Article by Lara-Sophie Boleslawsky
Photos by Noriko Nasu-Tidball and Lara Boleslawsky
I was inspired today.
It was a moment of contemplation, of beauty, and of the multi-faceted world around me. It was a break in the swirling world of facts, figures, due dates, and menial tasks. There seems no better way to describe art: a burst of meaning, filling in the gaps of an often gray-scaped world.
In a conversation with Donna-Faye Madhosingh, in the company of tea and the whistling trees, I learned about Donna-Faye’s initiative to bring ‘mindfulness’ into the wake of a learning environment. Her experience in the public school sector, post-secondary teaching environments, and most importantly her passion, were monumental factors in bringing this project to fruition.
Donna-Faye’s passion for music in the classroom has always been a driving force in her work. Earning her Masters in Music Education from the University of New Mexico, and her Doctorate from the University of British Columbia, Donna-Faye worked as a music teacher in multiple school districts in Vancouver and North Vancouver. Working both as a teacher and as a consultant in elementary schools, secondary schools and post-secondary institutions, Donna-Faye became more aware of the critical importance of teaching the arts in schools.
In particular, Donna-Faye’s work as Coordinator of Fine Arts for the Vancouver School Board allowed her to bring a voice into the already struggling arts and fine arts programs in schools.
“I like to advocate for the arts,” Donna-Faye tells me, adding that, “Art allows you to step back and see the bigger picture, which is important.”
As the afternoon continues, the conversation shifts to the significance of providing art as an outlet for students, especially in their elementary school years. A self-described “eclectic” (a truly remarkable and apt description), Donna-Faye’s knowledge of the arts is vast and inspiring. She exudes a grace in her every movement, and wisdom flows from her words. It is this valuable awareness that led her to co-develop her Music, Movement, and Mind(fullness) workshop for primary and intermediate teachers. The workshop provides “music and movement with mindful awareness to create a maximum appreciation of the overall music experience.”
Music in combination with movement is very important, as Donna-Faye remarks, “The children love to move. By fixing them in a seat we don’t get the best of them. And they need to have breaks. Our brain needs to have breaks.” Indeed, much of Donna-Faye’s personal research has revolved around “our brain needing breaks.” Donna-Faye continues, “The brain needs to relax. To let ideas flow, and neurons flow. To come up with these great ideas, you’re usually not sitting at a desk.”
Indeed, it was these revelations that sparked Donna-Faye’s proposition to include ‘mindfulness’ in the workshop for teachers. “It’s through concentrating, focusing and relaxing that students learn more efficiently. It also lowers stress.”
I begin to ponder about the role of arts and mindfulness. Ideas and creativity stem from a mindful environment, and reminds us that anyone has the capacity to be an artist. Arms thrown open wide, the arts are founded on inclusivity, on an openness, unhindered by social, economic, or political boundaries. Mindfulness offers itself as a key, opening up the potentials of our young minds.
And yet, Donna-Faye’s workshop serves as a reminder that mindfulness and movement can merge with music, as Donna-Faye tells me, “Often when I need to think about something, I feel I need to go for a walk. It’s here where all the ideas come.” When we move, it stimulates and opens up a space to reflect. Walks can do that, running, swimming, but especially dancing. Donna-Faye observes, “We are always vibrating. Especially when we hear music. And sometimes you hear a piece of music and the vibrations don’t suit you, sometimes they do.”
But Donna-Faye’s advocacy is not without challenges: “Sometimes, not everyone is on board. Sometimes there are people who don’t believe in the arts, or don’t believe in a liberal education.” And yet, this only spurs Donna-Faye to keep going as she tells me, “You just go do it. You use your experiences and you just go do it.”
I probed further, asking about ways to problem-solve. Donna-Faye reasons, “You can try to get advocates to work with you. To bring people, especially teachers, on board with you.” And yet, Donna-Faye is astute, always aware that the biggest hindrances are time and effort,
“It’s enormous work. It takes time and the burnout of music teachers in the United States is age 40,” adding, “You’re working against all kinds of barriers. And sometimes people get fed up.”
Despite these issues, Donna-Faye notes, “If I’m achieving my goal, I’m happy. I’m not there to be appreciated. I don’t need that. I’m there to give the kids experiences.” These experiences are critical, especially when considering the significance of music and art as therapy. What seems at surface level to be singing and games, forges a deeper current of understanding; understanding of ourselves, our hopes, our fears, our diverse makeup and the primacy of emotions that make us who we are. “Because you’re passionate about your art, you just do it. I’m one of those people who is hard-headed and I feel strongly about it,” Donna-Faye maintains.
It’s a passion that stems from her eclectic background. “I’ve never been one-dimensional,” Donna-Faye remembers, “My parents, they had me in dance, in music, playing piano. My parents valued the arts.” Recalling her own music teachers, Donna-Faye smiles and tells me, “I had good teachers. It wasn’t that they were particularly nice. But they were good teachers. I remember whenever a teacher would tell me to stop and singled me out, I would think, ‘Oh boy, a free individual lesson!’ Other people would tell ask me how I felt about the teacher picking on me, and I never thought that that was the case. It’s a free lesson, a way to improve.” Donna-Faye’s unique perspective evokes an appreciation for the art of learning. Imparting wisdom is not always easy. It requires diligence and hard-work on behalf of the teacher and student. It is a reciprocity that Donna-Faye highlights as she points out, “The students carry the information with them. Then, they can do with it what they wish. Some of them may even use it later on when they become teachers themselves.”
Small spaces of mindfulness need only be opened for the sake of creativity. We seek meaning in an often chaotic universe to find a better sense of ourselves. That arts provide us with a path to find that meaning. While it may not be a change we can implement overnight, arts education has value, and it continues to be due to advocates such as Donna-Faye. As I emerge from our conversation, I realize suddenly, how inspiration comes from open-minded contemplation. And so I ask you:
What inspired you today?