It’s a whole new world
For more than a decade, Lucas Coffey has been helping students across Alberta learn about and experience music as a method to build community. Soon, he hopes to expand that reach to bring music to students worldwide.
Coffey first came to SEF in 2012 for financing to purchase drumming equipment that would allow him to expand his in-school music residency program, Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm. The financial support made a difference, and Coffey quickly committed to paying back the loan and joining SEF’s “paid in full club.”
But after paying off the first loan, Coffey saw more opportunities for growth. Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm had seen success in schools across Alberta, but he wanted to expand even further, helping to empower students across Canada — and someday, even worldwide — through music.
“We’ve always had more work than we can handle, and I’ve also wanted to start to get my own content out there,” says Coffey. “I just realized that if I was ever going to move things forward, I needed to hire some people to help me out so that I could get more into developing training materials.”
Coffey returned to SEF with a plan of how he looked to expand from delivering Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm to training teachers to deliver the program. He continued to offer the program through an in-school residency, but began looking at ways to build capacity.
Then, the pandemic hit.
With restrictions placed on who was able to enter schools, and a move to online learning, Coffey had to pivot. Although teachers and students still wanted to take part in the program, in-school residencies were no longer an option. Coffey quickly began experimenting with online learning tools.
“I’m not really a tech person, so it was a giant learning curve,” he says.
“But I have a young family, and because the business is small, it wouldn’t have survived if I had just done nothing. So part of it wasn’t really a choice, it was just like you got to do something to make it work.”
Coffey spent the summer of 2020 — the first summer of the pandemic — testing and retesting online platforms, and come September 2020, began offering the program through video calls. Encouraging students to practice body percussion, or jam out on their desks, he worked to rebuild the experience that Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm had delivered in person before.
“We were able to survive for one and a half years without going into any schools, which if you think about it is really amazing,” says Coffey.
Although the pandemic presented many challenges, it also gave Coffey the chance to develop new skills and build on some of the features the program had had in pre-pandemic times.
“A huge part of our residency was always having everybody gathering in the gym for a finale. So I learned video editing skills, and our finale became these little montage videos of the schools, learning different songs and rhythms, and then giving that to the parents as a form of finale.”
At the height of the pandemic, Coffey also launched the Around the World Rhythm Residency program. Through virtual platforms, he brought music to nearly 2,000 students in schools across Canada. What made the program even more enriching was the musicians who joined in for the sessions from around the world
“We got eight artists from different countries — from Brazil, from Turkey, from Japan — to livestream to all of these different schools and teach them about different cultural rhythms. So that opened up the program in a pretty big way,” says Coffey.
Eventually, as restrictions eased and classes began to return to some level of normalcy, Coffey returned to thoughts of expanding Rhythm Rhythm Rhythm by training others to deliver the program. In the first eleven years of operations, Coffey’s programs introduced more than 120,000 students to the value of music as a form of community. The only limitation, he says, was the limit of his own schedule. By training others, he could help more students understand the connecting power of music.
“The hope is that we can train teachers to do this drum circle programming in their schools and reach way more in the future,” he says.
So far, Coffey has made progress. He’s set to launch the training materials in spring 2024, after which point he’ll begin to offer them to teachers worldwide.
“I have been working on a ton of it for the last five or six years, but a lot of it is getting it down on paper and organized enough to present,” he says. “So it’s lots of work, but it’ll be worth it.”