Read the Episode Denise Gagne, Part 1



Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast – Episode 29.
In the second half of my talk with Denise Gagne, we talk about people that have influenced her in her life professionally and personally. There are some lovely stories, you’re going to love listening to this. You’ll also have the treat of listening to her nuggets of fabulous, seriously, I could listen to Denise all day. Sit back and enjoy this episode.

If you missed part 1, click here to read it!

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 029 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.

Episode 29 “Read the Episode” Transcript

All right, let’s talk about people who have been influential in your life professionally or personally or both. And I imagine there’s loads of people you’ve worked with that you would admire and respect and love. So it’s a bit hard I think this question, but is there anyone that sticks out here?

Influential People in Your Life

Denise Gagne
There is a few I would say number one would be Lois Choksy. She did the Kodály levels in Calgary, I did my first year while I was pregnant with my youngest and then he was a difficult little guy. I was scared to leave him alone with his father so I didn’t go back for five years to do my second year. But it was really, really good. And I was so glad that I had that time to kind of process what I’ve learned in the Kodály level one. And then I did my level two and level three, my last year was the year that she retired. So significant influence on my teaching.

And in the Orff world, Jos Wuytack, I did introductory Orff with him, he was an amazing musician, and teacher. And then when I did my Orff levels in Kentucky, I did them with Cindy Hall and Jay Broeker. And those two again, I think were amazing, amazing influences in in my teaching.

Yes. Great. And that’s interesting, the way that you have married those two approaches too. The philosophical approaches, was it difficult to you think? Or did it feel fairly natural to you to use both philosophies at once?

Denise Gagne
With both philosophies, there’s more similarities than differences. When you dig into the Orff approach, if you read through Exploring Orff or any of those other books, they sequence very much like Kodály, I think, in practice many Orff teachers don’t do that, but I think the Kodály strength is in the sequencing of instruction. And I love that that fits my teaching style really, really well.

But what I loved was the Orff insistence on creating and giving the students ownership of the music, and now I’ve gone from being a band conductor, where I conduct the band, we put music in front of them, and they play and I fix their mistakes, to me being a facilitator and saying what other ways could you think to try this? Can you think of another way, another set of sounds that we could use for this?

And it’s been a really big shift in my mindset, when I go into a classroom now, I don’t want them to just perform a piece of music well, that I want to teach them. I want them to create their own and that’s huge I think. I’m, I would say marrying Orff and Kodály is still very much a work in progress. And I think we all struggle with it, those of us that have had the training in both, but I see such huge value in both approaches. And I couldn’t do just one of them. And I think Musicplay actually marries really well as well.

Really interesting. Yes. What do you think? For what are you most grateful?

For What Are You Most Grateful?

Denise Gagne
Most definitely the people who have helped me along this journey, Leanne Holloway, she’s our business manager. And she was the babysitter of my difficult little five-year-old, my youngest. And she loved him and he loved her. And when she moved close to me and we would walk together in the evenings. And when I first started publishing, and all of a sudden, I’m teaching full time and I’ve got all these orders in my mailbox, because that’s how they were ordered at that time back 27 years ago, I couldn’t deal with it. And I said, Do you know anybody who’s done Simply Accounting or done any accounting and knows anything about it and she said, Well, I have. So she started helping me invoice and she has been working at my side ever since then.

And then I have to say Morgan McKee is number two on this list because he was 18 years old. He was doing a gap year between his graduation from high school and when he went to Berklee in Boston and did recording engineering and he recorded the ladies choir I was singing in and I went to him after and said, Do you think you could do some recordings for me? And again, 30 years later, we’re still working together. He’s working full time in the business. He’s our full time recording engineer and he’s just an amazingly talented musician.

So I would say Leanne and Morgan and there’s probably others, that I’m not going to go to think of that have been huge mentors, I was really fortunate to learn Finale early on. And that difference, so I was teaching in this little town middle of nowhere Saskatchewan with 1000 people. And there was a competition, the Saskatchewan Band Association held a competition and the school that won the composite competition would get a resident composer for a year. And so I thought, okay, resident composer, I got every child in my school to write a composition.

So grade ones, I can’t remember what they did. It was a rhythm composition, my band students have to write 32 bars for their instrument. I have one band student who said Miss Gagne this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in school. And it made me realise, ooh, we haven’t been doing enough creating and composing. But I have this big package of compositions that I sent off to the contest. And we won.

So we have this resident composer for a year who had come from Berkeley in Boston, and was very technologically savvy, and he guided me to buying my first computer, which was a Mac S30, with a screen about this big. And I think it had like 64 megabytes of memory, like it was something ridiculously small. I bought a laser printer. And he taught me how to use Finale and if it wasn’t for him, I would have never started publishing and self publishing materials, because he really helped me along the way in that Finale process.

Wow. So good isn’t it.

Denise Gagne
So lots of happy accidents along the way.

Yeah, yeah, happy accidents, but also by the sound of it, things or opportunities that that you made the most of. So it’s not just the fact they happened. It’s the fact that you welcomed them and ran with them. You know?

Denise Gagne
Yeah. I think if I had a gift, I really feel like I’m the jack of all musical trades. And really the master of none. I know so many people who are much better choral directors than I am, and many people that are much better band directors than I am. But I’ve had my finger in so many pies. And having taught K-12 was really good, because you could see, I could see where I wanted those kids to be before I started them in instrumental music. And so this jack of all trades, master of none, I feel like I’ve gone a long, long ways on a little bit of talent and a lot of hard work and seeing opportunities where where they arise.

There’s crazy things that I’ve done and they’ve worked. For example, when I taught my first year Elementary in Red Deer, Alberta, Baker community, a fax came through. So this was about 30 years ago, a fax came through and it said International Children’s Composition Contest in Japan, send your entries here. And I thought you know we could do this. So I got my daughter, who is nine to write a little song and we sent it in, we won a trip to Japan. It was amazing. It was absolutely amazing. So Alison, and I got to go to this International Children’s Music Competition.

And she sang as a nine year old in front of a big huge audience in Tachikawa, Japan. Other things that came along, in 1999 I found out about Rotary group study exchanges, our local district was inviting people to apply and I was a little over the age limit. They’re 25 to 35. And I said well, I’m 35 with a little experience, can I still apply and I really wanted to do it.

So I had deferred salary leave, I had the time off from school to do it because I’d done deferred salary and I got a trip with Rotary International for a month to Peru. I knew no Spanish. I knew two words when I applied. I studied, I listened, I practiced in the car, every chance I got and I could actually make terrible conversations with people in Spanish. And it was the best experience ever. And they took us to lots of beautiful folkloric experiences, which again, I wish we had the cell phone thing back in 1999. But those are opportunities that other people might not want to take advantage of, I did.

Now for whom I’m grateful I should really add my husband because he stayed home with three children in Saskatchewan so I could do my Kodály levels. And he stayed home with three children for a month when I went to Peru and he’s never complained about all the traveling that I do, he just says doh. Sometimes he comes along if I’m going to a really good place and most of the time he’s just happy to stay home and let me deal with airports and things.

That’s so lovely. That is so lovely. That’s such a lovely story makes feel all good inside. Alright, so now we’re going to give our listeners your nuggets of fabulous. So Denise Gange’s nuggets of fabulous. They could be anything, they could be something from Musicplay or they could be just general ideas. Strategies, resources, a few things that you think our listeners might be able to go, ooh, that’s a good idea I’m going to go and try that next week.

Nuggets of Fabulous

Denise Gagne
One of the things that I’ve always been in love with is singing games. And this, of course, comes from the Kodály tradition, and I use those in Orff ways to springboard to create, but I’ve always felt that in K, 1, 2, 3 there should be at least one singing game per class. So I’ve spent my career finding the ones that kids really and truly love. Cut the cake, they all love that. Doggy, doggy, where’s your bone and I found ways to play these games that they go fast. Kids don’t get restless in the guessing games. But I really and truly love the singing games. And I think everybody should try in K-3 at least, to have a singing game every period and that should be a part of everybody’s teaching. I never did a lot with classical music listening until about 2000. And that ISME conference in Edmonton had a contest where if you entered in one, you got 30 tickets to see the Edmonton symphonies performance for children. So of course Denise is a contest enterer. I entered and I won.

You sure are.

Denise Gagne
So we had tickets for a whole grade five class, but we had two grade five classes in the school so the parent council paid for the second one, and we took a school bus up to Edmonton. And to prepare them for that performance. I decided to do listening stuff in my classes, and I go, whoo, I have not ever done enough listening. I think since then, I’ve just explored how we can make classical music, something that kids request.

And so now, I think my very, very favourite listening example is The Swan from Carnival of the Animals. It’s over three minutes long, I couldn’t hold kids attention if I just wanted them to listen and answer questions. But you put paper plates in their hands, and you do beautiful movement to it. And you’ve got the kids right here asking to do it again, ribbons, scarves, manipulative, and that has become again, that’ some of the nuggets that I would absolutely encourage people to use props in their listening.

I know there are famous teachers out there that don’t recommend doing it and I think it’s because they’re a little lazy and don’t want to hand stuff out. But the kids are so engaged, and they’re not scared to move when there are scarves or there are plates or older kids were doing cup games. So that’s that’s a nugget of fabulous. I’ve learned so much from Artie Almeida. She’s an amazing teacher and we should get her on your podcast.

I plan to, I’ve already messaged her.

Denise Gagne
She was lovely. She has some sayings, she called some Artieisms. And one of my favourites is it’s not hard, it’s just new and that one I’ve used over and over again. And I find myself now using more of her little Artieisms. You can’t be great if you can’t audiate, things like that, that are really good.

One thing Artie and I have talked about, and in keeping our lessons and managing behaviours, and they’re certainly not better now than they were 40 years ago. They’re far worse than they’ve ever been. One of the things we do is we pace really, really quickly. And the tougher the class, the faster my pacing, so they don’t have time to get wiggly and restless. It’s just boom, boom, boom.

I taught my granddaughter’s classes last spring, it was the first time I was allowed back in schools since COVID. And the one class was first stick in the morning and I have a nice slow, gentle pace. They were such good listeners. So well behaved Then my other granddaughter, they’re twins, and so that the other twin came in right before lunch and as soon as the kids walk in, I’m looking at the classroom teacher and I’m going and he’s gone and this is his toughest class of the week, he had a kid sitting under his desk, and he said, It’s okay, he’s there because that’s his safe place.

And with that class, I did the same activities but in high gear, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And they did everything. And they got the same lesson, but at a way different pace. And yeah, I always say with little ones you sit, stand, play instruments, repeat, sit, stand, play instruments repeat, so that you’re just constantly shifting gears for the younger the class is, the more activities you have to have planned.

And you need some activities in your back pocket that you can pull out when you’ve got a class that’s restless. So some of those activities might be fingerplays. Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, whoops, Johnny, whoops. Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, I’d like to see your name. Would you like it fast or slow? Let’s say Debbie, fast or slow?


Denise Gagne
Debbie. Debbie, Debbie, whoops, Debbie. Whoops, Debbie, Debbie, Debbie, Debbie. And I can go around the whole class in about two minutes. Practice all their names, and it’s having those little fingerplays in my in my back pocket that I can pull out and strategies for the older kids, I might help them do hands down, first line, second line, third line, fourth line, fifth line, space, space, space space, those kinds of things that you can pull out and keep them engaged when you might be losing them.

Absolutely amazing. And I just I resonate so much with what you say. It’s wonderful, but you are so right. And those nuggets are fabulous, are truly fabulous. Now we’ll change gear again, a little bit advocacy, and selling the community on the importance of your program. Just wondering if you have any advice for other music educators around this? Now I’m assuming it’s similar in many parts of the world, but we definitely here in Queensland are fighting harder than we have ever had to fight before. We’ve been fairly lucky having world-leading programs here since the 70s, with qualified music educators, and I won’t go down that little rabbit hole, but I’ll just say generally, and across Australia, it’s a little bit patchy. How do you suggest that music educators sell the importance of their program, and it’s okay, like I don’t need to sell how important it is to you or to the people that are on the Crescendo email list. In fact, just this morning, I sent a link to an article that you know, but I’m actually preaching to the converted you know. So how do we get to other people to convince them of the importance of what we do?

Music Education Advocacy

Denise Gagne
So this is a tough one, because I think number one, your your best advocates are going to be the parents of the kids in your school. And if you are running a really solid program and a really good program, and you take every opportunity you can to show off the wonderful things you’re teaching those students, those parents will be aware of it and they will be the fighters to keep that in your schools. If your program is a little bit weak, and you’re having difficulty connecting with your students, then I think you’ve got a tougher sell.

So I think number one is as educators, we have to look honestly at what we’re doing in the classrooms, and we have to do it really well. And we have to do it in a way that parents go, I want music in my school.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter is teaching in a school near Calgary that didn’t have a music teacher before she came. And they hadn’t had a music teacher for five or six years. She came in and she’s a phenomenal teacher. She’s such a good music teacher, the very first Christmas concert, she’s well organised, the kids performed beautifully. The parents loved it. And parent council came to her after and said we want to give you $5,000. You can do whatever you want with it. And they have given her that for budget every year since. She’s not having to go out and advocate because she’s presenting a product that those parents want to have and they want to have it continue beyond that.

When I’ve gotten the opportunity to speak to school boards. I try and come in with a little bit of a fun music thing that we’ve done in class, for example Hot Cross Buns. Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns. I did this in a school board meeting and then I said now lets do it the way we would do it with the kids. Every time you hear the word cross, you cross your arms, then you go hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns. And then I made them partner and do it with a partner. And they’re all laughing and they’re struggling. And I go, this is what music does for your kids. It makes them think it makes them listen, it makes them communicate. It makes them cooperate.

And so I think you have to be proactive in showing the benefits that music can do any opportunity you get. But first of all, you have to have a good program, sell it to your admin, sell it to your parents, because you’re doing such a great job they can’t imagine their school being without you.

I love it. That is fabulous advice, Denise. Thank you. And before we end this chat, mind you, I just almost everything you’ve said I want to just expand on but you know, we’ll do this again. We’ll have a more in depth on one or two topics. So before we sign off, I’d like to give you the chance to get on your soapbox. So I’d like you to just tell the world something that’s really important for you to say.

Get on Your Soapbox

I think with what’s going on in the world today, with all the divisive politics, both in Canada and in the US, with wars that shouldn’t be happening in other parts of the world. I think we need any of us who are working with children, we really need to try and build character so that our children grow up to make really good choices. And we teach our children to be good people.

I have a song called A Wish for Peace, and to me, it says everything that I want to say, I wish for you, I wish for me, I wish for all the world to live in harmony. And I’ll get teary eyed if I do any more of it. But really, I think through music, we can connect people that might be divided otherwise, and I think if we can do that, with our children, they’re going to grow up and be good people.

That’s beautiful Denise. Thank you so much for talking to us today.

Denise Gagne
This has been a real pleasure and I would love to do a webinar sometime with you where we zoom it and record it on the MusicplayOnline website because it’s my baby. And I would love to show the whole world how much fun it is to use it and what a good teaching tool it is. I do want to say I never ever want the website to replace a well trained classroom music teacher. It’s a tool for the well trained music teacher to use.

So I don’t want it to, edutainment is what I would say. But it’s it’s a great resource. And I hope we can meet again and talk a little bit about that. This has been really, really fun. I admire your work tremendously. You’re doing amazing things and you keep advocating for the programs in Queensland and yes, I really love what you do too.

Thank you so much and we’ll lock it in fact, we’ll do a series on using Musicplay.

Denise Gagne

That would be amazing. Okay, so everyone, stay tuned for that. And thank you so much Denise Gagne, bye.

Denise Gagne
Okay. Thanks so much. Bye bye.

I appreciate you and all of my colleagues, and hope this episode has been enjoyable and useful. Don’t forget, you’ll find the show notes on I’d love a share rate or review to help other music educators find this podcast. All I can be as the best version of me. All you can do is be the best you. Until next time, bye.

Sign Off

This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education, connecting, supporting, and inspiring music educators. You’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms in the show notes. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member. You can access hundreds of files, worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops, and webinars for a low annual fee and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me, Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.

Just for Laughs

As we know laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.

You don’t know why you can’t hear a pterodactyl go to the toilet, don’t you? It’s because the pee is silent.

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