The Langley Schools Music Project
“I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education, and didn’t know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children’s music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal — they had élan. This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional ‘children’s music,’ which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated ‘cute.’ They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness.”
~ Hans Fenger
In 2000, a WFMU fan in Vancouver by the name of Brian Linds submitted a vinyl rip of songs from an album he picked up in a thrift store titled The Langley Schools Music Project to WFMU DJ Irwin Chusid. He played it on his radio show to enthusiastic reactions from station listeners and staff, prompting Irwin to request further tracks from the record. Brian sent a rip of the entire album to Irwin along with a photocopy of the album sleeve. Irwin starting tracking down some of the names on the album in hopes of getting more information on the project – and hopefully re-releasing it.
Irwin managed to find one school administrator who knew of Hans Fenger – listed as “musical supervisor” on the album. When he managed to get in touch with Hans, who was at that time teaching music at an elementary school in Vancouver, he expressed his wish to re-release the recordings on CD and got the green light. Through Irwin’s determination, the recordings were released on Bar None Records, spinning a further incredible series of events into play.
I have found mentions of this project and a few tracks on MP3 blogs over the years, but this weekend I came upon a short documentary featuring more context, history, interviews with the students (now well into their 30s), and reflections from Hans Fenger. I gathered the documentary pieces and stitched them together below.
There are so many things I love about this story: reclaimed vinyl treasures, the role of the freeform radio DJ, the crucial role of arts education in children’s lives, and the profound impact of good teachers.