-Residence with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Yaroshevich’s musical education stemmed from the great pedagogue, Felix Blumenfeld, who in turn was Vladimir Horowitz’s teacher at the fabled Kiev Conservatory, Ukraine. Senyshyn also studied Damjana Bratuz, Howard Munn, Clifford von Kuster, Katharina Wolpe, and Pierre Souverain. Senyshyn is an exponent of the grand tradition of piano playing. Georgetown University Radio Featured Senyshyn in a documentary program about Canadian pianists, including Glenn Gould, Louis Lortie and Anton Kuerti. Senyshyn is described as a pianist of “enormous power” and “sophistication” (Washington Post) and for his “originality” and “creativity” (New York Times).

In addition to his concert activities, Senyshyn is Professor of Aesthetic and Moral Philosophy at Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Education. He publishes extensively in international journals such as the Philosophy of Music Education Review, Musica-Realta, Interchange, Journal of Educational Thought, Educational Leadership, Canadian Journal of Education, and other publications. His book The Artist in Crisis was written to inspire all musical performers and artists alike who are in danger of quitting their musical art. Senyshyn often performs with his wife, Susan O’Neill-Senyshyn, the internationally acclaimed scholar and virtuoso flautist. Their collaborations include concerts in aid of providing education for the homeless. Yaroslav Senyshyn is a Steinway Artist.

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