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Opening Eyes to Opportunities: Christine Lalande

Mar 19, 2024

Teaching for 25 years and traveling whenever her program can afford to, Christine Lalande of Ottawa’s Sir Robert Borden High School is excited to get back on the road and head to Toronto.

While the school isn’t able to travel each year due to funding, Lalande has made a trip happen every two or three years now with her group of around 50 students, working primarily with Ellison Travel & Tours. “They’re kind of known as the music tour operator,” Lalande said, adding that even when she was in high school, they’d do trips with Ellison—and their reputation holds up today, being organized with clear timelines and quick customer service.

We asked Lalande more about how she ended up in music education and what she’s excited for in Toronto.

Why did you become a music educator?

I guess I grew up in arts related programs. As a little kid, I just gravitated toward music at a very young age. I was lucky that my elementary school started teaching music in kindergarten, so right off the bat we were performing at festivals and things like that. Once I got higher up, the opportunities increased, and I was very lucky that even though I came from a very small-town high school—the town itself was about 6,000 people—my band director was quite connected with what was going on in the city and different professionals, so he would take us to a bigger city centers and on really large trips.

We went to Europe one summer and did a tour of Holland, Belgium and France. We got the opportunity to go play all sorts of different locations that we never would’ve dreamed of. It really opened my eyes as a small-town kid to what is out there, just experiencing other cultures and seeing other places and the history of those places. But also, talking to people and learning about how people saw Canada from the outside. It just opened up my world.

And so, as the love of music grew and I continued to have more experiences, I decided this is it, this is what I’m meant to do. It’s kind of a nod to the people who provided those opportunities to me back then—I want to be able to do the same thing for students now. I think every kid should have access to public music education and be able to do this.

Tell us all about your Toronto trip.

We’re really looking forward to it happening. We tried to get a trip happening last year to go out east, and we had difficulty getting approval for it, actually. And so, I kind of analyzed who was successful in getting other trips approved, and a lot of them were more Ontario based. It had to do with proximity to the schools and how many days the kids are missing, plus the total cost, because of course the school board is very focused on equity and accessibility for students, making it fair. I wanted to ensure that we set this precedent that these trips are going to happen again, and I thought Toronto would be a good place to go because of the resources and the learning opportunities kids would have.

What are you hoping to do there?

We’re going to see a bunch of performances. I really wanted to get access to a bunch of different venues and shows for the kids to see, as well as opportunities for them to perform as a group. I work with about 52 students in the band, and we have good instrumentation to be able to do a performance together, but also doing a workshop. We’ve been looking at staying at a University of Toronto residence. And while we’re downtown, going to things like the Toronto Symphony, and probably the Ontario Science Center. We want to go and have lunch at The Rex, and see a live jazz performance. We’re also going to go see a Mirvish Theatre Show, which I think is going to be Les Miserables. Also, I want to go to the Royal Conservatory. I have other students who take private lessons for piano and things like that. That would be great to go there and see a performance. We’re going from a Friday morning to Sunday evening, so it’s pretty jam packed.

Anything in particular you’re looking forward to?

Some of my students haven’t left Ottawa, so just to get them out of the comfort zone here in Ottawa to see other things is what I’m excited for, for them to bond as a group and see things that they haven’t seen before. I hope it’ll fire up some of them, give them ideas on places they want to go or even thinking about careers. Like, I have a couple of grade 12 students who are going into music programs after high school, and so it’s giving them ideas about different things to try that they haven’t thought about before.

What difficulties have you had to overcome in recent years?

The pandemic times have put us in a difficult position, trying to build our programs back up. Also, looking at the economy and inflation, I think this is probably the toughest year that I’ve had to deal with finances and finding resources and equipment, getting it to work. It’s a bit of a struggle. I’m hoping it’s kind of that spectrum where it swings when things get really expensive and the funding is cut, but then you swing back because they see how important it is, and they start funding it again.

I’m very lucky that I have a very supportive committee who’s helping me with fundraising, just so I can keep things in shape. And we’re lucky in Ottawa, we have a lot of experienced teachers who have a lot of fight in them and are really pushing hard to keep things going, because we know what it was, and we know how it can be. So, it’s really a strong advocacy thing right now. We’re really trying to push that this is important to keep.

Do you have any travel highlights?

I think the place that we love to go to the most is New York City. There was a period where we tried to go every couple of years. Not just because students were excited to go there, because there’s so much in media and movies about New York, all those iconic places in the city, but also just in terms of access to shows and opportunities that are there. We’ve had so many great tours that I loved.

We did the tours to Carnegie Hall, with the tour guide just telling us the history of the place, the acoustics, and giving a perspective of sitting in the balcony and imagining different performances going on. I also really loved the Radio City Music Hall. We have a lot of kids who are interested in light and sound, they gave us a full backstage tour and showed us how the staging moves, where they keep the animals for the Christmas show, and other technical aspects of the crew on a huge production. Those experiences, the kids are just like, “Wow.” It’s really cool.

Any final thoughts for educators considering student travel?

I think for planning school trips, you really have to have strong organizational skills, and there’s a lot of details to pay attention to, and you have to allow yourself a lot of time to plan. Obviously, going through all the different stages of approvals and dealing with the question of the finances and all that, there’s a lot to organize, so I think you have to be able to manage a lot of facets of information.

This story originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Teach & Travel.