Nano-Interview with Paul Pitts of Boston Latin School

Paul J. PittsName: Paul J. Pitts
Organization: Boston Latin School
Title: Director of Fine Arts
Music Genre: Band, Jazz, Orchestra and Vocal
Years in the field: 38

What do you do at Boston Latin?
I organize and coordinate a large arts department consisting of 1,100 music students, 900 visual art students, and 300 drama students. We have 11 full time arts faculty as well an additional eight adjunct faculty. I also conduct the Wind Ensemble, the Symphonic Band, the Big Band, and the Dues Band.

Why do you do what you do?
For a few reasons. I really love music, all kinds, some more than others but it is all really cool. The idea is if you love what you do most days it is not like work but more like a great way to spend a day. The groups that I teach are really quite good and we are able to play music that I find quite challenging to conduct and it is awesome to get to study and conduct this great music. Last year we played lots of Bernstein’s music, it was great. Great music and the students played it really well, a joy to work on with my groups. In jazz band we do a lot of Mingus and Ellington and other more contemporary charts but the charts that they are able to play has really gotten better every year so it is great to work on this music at such a high level. The other reason I do it is because I really like kids, I guess it keeps me young, talking to young people, I tend to think about what they are thinking about instead of my feet hurt and I need to sit down.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
The music, the passion for the music.  I spend a lot of time searching for music, at times it can be tough but I have been able to find music that is great, and once the students get to a certain level that can appreciate great music as well.

What challenges you in this work?
The daily grind is demanding, it is relentless, there is always something to do. So many students, events, festivals, auditions, concerts,  etc etc. I am concerned for younger teachers, it seems like they keep asking for more and more from teachers that is not related to student instruction, but things that require more and more time. It seems to be getting even tougher to do a great job teaching with all of the non-teaching requirements.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
That is sort of difficult to answer, they seem to enjoy the concerts, the auditorium is pretty well packed for most all of our major concert throughout the year. I get many positive comments from alumni when we perform for them several times throughout the year. I know the students enjoy it otherwise they would not take the elective classes.

Whose work in the Creative Youth Development field do you admire and why?
Some band directors in Massachusetts who have been role models for me and had outstanding programs. Paul Alberta from Norwood, Steve Massey from Foxboro,  Jeff Leonard from Lexington and Vinney Macrina from Brockton. They have all had fantastic programs for many years, unfortunately all but one is retired but I still use them for questions about musical and administrative details.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
Jazz all the time, in the last two years I have become a big fan of Dudamel in LA I love the music he selects, lots of classical music from Latin America that is so rhythmic and groove oriented. I always love to go to the Boston Symphony when I can, it is such a fantastic orchestra and a beautiful hall. Sixties rock and roll, I saw Led Zepplin live at the garden back in ’72 when I was 15 and it blew me away, they were incredible. I saw the Eagles last summer and they were also great.

What are you currently reading?
Mostly magazine articles, the last book I finished was Miles Davis’ autobiography. I am reading Mingus’ now, Beneath the Underdog. A friend gave me John Coltrane’s book but I have not started it yet.

The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:
Mistakes in music, learn from mine.

Youth Arts Showcase – CCTV Media Institute

Earlier this year, Cambridge Community Television (CCTV) hosted their 28th Summer Media Institute. During the program, 34 teens from Cambridge took part in a six-week work experience and media production program collaborating on group projects focused on amplifying or giving a “voice to the voiceless.”

Students are paid to work as producers over the summer through the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program in Cambridge, MA, and learn the skills necessary to produce high quality media reflecting the issues and stories most important to them. They participate in workshops throughout the summer to develop skills around cinematography, visual storytelling, audio, editing, and more.

Their final projects premiered at a public screening to a theater filled with family, friends, and community members, covering a wide range of issues including substance abuse, race, different family dynamics, and mental health.

Here is some of their work:

BOTTLE CAPS
Produced by Jermai Bethea, Kevin Fleurimond, and Bedilu Green

A love story, complicated by substance misuse, unfolds in this music video which tells the story of a relationship broken apart. Jermai, Kevin and Bedilu create a surreal world of flashbacks and dreamscapes to represent a young couple’s struggle to overcome the challenges brought on by addiction. Set to the song Bottle Caps by Jay Squared.

 

BLACK WOMEN
Produced by Allison Desir, Johnnie Williams, and Mattingly Wood

Tropes within the representation and image of black women in society are broken down by four women telling stories of how they experience stereotypes. Through the combination of personal interviews and examples from popular culture, Allison, Johnnie and Mattingly explore the effect of stereotypes of self-image, as well as how one can react or resist judgement, discrimination and misrepresentation.

 

LA CENA
Produced by Matthew Hernandez, Jaqui Hill, and Vera Targoff

 Shot as a combination of cinéma verité and home video, this portrait of different families takes a look at the differences between how families interact through the universal experience of eating dinner. Matt, Jaqui, and Vera create different scenes to tell the stories of family dynamics as they play out in their friends’ homes as well as their own.

 

IT’S NOT THAT EASY
Produced by Michelle Goldsmith, Jayde Haidar and Rachel Jacobs

Two teens talk about their experiences with mental health, and how they are impacted by the stigma surrounding anxiety and depression. Using animations to illustrate the emotions and experiences being described, Michelle, Jayde, and Rachel try to bring a better understanding to an issue that many teens experience, but not all teens understand.

The BEST Training

Participants seated in a circle at a BEST Initiative training

 

Under the facilitation of Eryn Johnson (Community Art Center) and Laurie Jo Wallace (Health Resources in Action), Mass Cultural Council hosted a training this fall for teaching artists and prospective creative youth development grantees to explore the BEST (Building Exemplary Systems of Training) Initiative’s “Creative Youth Approach”. The approach speaks to engaging students in their own creative learning and uses a series of prompts (e.g. leading a science experiment, designing and implementing a mural, planning a program budget, etc.) to challenge participants to think about where their practice stands on a spectrum from “adults should do alone” to “youth can do alone.”

A break-out group sits around a moderator at a BEST Initiative training
Levels of youth involvement in learning range from “no youth involvement” in the planning and implementation of their education to “self-management” where youth are empowered to set their own agendas and take charge of their own learning. Overall, participants agreed that while adults are great at providing structure or acting as consultants, youth have natural abilities to create, teach and be responsible for their own learning and creative process. When students are provided a space where they can be collaborative and experience an increased level of self-managing, incredible learning opportunities occur.

Health Resources in Action is a recognized leader in the out-of-school time community. They operate the BEST Initiative, the only region-wide professional skills training and credentialing system for youth workers and their supervisors.

As of December, 2015, BEST has trained more than 10,000 youth workers and provided technical assistance to their agencies, which serve more than 80,000 youth.

Learn More

Hamilton Happening

Young women walking to Boston Opera House to see Hamilton

This fall Hamilton, the musical and cultural phenomenon, drew standing-room-only crowds from adults and children of all ages during its run at the Boston Opera House. Along with the show came the Hamilton Education Program — a partnership between The Gilder Lehrman Institute, the producers of Hamilton, and the Lin-Manuel Miranda family — in which students from high schools with high percentages of low-income families are invited to see the show and integrate Alexander Hamilton and the founding era into their classroom studies.

2,500 students from schools across Massachusetts attended two stirring special events in Boston, where young people performed their own Hamilton-inspired dance, music, and spoken word on the very stage where the play had been performed. These impassioned readings and performances were accompanied by thundering applause and cheers from an audience that owned each line being recited. By presenting an original work on the founding era, each young person had earned their way to this stage, using their creativity to bring history to life through monologues, rhymes, songs, and poems.

Before the show, teachers guided students through a unique, hands-on class project using Gilder Lehrman Institute resources to introduce the people, events, and documents of the founding era. Students also learned how Miranda, the creator of Hamilton, incorporated primary sources into the songs he wrote for the show and used that knowledge to produce their own performance pieces.

Mass Cultural Council proudly supported this unique learning opportunity, as schools took advantage of our Big Yellow School Bus grants to give students a chance be part of the cultural movement sparked by Miranda’s genius. Many of our Creative Youth Development programs participated actively, bringing their vision and voice onto the stage:

Hamilton inspired me to take a chance. Like Alexander Hamilton, don’t wait for things come to you. Like Aaron Burr; you’ve got to go for it.” – Luis Gonzalez, Margarita Muñiz Academy student

“I think Hamilton‘s deeper meaning shows us that there are many perspectives to see something and we should always keep an open mind.” – Francely Rosario, Margarita Muñiz Academy student

Hamilton showed me that in life, there is nothing that can give you what you want. You need to work hard to get what you want.” – Adonis Jimenez, Margarita Muñiz Academy student

Hamilton made me think of more ways one can be creative with art.” – Edwin Padilla, Margarita Muñiz Academy student

Youth Arts Showcase – Andrine Pierresaint

Andrine Pierresaint performs her spoken word piece, “Knives” at the Amplify grants reception at the Mass State House earlier this year.

Andrine is a Youth Leader at Books of Hope, which is funded in part by Mass Cultural Council’s YouthReach Program, and a 2018 Amplify Grant Recipient.

Andrine’s Artist Statement: Writing about my personal experience with sexual assault has been very difficult. But I saw a documentary  on UN peacekeepers in Port-au-Prince, and my family has had many experiences with sexual assault. Haiti has a long history of constantly being taken advantage of, by withholding this information, I feel I would’ve been contributing to it.

Teens Talk Youth Media at CCTV

Cambridge Community Television’s School Year Production Program (SYPP) provides teens with an opportunity to develop career readiness and media production skills every year from October to May. The program is a collaboration between the Mayor’s Fall Youth Employment Program, Cambridge Community Services’ CityLinks Program, and Cambridge Housing Authority’s Workforce Program.

Here’s what some participants had to say about their experience with the program:

WANTED: Your Creative Youth Development Videos

Our national CYD network is collecting video URLs from practitioners that feature students’ voices and boldly and creatively tell their stories. Short videos will be embedded on the Creative Youth Development National Partnership website to help communicate our collective story more strategically to funders, government agencies, policy makers, organizations, artists, funders, researchers, and other stakeholders.

Submit your organization’s video URL and be included in our national story. This video directory is inclusive.

Video Guidelines

  • 2-3 minutes average length
  • prominent student voice
  • demonstrate CYD core values of creativity, social justice, youth perspective

Submission Deadline: November 30, 2018

Share Your Video URLs

Social Development and the Arts: Creative Youth Across Borders

Youth performing traditional dance at México’s Veracruz Institute of Culture.We’ve seen how creative expression lifts young people beyond poverty, disability, and other societal barriers here in Massachusetts and across the nation.

Today the movement for creative youth transcends national borders. Earlier this month, our neighbors to the south shared some of their insights on the transformative power of the arts in the lives young people at a Harvard University panel discussion.

“Social Development and the Arts in Latin America” was centered around lessons learned from El Sistema, the music education program founded by renowned Venezuelan economist and humanist José Antonio Abreu in 1975. The discussion was moderated by Harvard Business School Professor Tarun Khanna, co-author of a seminal case study on El Sistema.

Eduardo Méndez, Executive Director of El Sistema, noted that it was founded “as a social program, not a cultural program.” It aims not to produce great musicians, or even professional ones, but to nurture children and adolescents in an environment that combines strong social and emotional support, intellectual rigor, and aesthetic inspiration. Programs in more than 70 countries have now
adopted El Sistema principles of “inclusion, ensemble learning, and collective, committed pursuit of musical excellence,” according to Méndez.

But the discussion moved beyond El Sistema model and classical music to highlight the power of all arts disciplines to transform the lives of youth, particularly those living in poverty. Enrique Márquez is Director General of México’s Veracruz Institute of Culture, which has harnessed the time and energy of thousands of middle-class and wealthy volunteers to work with disadvantaged children and adolescents in programs that teach theater, music, dance, and the visual arts. The connections have broken down class barriers and built trust at a time when social isolation threatens to become an international epidemic, according to Márquez.

“The arts have this wonderful ability to bring people together,” he said. “Arts, even classical music, can be very inclusive.”

The Mass Cultural Council is committed to supporting creative youth through grants, initiatives, and advocacy. Through annual investment of more than $1.5 million in national-model programs alongside grants for new and emerging organizations, we support a generation of young people whose creativity and leadership will transform Massachusetts and its communities. This year, we have expanded our grant recipient pool to 74 programs through YouthReach and SerHacer, and will continue to support Amplify, the META Fellowship, and Johnson String Project. Mass Cultural Council is also a founding member of the Creative Youth Development National Partnership.

Creative Youth Development

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