HBMus, BEd, RMT, As. Mus. Ped.
Master Kindermusik Educator
A Song in My Heart!
My musical education began at First Baptist Church in Thunder Bay where I grew up singing in the Junior Choir and then the Senior Choir. Marcella Smithers was the music director at the time, and I was exposed to wonderful singing and organ playing! I started piano lessons at age 8, but quit in boredom two years later. Then I heard Cat Stevens on the radio playing “Morning Has Broken” and knew that I just had to be able to play that song! Fortunately, my new teacher, Gayle Stenlund, was wise enough to ask this 13 year old what she wanted to play. After “Morning Has Broken” was handily mastered, she handed me a book of Chopin waltzes, told me to play through them and tell her which ones I’d like to learn. Then she did the same with a volume of Mozart Sonatas.
I eventually received my Music Pedagogue with the Western Conservatory of Music (now Conservatory Canada). In high school, inspired by the Moodie Blues’ song “Nights in White Satin”, I took the flute and played in the Hammarskjold Band. I always did music for fun, never really thinking I would make a career in teaching music.
So I majored in English at Lakehead University, received my Bachelor of Education (Primary Junior Specialization) and embarked upon a teaching career.
Quest for the Best!
I began teaching at an independent elementary school, Thunder Bay Christian School, upon graduating from Lakehead. Music was a priority in the school’s curriculum, and it fell to me to teach music from Kindergarten to Grade 8. All that singing, piano playing and sheer joy of music making now had a place to be shared!
I soon realized that I needed more skills to be able to teach music to children. I designed my own self-styled Masters of Music Education by seeking out the best teachers who were leading the way in their respective fields of music education. I studied the Orff-Schulwerk philosophy with Dr. Jos Wytack at the University of Alberta. “Orff” features the importance of beginning with the body and voice to explore improvisation with non-pitched percussion (like drums, triangles, etc.) and pitched percussion (like xylophones and glockenspiels), creative movement, folk dancing, and singing.
I went to St. Thomas University to study the philosophy of Zoltan Kodaly, which features music literacy through singing and the importance of the heritage of world folksongs. I studied Dalcroze with Dr. Robert Abramson at Hamline University which stresses the importance of using the body to internalize musical concepts such as steady beat and syncopation before applying these concepts to instruments.
Each summer I traveled to learn more – Hartt School of Music for early childhood music with Dr. John Feirebend, Phyllis Weikart at High Scope Music for Education through Movement – Building the Foundation, plus many more wonderful instructors and courses.
TBSO Family Concerts!
Along the way I also studied story telling with music. This provided a jumping off point for me to create fourteen world premiere interactive programs which have been featured in the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra Family Concerts.
I co-founded the Thunder Bay Children’s Chorus in 1995, and the Thunder Bay Youth Choir in 2006. Studies with Helen Kemp, Joan Gregoryk, among others, helped me to become an enthusiastic children’s choral conductor.
“Miss Susan’s Marvellous Melody Makers” (so named by the choristers!) was founded in 2012 for all children ages 8 and up who love to sing.
Music at Lakehead University
Meanwhile, I chipped away at my Honours Bachelor of Music at Lakehead University, studying voice with Mary McGhee. I had taken my first music course there in 1979, and affectionately refer to my music degree as the “25 Year Plan” which I proudly completed in 2004!
Canada’s First Kindermusik Studio!
I started the first Kindermusik studio in Canada in 1986, here in Thunder Bay. My growing studio meant that eventually I left Thunder Bay Christian School in order to do what I loved best – sharing the joy of music with families. My studio has been recognized as one of the leading music studios worldwide by Kindermusik International, and I am one of only fifteen Master Kindermusik Educators.
I have been a teacher trainer for Kindermusik International, a Faculty Associate at Lakehead University’s Faculty of Education teaching Primary/Junior Music, and a clinician for Confederation College, Ontario Early Years Centres, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Thunder Bay Public Libraries, Thunder Bay District Health Unit, Fort William and Longlac 58 First Nations, and the Lakehead Board of Education.
Not Just for Children!
A few years ago, one of my Kindermusik parents (a medical doctor) commented to me, “Thank you for giving me the confidence to be a Mom.” Suddenly I realized that what I was doing in my studio was more than music education – it was parent education! Now my programs are conscientiously directed at helping parents learn more about their children’s development and how to make deep and lasting connections with their children using music as the vehicle. It’s still about the music, but it’s much more than that. It’s about you and your child celebrating and deepening the special bond between you.
I would love your family’s journey to join mine. Together we will help your child to build the foundation to become the caring, capable, competent person she or he can be. And have a whole lot of fun treasuring moments along the way!