Photo: Chelsea Pottage

Like a broken record

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Communities Editor Nicole Siena explores the role of music at Ryerson

Since Aleesia Stamkos was eight-years-old, she’s had two things on her mind— singing and dancing.

When it came time to choose between her two passions, she decided it would be Ryerson for its dance program.

After going back and forth from school to the recording studio, she got her big break in her second year with the national release of her first single to radio.

Last October, Alessia decided it was time to put 100 per cent of her effort into her music career. After much discussion with her instructors, deferring her degree would be the next big decision of her life. Studying music at Ryerson to pursue her career was never an option for her.

Offering music as a degree at the university has always been on the backburner of the university’s decision makers who say that at the moment it doesn’t fit the school’s image.

However, Ryerson is beginning to see new ways to incorporate music into its curriculum, ways that remain under debate and that have not yet been seen. In the meantime, Ryerson students are figuring out other ways to pursue music whether as a career or hobby.

Ryerson offers music courses through its philosophy and music department, but only 15 music courses were offered this year. A certificate is offered in Music: Global and Cultural Contexts also offered through the Chang School.

Most classes are sociology based, but some are known for giving occasional practical experience in composition.

As student Saad Rahman walks on campus, he is surprised to learn music isn’t a priority at the school. “I honestly didn’t know we didn’t have music program,” he says.

“A lot of people come to Ryerson for [artsy] programs. I feel like a music program would fit that niche of people,” said Rahman, a third-year business management student.

If students want to work on music outside of the classroom, there are few options. The Oakham House Societies has one musically-based student group called the Oakham House Choir.

There is also studio space available for any Ryerson program to book. The Rogers Communication Centre (RCC) operates a number of editing suites, media labs and recording studios. But even Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) Dean Gerd Hauck says they are not being utilized as effectively as they could be.

“[We should] use the space as much as we can without any ineffective transitions,” he said. “If [the suites] are available, then they’re available.”

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Fourth-year radio and television arts student Christine Montgomery says she tried to use the studios before, but there are many steps that need to be taken before anyone is allowed access into the studios if it’s not for a school project.

“Security, cost of infrastructure, damage, liability, scheduling,” are just a few of the things that need to be considered, says Hauck.

Academic coordinator for the Chang School of music and part-time lecturer for the philosophy and music department Paul Swoger-Ruston, sees a big talent pool and a lot of interest to get a more developed music community.

“I have students who were off touring and opening for bands in Europe during the summer,” he says.

“We need to tap into the talent that is at the school,” he adds. “It’s all about getting students out of their shells.” To jump-start the music community, Swoger-Ruston says that he’s always working on gathering students, even if it’s just in a music club so they can form friendships. It’s not without its difficulties.

“It’s just not well organized,” he says. “Our department only has two full-time faculty members.”

Rahman says he would consider starting his own club if he had more time. “I like electronic music, I’d definitely get involved if there was a club,” he says.

However, Hauck thinks there’s a misconception with the assumption that Ryerson is an artsy school. Because of this, “music hasn’t been in our radar.”

“It’s a broken record,” he says. While the school would like to do more, a new school isn’t practical. “It’s a lame excuse, but right.”

The only way a new department could be implemented was if Ryerson found a donor to fund it, which doesn’t happen very often he says. He also says that if more students came forward with interest, the school would be more compelled to organize a program. “The money goes where the butts go,” he says, but admits that funding is becoming scarcer.

While a school of music doesn’t look like it’s on the horizon for Ryerson, there are many different ways in which music can be studied. “We’re the faculty of creative industries,” says Hauck.

Ryerson’s programs are streamlined for a specific career, but are transferable. That’s why, according to Hauck, “we haven’t offered courses like drawing or music as liberal art.” When learning an art like music, he says, “you get so focused, you can’t think outside what you know.” Given how specialized a music degree is, it would be difficult for students to broaden their skills.

To reconcile the two worlds, he has ideas in mind to bring music into the school, but still have it fit Ryerson’s image. He’s scheduled a meeting with the Berklee College of Music in Boston to explore and discuss a mode of collaboration. “I’m interested in the aspect of digital music on art and media,” he says.

Since the talent spreads across faculties, Swooger-Rousten would want to see something collaborative across the university’s departments. For instance, there are groups of students who would be interested in helping out with something like a musical associated with the theatre school, he says.

Hauck said that if students wanted to collaborate between programs he would support it, specifically in terms of research and digital media in theatrical performances.

Montgomery also sees the need for collaboration. She says there is so much potential if Ryerson’s community realized it has the ability and resources to build the music community.

When she was having trouble using school resources to pursue her interest in sound, she looked into other outlets. Her interest in the idea and concept of sound, she says, is largely contributed to her experiences in the music classes she has taken at Ryerson.

This past summer Montegomery was reading an interview in a magazine with novelist David Mitchel and composer Brian Eno. “The interview explored so many interesting ideas about music and sound that I find really exciting. It made me think that I’d love to start a publication like the one I read the interview in.”

Montgomery, among other students, have taken it into their own hands to get students together to talk about music and started a quarterly music magazine to be released this October called Sound(‘)s Good.

“I don’t think I’m the only one who is interested in music at Ryerson,” she says. “Even if there is no well defined community or program of study for it. “

Maybe the lack of definition is a good thing she says. “In a way, [it’s] exciting because it means there’s more opportunity for students to come from the bottom up and help define what sound/music at Ryerson could be.”

Ryerson could have a strong hold, they just need to talk to create the community from the grass roots, she says.

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