While many teachers may have words which inspire them, the life, teaching and research of School of Music professor and choral conductor Adam Con are all guided by an apparently simple motto: “Music is more than notes in motion; music is notes in emotion.”
But as with every motto, there’s more going on here than first meets the eye. “It’s all about being comfortable with the uncomfortable,“ Con explains. “All things are living, like language is living. Music is the same—you adjust to the moment, how the emotions are affecting you, how the music is working or not working. In Western culture, we think of music being static notes on the page, that we practice them to make them perfect and then perform them, and that’s it. But that doesn’t really make good music.”
A leader in music education
A passionate advocate for music education, Con was appointed principal investigator in June 2019 for the National Study on the Status of Music Education in Canada. Sponsored by six national organizations—the Canadian Coalition for Music Education, Canadian Music Educators Association, Music Canada, Music Counts, People of Education and the Canadian Arts Network—the new study will be the largest in Canadian history.
“This involves music education, music industry, arts, music and music education advocacy, and government at all levels,” he explains. “This study has been in the planning for three years, in what will be their largest undertaking and collaboration project involving research teams in all 10 provinces and three territories.”
Dr Adam Con leading a performance of public school student at the BC Legislature in May 2019 (photo: Kristy Farkas)
Combining science & spirit
In addition to being a leader in the advocacy for music education, Con conducts the UVic Chorus, teaches a variety of music ed courses, has served as the acting Associate Dean for the Faculty of Fine Arts and is a respected teacher of choral conducting and Tai Chi Chuan.
A third-generation Chinese Canadian, his holistic approach to choral music uses a unique blend of kinesthetic whole-body movement and Eastern philosophy to inspire singers of all ages in mind, body and spirit. Con also combines both his Tai Chi Chuan practice and neuroscience research in his choral work.
“The richness of life is about connecting with other people, and finding your common interests,” Con says. “It’s more than about working across disciplines, it’s about thinking beyond our own expertise. How we intersect allows us to find answers to questions that are elusive to us and our society. ”
The golden elixir
Con expounded on his practice and research at one of the Dean’s Lecture in February 13, 2015. Hosted by UVic Continuing Studies, his free presentation—The Three Components of the Golden Elixir: Mirror Neurons, Tai Chi Chuan and Choral Singing—explained how he combines and applies his research in those three key elements to provide a powerful elixir fostering a better quality of life.
“It’s all about the flow and balance of harmony, the energy between a singer and conductor as we pass it back and forth,” he says. “The energy relates to how sounds are conveyed, so there’s a connection to what the singer emotes to the audience. My area of research is how neuroscience relates to motor neurons: how the human brain basically fires its synapses as a singer watches a conductor, and a conductor manipulates a singer’s brain, because it’s firing based on what actions they view . . . it’s in that creative process the magic happens.”
Learning new things is one of the things Con likes best about the academic environment. “The richness of life is about connecting with other people, and finding your common interests,” he concludes. “It’s about the bigger questions in life—it’s more than about working across disciplines, it’s about thinking beyond our own expertise. How we intersect allows us to find answers to questions that are elusive to us and our society. It’s that constant openness to the possibility and the chance to see what serendipity can bring to the experience.”