The Yale School of Music held its fifth Symposium on Music in the Schools on June 5 & 6, 2015 in New Haven to explore the role of music partnerships. A gift from the Yale College class of 1957, the Music in the Schools symposium, held every other year, honors public school music teachers from around the country. Previous symposiums explored music as a child’s birthright; El Sistema programs in America; integrating music in the classroom and the relationship between teaching artists and public school music teachers; and the role of music in school reform.
Associate Dean Michael Yaffe invited Polyphonic to attend the opening day session on June 6th, to which New Haven public music school teachers were also invited.
The Symposium also welcomed representatives from “Distinguished Music Education Partnerships” from across the country, including: African Music Ensemble in Shoreview MN; ALTO (Active Learning through Opera) in Rio Rancho NM (The Santa Fe Opera); ASO Sympatico in Alexandria VA (Alexandria Symphony Orchestra); Astral Artists Classroom Classics in Philadelphia PA; Billy Joel School Concert Program in Philadelphia (The Philadelphia Orchestra); BPO West Side Connection in Buffalo NY (Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra); The Cleveland Orchestra at Home in Lakewood in Lakewood OH; Collaborative Arts Partnership in Washington DC; Community Opus Project in Chula Vista CA (San Diego Youth Symphony); Cultural Passport through Opera in Miami FL (Florida Grand Opera); Curriculum Plus Project in Hampton VA; Education & Community Engagement in New Brunswick NJ (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra), Fresno Link Up in Fresno CA (Fresno Philharmonic), From Words to Music in Pensacola FL (Pensacola Opera); Helendale/Sound Exchange Residence in Rochester NY; JAS In-Schools Local Education Initiative in Aspen CO; IPS/MSO Strings in the Schools in Jackson MS (Mississippi Symphony Orchestra); Long Island Philharmonic Performance Partners in Uniondale NY; Mercury/Yes Prep in Houston TX; MSO and Worcester County Public Schools in Newark MD (Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra); Music for Youth Residency and Exchange Program in Bridgeport CT; Music is Core in Great Falls MT (Great Falls Symphony), Musical Awakenings in Fort Worth TX; Musicworks! in Asheville NC (Asheville Symphony); Opera Aria Network Program in San Francisco CA (San Francisco Opera); OrchKids in Baltimore MD (Baltimore Symphony); Partnership for Youth in Falls Church VA (National Symphony Orchestra), PSO Musical Explorers in Portland ME (Portland Symphony Orchestra), Roanoke City Public Schools & Roanoke Symphony Partnership Program in Roanoke VA; San Diego Opera Residency Program in San Diego CA; Sarasota Orchestra Outreach in Bradenton FL; Sonido Musica in Springfield MA; Special Music School in New York NY; TPS/TSO Partnership in Toledo OH (Toledo Symphony); UMKC Conservatory in the Schools in Kansas City KS; Wake County Public Schools/North Carolina Symphony Music Education in Cary NC; What’s the Score? In Shrub Oak NY; The Willard Daetsch Youth Outreach Program in Ithaca NY (Cayuga Chamber Orchestra); Music in Schools Initiative of Yale School of Music in New Haven CT.
39 partnership programs participated, 25 (64%) of which involved a partnership with a symphony orchestra or opera company.
Dean Robert Blocker welcomed the participants and made a few remarks about the importance of partnerships in music education. He recounted the story of a high school football tackle in Texas who also played trombone in the marching band during half-time. The student’s coach and music teacher had worked together to make it possible for him to follow both his passions. He spoke of Yale’s partnership with the community, and stated that, “Great partnerships evolve; they don’t just happen. At their very core, they seek to bring out the good in each other; they are bridges of understanding.”
Associate Dean Michael Yaffe spoke about how the country seems to value music education less and less. Decades ago, music education existed everywhere, K – 12. Then in 1978, Proposition 13 was introduced in California. This proposition reduced property taxes so much that school districts had significant budget problems. They saw music as an extra and it was eliminated from the curriculum. There wasn’t much of a fight about it, and other states began to cut music as well. It happened on June 4th in Atlanta [Atlanta public schools canceled music in public elementary schools]. “We can’t continue to let this happen. In a past symposium, we talked about music as a child’s birthright, but the country doesn’t believe this now.”
Dean Yaffe went on to say that the charge of the symposium is “Why” – to ensure that we have a strong case for the value of music eduction. Partnerships with musical organizations are replacing public music education, but we have not made a compelling reason for why music is important to all children. We need to identify a compelling reason.
The first speaker was Sebastian Ruth, a musician and educator committed to exploring connections between the arts and social change. He is a Visiting Lecturer at Yale and the Founder and Artistic Director of Community MusicWorks, which connects professional musicians with urban youth and families in Providence, Rhode Island, where Mr. Ruth is a member of the Providence String Quartet.
Mr. Ruth’s talk was titled “Music, Education and Democracy.” He spoke at length about Maxine Greene. “She was an inspiration and a philosopher, focused on the transformational experiences that can come from the creative experience.”
How can music be a catalytic change for young people in a democracy? Ms. Greene espoused emancipatory pedagogy – “ two central principles for a renewed emancipatory pedagogy across educational contexts: the recognition of an essential equality between students and teachers, and a liberatory agency that uncovers and builds on students’ effectivity as beings against domination.” For Ms. Greene, this meant teaching for freedom, where students are free to realize their full potential, a freedom possible through the arts. In other words, students can experience personal, spiritual, and individual kinds of growth through studying music. In a democracy, you need people to feel that empowerment and have opportunities to grow. It’s not that you should grow into a definition that’s already out there, but you should grow into a definition that is yours.
Summary of Mr. Ruth’s thesis: Can the participation in music give young people a voice to participate fully in society? There are traditions, even in the last 100 years, of people who’ve said yes to that. The voice of artists is critical to the health of a society. John Dewey talks about how the artist sees truth in ways that no one else can. Artists can take in all sorts of data, amidst the chaos of daily life, and distill a meaning, more so than scientists and historians. The arts provide meaning for the lives of the people around them and for future generations.
Dewey’s ideas were put into practice as part of the New Deal and the WPA. It was a singular moment in our history – its agenda was to bring the country out of the Great Depression and put people back to work. It would have been an adequate response to put artists back to work building bridges, but instead, they started federal arts projects “because their voice is critical to the health of society.” Some of the iconic work from that time are the murals in Federal buildings. WPA orchestras played in school gyms. Studio artists like Jacob Lawrence depicted the African-American migration from the south to the north – it was biographical but also spoke the truth of emotional lies that were the complexities of that moment.
The Community Music Works was motivated by this notion – including young people from urban communities who otherwise don’t have access to arts training. Is training them in music enough to give them the confidence and voice to become full citizens of society? The answer is that it’s not automatic. It’s important that educators are critical of how they teach. If we say, “We’re not creating artists but we’re teaching a craft,” is this problematic?
Perspectives into arts learning: think about the process of education as a mutual discovery and a respect for individuality. It’s a practice of collaboration and democratic practice. If people are able to develop multiple perspectives and individualities, can we regard one another with respect about those differences?
- A teacher commented that he has students from Ecuador, Iraq and elsewhere, who have seen terrible things in their young lives. In working with them he uses one-on-one teaching vs. group teaching. He considers it peer learning, where instead of imposing technique by saying ‘This is the way to do this,’ he shows what he’s trying to accomplish on the guitar by saying, ‘Let’s discover this together.’
- With international students, we must be aware that they come with two sets of vocabulary, both in language and in music. We’re trying to get them assimilated, but we need to respect their L1 in music as well.
- Reciprocity – if you establish a chamber music residency in a store front, try not to conceptualize this as “outreach,” because this implies that there’s something fixed and we’re reaching out to bring them back to our thing. Instead, we’re going to open this door and we’re expecting a two-way dialog. We need to learn about the musical traditions of the people in our neighborhood.
The second speaker was Joanne Lipman, who serves on the Board of Advisors of the Yale School of Music, was founding Editor in Chief of Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, and a former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. Her Wall Street Journal article in October 2014, “A Musical Fix for American Schools,” went viral. Her essay argues that music education can literally expand a child’s brain and can help improve academic performance, as well as persistence and diligence.
She went on to describe her book, Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations, co-written with Melanie Kupchynsky, which tells how music can help students reach success, regardless of what career they choose. Strings Attached is the story of her childhood music teacher who changed the lives of countless music students. It’s a love note to music education and teachers, and a rallying cry that music education is not a luxury but rather is a necessity.
It all began with an OpEd she wrote for the New York Times about the death of her childhood music teacher in New Jersey, Jerry Kupchynsky or Mr. K, as everyone called him.He was a Ukrainian immigrant orchestra conductor who was terrifying and so effective. She lost touch with him after high school as she began her career as a journalist.
“This is a man who made all the difference – who changed my life. I use the lessons I learned in his classroom every day – perseverance, focus, and resilience. I had to go back to my home town for the memorial concert.” At the service, she played with many other high school alums –40 years’ worth of former students who had flown in from all over the country with their old instruments. “All of them felt exactly as I did – we created a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.” Her piece in the Times went viral “because so many people also have someone like him in their past.” She reconnected with Mr. K’s daughter Melanie, a violinist with whom she’d played viola in a string quartet and who now is a member of the Chicago Symphony. They began emailing each other and ultimately collaborated on the book, Strings Attached.
So many of Jerry Kupchynsky’s students had gone on to find great success in other fields; there were many doctors, lawyers, college professors, and of course, lots of music teachers. Ms. Lipman started interviewing other successful people who had played an instrument as a child, and wrote “Is Music the Key to Success” for the New York Times.
Among the successful people she interviewed were Alan Greenspan, who studied clarinet at Juilliard and played in a jazz band. Chuck Todd, NBC’s chief White House correspondent, played French horn and was principal in the Florida all-state orchestra. Andrea Mitchell started as a child prodigy violinist and discovered broadcasting at UPenn while taking a break from her practice room (the campus broadcast studio was down the hall). Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, was a sax player and credits music with his idea for founding Google.
Ms. Lipman asked all these people if there is a connection between music training and success, and all said yes. All talked about the ideas of discipline, learning to work with others, playing in an ensemble, focus, attention to detail; music taught them how to listen, which is so rare now.
Her OpEd piece resonated well beyond musicians and music teachers to a larger audience. Many people understand the importance of music. But she wanted to understand the mechanism – what is it about music that translates into success? What is the connection between music studies and academic performance? She offered five findings:
- 1) Music raises your IQ. In a study of first graders, they were divided into groups that worked with keyboards, singing, art, drama or nothing. The assignments were random. Researchers were surprised that the results showed the music students had the biggest bump and their IQ increase was larger than the others after only 20 days. (The increase was five times larger than those involved in the visual arts.) Music enhanced the executive function of the brain, the part that helps us organize and strategize.
- 2) Music can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor districts. Children who went through a music program in Los Angeles had higher graduation rates and more attended college. A neurobiologist studied 6 to 9 year olds, and measured brain activity. There was a significant increase in their ability to process sounds, which is key to language and the ability to focus in the classroom.
- 3) Music is a training pool for reading. A teacher in Brazil gave a rhythm and pitch test to 2nd graders, and noticed that the kids who did poorly on this test had difficulty later learning how to read. He teamed up with a Harvard math professor – it was definitive. If the students had trouble with rhythms and pitch, these kids had learning disabilities later.
- 4) Music training does more than sports, arts and dance to predict academic success. A study with 3,000 teenagers showed that those taking music lessons scored significantly higher in cognitive skills, and had more confidence and were more ambitious. Their scores were more than twice that of the other activities, and it didn’t matter about the socio-economic background of the kids.
- 5) Music expands your brain, literally. A 2009 study did MRI studies of 6-year olds before and after 15 months of instrument training. Their brains increased in areas for fine motor skills, and that part of the brain that connects the left and right brain was also expanded – there were many more neural connections between the left and right brain.
The number 1 predictor for acceptance to medical school is not biology but rather is music. 1/3 of medical students are musicians. To quote a dean of a medical school, “If you’re a musician, you’ve got to listen, watch, and be very involved. This makes you a better doctor.”
Ms. Lipman concluded her talk by discussing music education. “It’s heartbreaking that music programs are being cut because they’re not core – we continue to face these issues. The Journal of Economics and Finance cited a music program in a large school district that costs 1.6% of the education budget; that’s $187 per student.
There are incredible success stories throughout the country. The three best practices in terms of music advocacy are:
- Teachers must get students involved in music very early on. By the 4th grade, every student at her school took a music aptitude test, and received a personal letter from Mr. K.
- Teachers must expose their students to the community and administrators – have the kids play everywhere. “We played in an annual street fair – we were always preparing for new performances, plus we played in district and all-state. Mr. K was always inviting reporters and photographers. Also get the administrators involved.”
- Teachers must learn how to advocate within their own school district. A teacher in New Jersey convinced her administration to make orchestra an honors course, so the best students would select it. This teacher also made Strings Attached part of the curriculum, so that orchestra now became part of the common core by requiring the students to write an essay.
Ms. Lipman is very optimistic about the future of classical music in this country. “We must raise our voices so the rest of the country understands that music education changes lives.”
- How do you get your story out there so the media picks it up?
With social media there are many more opportunities. Pieces on Huffington Post are written by practitioners. Write a piece and put it up on an online platform and then circulate it. For any concert you’re giving, put it in the local listings. This builds awareness – it’s important that the community know that the junior high school is having a concert. Patch, online news for the local community, can be a good resource. Also your local public library.
- How can you identify those students who should go on to major in music?
- How do we create a community that values cultural excellence?
We need to incentivize the students and parents, but we also need to incentivize the administration.
The afternoon consisted of eight break-out sessions, with suggested topics from Sebastian Ruth and Joanne Lipman. Each group summarized their discussion for the whole group.
From the New Haven public school teachers:
- Students from different cultures come into our classrooms – how can we break down their differences and give them a chance to mature? Our classrooms can be an escape from issues elsewhere in the school.
- Advocacy and the value of what we do – how do we broadcast that? What is our marketing and promotional role? We need to be team players and be willing to collaborate. Partnerships are win/win – the teaching artists from Yale come into the New Haven schools and bring their musical expertise. The teachers work with the teaching artists about how to work with the kids, how to deal with the parents, how to get kids to the concerts, and how to learn the life stories of the kids. Both the teaching artists and the teachers are growing and learning.
- Dean Yaffe: The partnership is more powerful for the graduate students. We have stories from over 10 years, about those who have adjusted their career path because of this work they did in New Haven with the public schools.
From the Partner Groups:
- Why partnerships? They establish trust; it’s a personal piece.
- How do we influence policy? It’s real change with people that matters.
- Should we focus on local policy changes rather than national? We need to think like a business person – dollars and data influence the conversation. How can we solve a problem in the community? Partners can be a platform for change.
- What is the goal of music education? To create a common language, a common literacy.
- How do partnerships help or hurt schools? Flexibility in a partner organization can help mitigate situations that might have a negative impact on schools. They can help articulate the goals, connectors, etc.
- Creativity as a currency – how do we communicate that message to our stakeholders?
- Music helps creative problem solving but only if you’re taught to do music creatively.
- What would the community lose if the partnership did not exist?
- What did we learn? The large organizations would be the biggest losers if the partnerships did not exist.
- Creator vs. consumer = active vs. passive participation.
- There are many points of entry for the consumption of music. How do we get the population to want to experience live music?
- Why do we do what we do? How can we further the importance of music education in our schools? We need to align music standards with the common core, make music relevant and instructive in helping classroom teachers teach curriculum, and focus on creativity and problem solving.
- Instilling creative confidence – we must encourage risk taking in a musical sense and instill the confidence to do this, without stepping outside of the student’s safety zone.
- We must make connections with parents and break down those barriers.
- How can students take risks and still play with accuracy? We’re teaching students that it’s OK to make mistakes but they need to learn to correct their mistakes.