When Jonathan MacInnis was in high school at Charlottetown Rural he looked to his band teacher, Allie McCrady, for inspiration.
“He just made his job look like so much fun” Mr MacInnis said.
Mr MacInnis played saxophone but also got to try out the bass guitar, congas, drums and was even permitted to direct the jazz band.
“He let me have those opportunities to see what it was like a little tiny bit, without having to do any of the real work. Just the fact that I could stand in front of the band and direct it in high school was pretty cool.”
Now, Mr MacInnis is inspiring his own students at Montague Intermediate School. Over his eight years teaching, the band has grown from 30 students to 140 - just about half the student population.
“He was able to make music cool. Make the band program cool,” vice principal Luanne Inman said.
“He plays in a number of bands himself, he just exudes musicality and is just able to draw the best out of our music students. They want to please him, they want to do well.
“Once you find out that something is fun and cool, you want to be a part of it. It’s great to hear at the beginning of September the Grade 7s, they’re just having trouble getting air through the mouthpiece. Then by Christmas they’re playing songs, it’s amazing.”
“It’s super rewarding to see them go from zero to hero by Christmas,” Mr MacInnis said. “And to see them by the end of Grade 9, it just blows your mind. You put any piece of music at that level in front of them, and they sound quite competent.”
The students and staff at MIS aren’t the only ones who think highly of him, as Mr MacInnis received the Educator of the Year award at the Music PEI awards where he received a standing ovation.
Mr MacInnis also plays in three bands outside of school, the Charlottetown Jazz Ensemble, More Soul and Groove Company. He’s taking jazz arrangement lessons and is writing his first big band score, with the aim of having it performed by the jazz ensemble. “They don’t really know that yet … I think they’ll be kind enough to play it,” he said.
He feels practical experience influences his teaching.
“I’ll be giving an example in jazz band, I’ll say, you can’t just play this wishy-washy. You have to play this with confidence and conviction.”
His professional work also teaches kids they have to work hard if they want to make it in the industry.
“It’s perseverance that makes the difference,” he said.
The students also get a taste of the professional life when they go on tour to the feeder schools.
“They get to see what it’s like to not just play a song once. You work really hard and play a song once and if it doesn’t go well, it’s like, well, that’s over. It gives the songs a bit of life, it gives the students an appreciation of what touring musicians must feel like. The students play the song five times, imagine the Rolling Stones playing a song five million times.”
It takes a lot of work to get students to the level where they can perform, he said, but he wants them to be the best musicians they can.
“It’s constant. It’s insisting and persisting on the fundamentals. Today we spent half an hour on how to play one note, and the difference between how a mediocre player approaches the breath support and the note and even ending a note (versus a great player).”
Mr MacInnis isn’t afraid to be silly and joke around with his students, though. For example, just before getting his picture taken for this article he solicited the option of the girls in his Grade 8 class as to whether he should have his hair loose or in a ponytail.
But despite the obvious rapport with his students and Ms Inman’s thoughts that he made the program cool, Mr MacInnis insists the students simply love making music.
“It’s so project based. They find music class just flies by. It’s not because I’m some wicked awesome teacher, it’s because they’re doing something tangible and physical.
“You know what they’re capable of, and it’s finding that motivating factor and taking them from the realm of good to great.”