Adam Con looks to rebalance the scales of music education

To paraphrase the poet Longfellow, music may well be our universal language, but how it’s traditionally taught in our schools no longer speaks to students in a multicultural society. That’s why School of Music professor Adam Con is looking to rebalance the musical scales.

“We need to broaden the perspective of how and what we’re teaching,” he says. “We have to honour the past, but we also have to move forward by ensuring students see their own cultures reflected.”

Dr. Con, co-head of UVic’s music education program and principal investigator of the National Study on the Status of Music Education, says he believes we can build a better society by integrating concepts of access, equity, diversity and inclusion (AEDI) into every school’s music classroom and ensemble—a difficult task as the study revealed vast disparities between provinces’ approaches to music education.

“At UVic, we’re teaching students that when they create music together, they become a community,” he says. “We’re actually teaching life—music just happens to be the vehicle.”

Education rooted in experience

Con’s AEDI concerns are not only core to his teaching—including 15 years in the K-12 system as well as his role as Choral Canada’s national chair of AEDI—but are also rooted in his experiences growing up in Vancouver.

“None of my music teachers looked like me … they were all white,” he says, adding, “I’ve recognized I can be one small piece of the representation puzzle: people see me and hopefully see possibilities in themselves.”

Putting an AEDI lens on music education means reframing how it’s taught, with an emphasis on process over performance. While Con’s research revealed there’s no single solution, essential steps forward include diversifying cultural partnerships to include Indigenous ways of knowing and being, and expanding the musical portfolio that’s taught to better reflect Canada’s multicultural makeup.

“People tend to think about this lens by colour—what you can see—but sometimes it’s more about what you don’t see,” says Con.

While the Western tradition places emphasis on reading sheet music, many cultures learn by ear, and that’s where access and inclusion become important. “When we only teach music for music’s sake, we start to exclude people,” he explains.

A groundbreaking conference

This shift in approach was at the core of the groundbreaking inter-faculty collaboration led by Dr. Anita Prest in the Faculty of Education and Dr. Steven Capaldo and Con in the Faculty of Fine Arts, with grateful contributions of Indigenous partners. The Indigenizing Music Education conference held in May at UVic was attended by more than 200 people and was an essential next step after research revealed the need to include First Peoples Principles of Learning in the curriculum.

“We’ve never had music educators, Indigenous cultural bearers and knowledge keepers from all of BC’s 60 school districts together before.”

Con says he realizes that more research and a long-term approach are needed to adopt an AEDI approach and decolonize the reliance on Western classical music. “Once our students start teaching in the public school system and are able to make a difference, it could be another five or 10 years before we see significant change,” he says. “But we plant the seeds and put our hope into our students.”

Advocating AEDI into music education reflects UVic’s commitment to quality education as articulated in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.


Edgewise: find out more

  • With financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Indigenizing Music Education conference, Everything is Connected: Songs, Relationships and Indigenous Worldviews, featured eight partner organizations: the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, BC Ministry of Education (Indigenous Branch), BC Music Educators’ Association, School Districts 61 (Victoria) and 83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap), Pacific Opera, University of British Columbia and UVic.

  • It focused on developing respectful relationships and exploring ways to embed Indigenous ways of knowing and being into BC music education classes in ways that are culturally appropriate to each school district. “This was a historic event,” says Con. “We had spontaneous drumming and sharing of songs, as well as critical conversations about decolonizing music education.” Next steps? Developing local relationships with First Nations peoples in every district and expanding the conversation nationally.
  • UVic is one of only two Canadian universities supported by Ontario’s Don Wright Foundation through a $1-million, one-time endowment to the School of Music, focused specifically on music education.
  • A recent report on music education in Canadian schools found that only one in three had a specialized or certified music education teacher on staff and that, over the past decade, music education funding has decreased while student participation in music programs has increased.


This story originally appeared on June 26, 2022, as part of UVic’s KnowlEDGE research series in the Times Colonist 

South Asian Art History Student Symposium

Interested in exploring the fascinating history of South Asian art? Don’t miss the South Asian Art History Student Symposium, hosted by our Department of Art History & Visual Studies.

Join leading and emerging historians of South Asian art history as they present research on diverse topics from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh running from the ancient to contemporary eras.

This free hybrid event runs from 10am to 5:30pm on Saturday, June 4 in room 103 of the Fine Arts building, but can also be viewed online via Zoom.

Keynote speaker Rebecca Brown

Schedule of events:

  • Welcome coffee: 9:30am
  • Plenary talk with Dr Dulma Karunarathna: 10:20am
  • Keynote/Orion talk with Dr Rebecca Brown on “Modern Ecologies: KCS Paniker’s Painted Gardens”: 1:00pm

All are welcome to attend!

Thanks to our partners for this event, including UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts, the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives and the Centre for Global Studies.

Creative Futures: Documenting the Climate Crisis

Creative Futures:
Dean’s Speaker Series

“Documenting the
Climate Crisis”

With Sean Holman, Colin Malloy & Paul Walde

Moderated by Dennine Dudley

12:30pm (PST) Thursday, May 26, 2022

Online webinar 

Free & open to the public via Zoom

Register here

Presented by UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts

The climate crisis is one of the most urgent problems of our time, and the arts can play a vital role in helping people better understand its impact. This moderated panel discussion will explore current work aimed at documenting the impact of the climate crisis, and how Fine Arts artists, scholars and researchers are responding with innovative and compelling ideas. Audience Q&A to follow.

This session features moderator Dennine Dudley (instructor, “Environmental Art”, Art History & Visual Studies), 2022 Ocean Networks Canada artist-in-residence Colin Malloy (PhD candidate, School of Music), Crookes Professor in Environmental & Climate Journalism Sean Holman (Writing), sound & visual artist Paul Walde (professor, Visual Arts). 

“The arts have a central role to play in motivating the average citizen to not only care about the climate crisis but also take action,” says Fine Arts Dean Allana Lindgren. “Sustainability and climate change touch people in an emotional way, so action in this area by us has potential to spur action that, say, scientific reports will not. We have no shortage of faculty members who are doing fascinating work when it comes to sustainability, the environment and the climate crisis.”

About Creative Futures

This continuing Dean’s Speaker Series was established in 2021 by Dean Allana Lindgren to showcase the scholarly and artistic efforts of professors, instructors and graduate students in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Each year we will present two sessions (fall & spring) exploring a central theme showing how Fine Arts has a demonstrative impact on the most pressing social issues of our time. Our Fall 2021 session on Sustainability & the Arts featured Theatre professor Conrad Alexandrowicz (author of Theatre Pedagogy in the Era of Climate Crisis), Writing professor Kathryn Mockler (Watch Your Head: Writers & Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis) and moderator & Writing professor Shane Book. Watch a recording of it here

Free and open to the public  |  Seating is limited (500 Zoom connections) |  Visit our online events calendar at

Annual BFA exhibit returns to in-person format

Given the shifting nature of life on campus recently, it’s hard to think of a better title for this year’s Visual Arts BFA exhibit than Subject to Change. Featuring the work of 32 graduating artists whose academic experience has been very much that since 2020, there’s definitely a heightened sense of excitement for this year’s show, running April 15 to 24 in the visual arts building.

“This is the first exhibit open to the public since our 2019 edition,” notes Visual Arts chair and exhibit supervisor Cedric Bomford. “It’s fair to say the occasion is one we are anticipating with a strange mix of excitement and anxiety. This feeling also flows through the pieces the students have worked so hard to create over the past year of on-again/off-again access and restrictions.”

The exhibit kicks off with a gala opening night celebration, starting at 7pm Thursday, April 14.


Finding the positive in a pandemic

While the Faculty of Fine Arts was able to offer the highest number of in-person/on-campus classes during the pandemic, graduating Visual Arts student Joshua Wallace managed to put a positive spin on his online classes. “I feel like I was able to work more, as I didn’t have to run across campus to other classes,” he says.

Wallace also cleverly put his CERB money to work by investing in supplementary online painting classes, which allowed him to greatly expand his creative practice. “I’d be at home studying like crazy, then come to the studio and apply what I learned. My work changed a lot because of that.”

Originally from Vernon BC, Wallace came into the visual arts program with a focus on figurative and landscape painting in acrylic, but now primarily doing portraiture in oils. He’s also been working as a gallery assistant at downtown’s Madrona Gallery for the past three years; owned by fine arts alumnus Michael Warren, Madrona focuses on contemporary and history Canadian art—an ideal job for an emerging artist. His immediate plans after graduation? “Keep exploring, keep trying new things,” he says.

Visual Arts student Joshua Wallace

Tour the exhibit online

One advantage of having both the 2020 and 2021 BFA shows only viewable online was an increased familiarity with creating digital exhibitions—a skill the BFA show student organizers have once again put to use, as Subject to Change will also be made available again as a walk-through 3D Matterpoint tour.

A diversity of artistic practices—ranging from painting and sculpture to photography, installations and video—will be on view in both the exhibition and accompanying artist book.

“We’re very excited to be hosting the public back into our building for this, the most important art event of the year on campus,” says Bomford.

Subject to Change runs 9am-6pm daily April 15-24 throughout UVic’s Visual Arts building

Adapting The Waste Land for the stage, 100 years after its literary debut

Director Conrad Alexandrowicz on the set of his adaptation of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land (photo: John Threlfall)
Since its publication in 1922, T.S. Eliot’s landmark modernist poem The Waste Land has never ceased to be controversial. Inspired by the physical and emotional devastation of both the First World War and the global influenza pandemic, Eliot’s 433-line poem has spawned countless courses, studies, reviews and books. But, over the course of its 100-year life, The Waste Land has rarely been adapted for the stage—and usually only for solo performers.

Now, theatre professor Conrad Alexandrowicz has taken on the somewhat daunting task of directing and choreographing his own adaptation for a February 17-26 full-cast run at the Phoenix Theatre.

“This is not a play, and it completely ruptures all the rules of drama,” explains Alexandrowicz. “The attention of the poetic voice is constantly changing . . . but I wanted to create continuity within the piece, so I’ve rearranged the text to create dialogue—which was really an amazing thing to do, as it works brilliantly and reveals meanings in an entirely different way. So yes, every single line he wrote will be spoken—sometimes more than once—but not necessarily in the order [he wrote them].” He pauses and laughs. “I’m sure T.S. Eliot would really hate that.”

An unconventional adaptation

No stranger to stirring strong emotions in his audiences, Alexandrowicz is a physical-theatre maker who specializes in the creation of interdisciplinary performances which address subjects central to the human journey: issues of relationship, gender and power, and the nature of the performance event itself.

Given that The Waste Land has been described as “the most revolutionary poem of its time” and still has the ability to spark controversy a century after its publication, Alexandrowicz’s unconventional adaptation seems ideally suited to such groundbreaking source material.

“We’ve never done this kind of abstract physical theatre at the Phoenix, so I’m really interested to see what people will think of this adaptation,” he says.

Working with a cast of 13 students plus four designers, Alexandrowicz is taking his creative cues from the poem itself. “In one scene, for example, Eliot quotes a song called ‘The Shakespearean Rag’—so we have a singer appear and the rest of the cast comes running on and suddenly we’re in a musical—then all that disappears and we go back to scene that was interrupted. I’m trying to embody and reveal as much as possible given the shifts within the text.”

Exploring a queer subtext

Another aspect of this adaptation Eliot would likely hate is the foregrounding of the poem’s homosexual subtext, which offers a marked contrast to the poet’s famously disastrous first marriage. While studying in Paris as a young man, Eliot shared a rooming house with Jean Verdenal, a medical student who then died during WWI.

“There is very significant and convincing evidence that he was very much in love with this man,” says Alexandrowicz, whose first book was Acting Queer: Gender Dissidence and the Subversion of Realism. “There are a lot of tensions in the text I’m trying to reveal. But, as a gay man, I really want to bring this relationship to the forefront and pull it out as a narrative thread people can follow.”

While he appreciates this adaptation may not satisfy Eliot purists, Alexandrowicz insists that—much like The Waste Land itself—there’s meaning beyond what appears on the page.

“If you’re really exploring something, you’re going to create strong feelings in response to it,” he concludes. “I think, in these times of crisis, we should be trying to create vital drama.”

The Waste Land runs Feb 17-26, with in-person performances (at 50% capacity) Tuesday to Friday evenings at 8pm, and Saturday matinees at 2pm. Online streamed performances can be viewed at 7pm Thursday & Friday, Feb 24-25, plus 3pm Saturday, Feb 26. 

Regular performance tickets range from $26-$30, with $16 Cheap Tuesdays and $16 student rush tickets available 30 minutes before each show. UVic Alumni ONECard holders can also attend the Saturday matinees for just $21. 

Please review our current COVID-19 protocols.

“Never less than amazing”: Lafayette String Quartet take its final bow in 2023

The Lafayette String Quartet at UVic, January 2022 (l-r): Pam Highbaugh Aloni, Ann Elliott-Goldschmid, Sharon Stanis, Joanna Hood (Credit: UVic Photo Services)

A Detroit McDonald’s may be the most unlikely place to start the story of UVic’s internationally acclaimed chamber music ensemble, yet under the golden arches is precisely where the newly formed Lafayette String Quartet (LSQ)—violinists Ann Elliott-Goldschmid and Sharon Stanis, violist Joanna Hood and cellist Pamela Highbaugh Aloni—had made the decision to pursue a career as a professional string quartet in 1986.

Even more unlikely? Getting their first big international break thanks to the Chernobyl meltdown: when fears of radioactive fallout prompted another string quartet to cancel an appearance at a Munich music festival, the nascent LSQ snapped up the offer to step in as replacements—and never looked back.

Now, with over a dozen albums and a thousand appearances worldwide behind them, the members of UVic’s multiple award-winning Lafayette String Quartet have announced their decision to retire as a performance ensemble in August 2023—a decision made collectively and unanimously, as all their decisions have been…including the anonymous vote on whether or not to accept the newly created position as artists-in-residence at UVic’s School of Music in 1991.

“We just thought we’d do this for two or three years, but here we are over 35 years later—and what an experience we’ve had,” says Highbaugh Aloni. “But great things have to stop at some point, and this feels like the natural time to finish.” 

A passionate commitment as artists and teachers

 While plans are currently underway for the LSQ’s final season—including the recording of five new commissions by female composers, among other performance projects—the university community has been quick to praise the ensemble’s accomplishments.

“The Lafayette String Quartet and UVic have created musical history for over 35 years. Supporting the world’s only all-female string quartet with its original members is a distinct rarity, and we are extremely proud of their accomplishments,” says acting Vice Provost Susan Lewis, who as former dean of UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts and former director of the music school, has known the LSQ for 20 years. 

“In addition to their internationally acclaimed performance history, the quartet has transformed the teaching of chamber music at UVic, training and mentoring a generation of over 400 string musicians and developing the master’s of music in string quartet performance—the only program of its kind in Canada,” continues Lewis.

Read the university’s January 27 news release 

Not only has the LSQ enhanced UVic’s reputation, it has also played an essential role in Greater Victoria’s extended music community, as both musicians and champions of public-school string programs, as well as bolstering Canada’s chamber music reputation and legacy.

“The Lafayette Quartet helped put UVic on the map as a string and chamber music destination by setting an internationally recognized standard of excellence,” says Alexis Luko, current director of UVic’s School of Music.


(Left) The Lafayette String Quartet at UVic in 1991, just after the musicians were hired as artists-in-residence, and now in 2022 (left to right: Elliott-Goldschmid, Stanis, Hood, Highbaugh Aloni)

A musical lineage of performance and teaching

Named for both the street and early home of two of their members (the Lafayette Towers on Detroit’s Lafayette Avenue), the LSQ’s musical lineage is far more vaunted: among their own musical mentors were the Cleveland String Quartet and the noted Russian violinist Rostislav Dubinsky, founder of the Borodin Quartet, who had the unique opportunity of working directly with famed 20th-century Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

Indeed, one of the LSQ’s career highlights—along with performing the complete Beethoven cycle of string quartets and the full Mozart quartets and quintet cycles—was the unique performance of a chronological cycle of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets over a series of five concerts at UVic in 2017.

“The great thing about being in a string quartet is that it’s repertoire-driven: it’s the music that we play that makes being in a string quartet worthwhile,” says Elliott-Goldschmid. “Our career took such a rich trajectory with teaching—had we been strictly a performing group, we would have gotten through much more repertoire—but our role models were always great musicians who taught.” 

Highbaugh Aloni agrees. “Teaching enhances so much of our playing: one of my own teachers said you don’t really learn how to play until you can teach. We have all benefited from being teachers; it really affected how we play individually and as performers.”

Music director Luko, who was herself an undergraduate music student in the 1990s, clearly recalls the impact of the LSQ’s early years—and their importance as female faculty members.

“When I was a student, nobody missed a Lafayette String Quartet concert. The sheer performance energy and powerful bond of these four women made a huge impression on me . . . . It felt like a real feminist moment. This group brought ‘woman power’ to the highest levels of chamber music,” says Luko. 

Pianist and long-time School of Music colleague Bruce Vogt was the one who called the LSQ to see if they might be interested in moving to UVic, and he clearly recalls their arrival on campus in 1991. “They brought an instant energy, a joy in performing and in collaboration,” he says. “It was always an inspiration to play with them . . . individually or together, they brought us closer, inspired so many of us.”

The quartet at the School of Music’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall in January 2022 (l-r): Hood, Stanis, Highbaugh Aloni, Elliott-Goldschmid. (Credit: UVic Photo Services)

The senior string quartet in Canada

From their earliest days as a quartet, the LSQ earned both praise (“These people are good!” exclaimed Detroit’s Metro Times in 1987) and international attention (“The Lafayette String Quartet resides at the heart of chamber music life in Canada” noted a 1993 cover feature in UK’s historic Strad magazine), which continued throughout their career.

“They are never less than amazing,” says James Campbell, who has known the LSQ since he performed with them—on Dubinsky’s recommendation—for his debut faculty concert at Indiana University’s Jacob School of Music in 1988. Dubbed “Canada’s premier clarinetist,” Campbell has since performed with and booked the LSQ numerous times at Ontario’s acclaimed Festival of the Sound, of which he has been artistic director since 1985.

“They were definitely unique as one of the only all-female quartets, but it was their spirit that set them apart,” he recalls. “Technical and musical excellence is assumed at that level, but there was an extra personality to their group that connected with us all—audiences included.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Jennifer Taylor, artistic director of Music TORONTO—Canada’s pre-eminent chamber music series. “Our audiences love the Lafayette Quartet,” notes Taylor, who has been booking the LSQ for 32 years—including the upcoming closing night gala of Music TORONTO’s 50th anniversary season in April 2022.

“Their longevity without a change of personnel is remarkable—and they clearly still like each other,” she says. “As the senior string quartet in Canada, we are proud to call them ‘Friends of the House’.”

Campbell agrees with their remarkable legacy.

“They’ve been together through children, through illnesses, through injuries, through all the ups and downs of a musical career, which are many,” he says. “Most quartets have players that come and go—the name continues but the personnel change—but the Lafayette are united as sisters: it’s unique and quite amazing.” 

The healing power of music

In addition to their musical and teaching legacy, the LSQ also created the annual Lafayette Health Awareness Series in 2005 to provide expert information on various health topics ranging from COVID and aging well to brain health and breast cancer—the latter of which both inspired the series and profoundly impacted the LSQ, following a 2001 diagnosis and treatment for one of its members.

As such, music and well-being have become integral to the daily lives of the LSQ—from their own practice and health to both their students and the audience members with whom they share their music.

A generational legacy

While certain aspects of the LSQ’s final season will depend on the current pandemic—including a number of local and national performances—what isn’t in question is their remarkable legacy spanning more than 35 years.

“They will never be replaced,” says the Festival of the Sound’s Campbell, who is scheduled to perform with them in fall 2022. “Those four personalities are unique and special, so you’ll never get another quartet like them.”

As a long-time colleague, UVic’s Lewis can’t help but see their influence on campus.

“If you look at the history of the School of Music, there’s before the Quartet and after the Quartet,” she says. “They didn’t just arrive and head off into a rehearsal room for 30 years: their influence permeated every aspect of the school—and beyond.”

For Allana Lindgren, the dean of UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts, they represent the pinnacle of performance and pedagogical rigour.

“”In addition to being world-class musicians, the members of the LSQ have been inspiring role models of elegance, intelligence and artistic brilliance throughout their impressive careers,” says Lindgren. “They embody our guiding aspiration in Fine Arts to challenge our students to excel through our own passionate commitment to excellence as artists and teachers.”

Their final year 

With plans currently underway for the LSQ’s final season—including decisions around who will be retiring from teaching, as well as the ensemble—each member offers a more personal reflection on their legacy.

“We could never have dreamed of this adventure,” says Highbaugh Aloni. “We’ve really had a great run.”

“I just feel so blessed to have had such rich opportunities,” says Stanis. 

Elliott-Goldschmid considers their impact on the local music scene. “There was chamber music here when we arrived, of course, but there’s been such growth over the past 30 years…Victoria had incredibly fertile ground and we just helped to plant the seeds. We’ve made music with so many colleagues around the city over the years, and our students are now playing in chamber groups everywhere in Victoria and across the country.”

It’s this final thought that may well offer the best coda to the Lafayette String Quartet’s legacy. Thanks to their dedicated mentorship, the LSQ is surrounded by a generation of student musicians who are now succeeding as peers in ensembles, symphonies and quartets of their own.

“It is so fulfilling to play with our former students,” concludes Hood. “Nothing beats that.”