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Of all the skills Adrian Berry taught to about a dozen aspiring young musicians in two Future Sound 6ix workshops at the University of Toronto late last year, it might have been the simple act of wrapping cables that meant the most.

Berry, a career musician and recent graduate of U of T’s music technology and digital media master’s program, said they had felt shamed in the past for not knowing how to pack up cables after a rehearsal or show.

“And so we all had a lot of fun learning how to wrap cables together,” explained Berry, the program co-ordinator for the project, which brought together a dozen or so female-identifying and gender non-conforming young people from around the city for the two full-day weekend sessions.

The program covered songwriting, music sampling, audio engineering, vocal performance and microphone techniques, as well as networking and community building, and culminated with a public performance.

“It's all those little things that gave everybody a huge confidence boost in their ability to be in a music environment,” they said.

In a music industry often dominated by men both on stage and in the production booth, the Future Sound 6ix program seeks to show others that they also belong.

Two participants edit audio during the Future Sound 6ix music workshop at the University of Toronto. Photo by Polina Teif / University of Toronto

“As someone who has identified as a woman in the past and as a trans person now, I’ve often found myself as the only woman on stage or the only trans person in a band,” Berry said. “And I think it is really special and really pivotal for a lot of people to be with a teacher, with a facilitator, with a mentor, with other students [who] identify the same way or have similar experiences as they do.”

The dean of U of T’s music department, Ellie Hisama, who adapted the idea from a similar program called “Daughters of Harlem” that she created while working at New York’s Columbia University, is hoping to turn the Toronto test run into a recurring series of workshops.

The two-day pilot workshop gave about a dozen racialized, female-identified and gender-non-conforming high school students the chance to create their own electronic music and get familiar with high-end equipment.

“For me, it was important in New York and also in Toronto to have workshop leaders and instructors who were diverse themselves, so the students could see, within this microcosm of the U of T faculty of music, these people they have not seen highlighted in the industry,” she said.

Hisama said that with funding support, it could potentially expand in 2023 to incorporate beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of musical teaching and run as a summer program.

The pilot program received funding from the Nick Nurse Foundation (as well as a visit from its namesake, the head coach of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors) and backing from YWCA Scarborough.

She said they also want to create a course teaching other schools how to run these types of workshops, and have received expressions of interest from Florida State University, Wheaton College in Massachusetts and other American schools that have the equipment, space and willingness to put them on but lack the experience.

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer