With the morning sun shining down on their smiling faces, a crowd of children clapped their hands and moved their feet to the sound of steel pans outside their Rosedale elementary school.
“It’s like something different, it’s like a break from all the hard work that we have to do, it’s something fun,” said Willa Scace, a Grade 3 student at Rosedale Junior Public School.
Steel pan has been taught for more than two decades at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) school.
Instructor Salmon Cupid runs the program at Rosedale and four other Toronto schools.
“Steel pan brings instant gratification when you’re playing… it brings such joy to them and their families,” Cupid said, following a nearly hour-long impromptu outdoor performance.
One of the children playing the steel pans graduated from the school and continues to play the instrument.
“I think everyone deserves to have an opportunity like this to play an instrument like this,” said Thomas Doyle.
WATCH: Rosedale school community outraged over steel pan music program cuts
The TDSB recently slashed funding for the itinerant music instructor (IMI) program at 227 schools. IMI includes instruction on steel pan, string instruments and band for students in grades 5 to 8.
The cut amounts to a 24 per cent reduction in funding for the hours of itinerant music instructors.
At Rosedale, however, the cut to the steel pan program was closer to 80 per cent because, as the TDSB explained to Global News, the school had a greater number of hours than others.
“In the case of Rosedale JPS, the number of IMI hours allocated was much higher than the system average and resulted in a larger reduction when compared to other schools,” executive superintendent Sandy Spyropoulos said in a letter sent home to parents.
Rosedale parent Sowmyaa Narayanan said the cuts would “decimate the program.”
“No one is really going to benefit from that,” Narayanan said.
For the families at Rosedale, any cut is too much for a beloved music program.
“It is the lifeblood of our school, it is the heart and soul of our school, it is something that is part of every school concert, it is part of every child’s life and the skills they build over the years here it is truly extraordinary,” explained school council co-chair Danny Nashman.
“Taking it away at an 80 per cent level is really taking it away completely in our minds.”
Dad Rui Torrao, who said his daughter has loved learning the instrument, said steel pan is “what makes Rosedale Junior School a particularly unique school.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to learn music, it’s a multicultural element to the school and Mr. Cupid is an amazing educator and teacher, so for us, steel pan is a key, integral part of the school.”
For Cupid, whose passion is teaching children steel pan, it’s been a difficult few weeks.
“One kid told me yesterday, ‘When are we going to have steel pan, Mr. Cupid?’ Then the other child said steel pan is broken and Mr. Cupid is going to fix it,” he recalled.
But the reality is the reduction in IMI hours is happening across the board as the TDSB grapples with a $67.8-million shortfall.
“We agree that the IMI program offers exceptional music programming and we are committed to fully supporting the program at Rosedale JPS for students in Grades 5 and 6,” Spyropoulos said in her letter. “At the same time, we are also committed to ensuring that as many TDSB students as possible, in as many schools as possible, have access to music programming.”
Outside school, Cupid is leading the children in a grand finale for parents, who are watching and cheering them on.
The students, from junior kindergarten up to Grade 6, are either clapping, singing, dancing or performing on the steel pans.
“Music has been scientifically proven tied to math, it’s been tied to science, it’s been tied to so many things. I mean, everybody has to do timing,” said Cupid. “A mechanic has to listen to your engine to hear the beat, your doctor listens to your heartbeat.
“Across the board, no matter what is your career, a good formation in music… It shows.”
A spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce told Global News that “course offerings are the sole decision of school boards.”
“Every student will be able to take courses in the arts. We have invested to protect specialized teachers and modernize the curriculum to improve competence in these vital courses,” Alexandra Adamo wrote.