Category Archives: Music

Leonard Bernstein’s Legacy in Lawrence

Students are learning the universal language of music

by Jamie Bernstein and Anita Walker

This op-ed originally appeared in Commonwealth Magazine on Sept. 4, 2018.

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

–Leonard Bernstein

ON A RECENT AUGUST DAY, students gathered around a piano on a stage at Lawrence High School. They were rehearsing the forthcoming production of “West Side Story,” written by a composer born just a few blocks away almost exactly a century ago.

What would Leonard Bernstein make of these students singing and dancing their way through his mid-20th Century masterpiece? Do they understand the questions he asked about cultural identity and racial conflict in urban America, and do those questions have meaning for them in 21st Century Lawrence?

Would Lenny have seen in these young people a realization of his vision for music as a unique force for creative transcendence, personal transformation, and social justice?

We think he would be delighted. And we believe he would embrace new models of music education taking hold in Lawrence and other communities across Massachusetts and the nation—models that not only transmit a lifelong love of the arts, but foster vital skills and capacities in children, especially those facing poverty, trauma, and other obstacles. The educational process is led by skilled, caring educators who see creative youth not as problems to be fixed, but as lights to be illuminated. The model calls for young people themselves to play an active role in creating art and shaping their future not only through music, but across the arts, humanities, and sciences.

Lawrence students rehearse West Side Story. (Photo courtesy of Mass Cultural Council.)
Lawrence students rehearse West Side Story (Photo: Mass Cultural Council)

More than traditional arts and music education, this work is called creative youth development. It’s an intentional, holistic practice that fosters active creative expression alongside core social, emotional, and life skills. In supportive spaces, with guidance from skilled and compassionate teachers, children and adolescents immerse themselves in creative work: composing and performing music, producing and directing films, writing and staging new dramas, making and interpreting visual art. Youth learn and create in public, private, and charter schools; cultural institutions; YMCAs; Boys & Girls Clubs; and many other settings. They achieve high levels of artistic skill and a deeper knowledge of themselves and their cultural heritage. In turn, they become empowered to make meaningful changes in their communities.

Creative youth development has proven to be a particularly powerful force in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities, former industrial centers that have struggled to create new economic models in the 21st Century.

Lawrence was already an established gateway for immigrants when Bernstein was born there in August 1918 to Jewish-Ukrainian parents. They chased opportunity across the state, bringing their son to Boston Latin School and Harvard, laying the foundation for one of the great careers in American cultural history.

When Bernstein became music director of the New York Philharmonic, one of the most respected and coveted positions in classical music, his educational mission was to widen access to the arts to as many young people as possible via the mass medium of television.  Many of today’s concert audience members will say that they got their start in loving orchestral music from watching Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic on TV as children. To this day, his Young People’s Concerts are celebrated as one of the genre’s defining moments, their vibrancy and undiluted approach resonating with those who understand the potential of young people to learn and create, when given motivation, skills, and support.

Today Lawrence stands at the vanguard of our nation’s rapidly changing demographics. Nine of every 10 students in its public schools are Hispanic. More than seven in 10 speak Spanish as their primary language, and nearly as many live in economically disadvantaged homes.

Despite those challenges, Lawrence students are learning the universal language of music in new and exciting ways. In 2014, the Lawrence schools launched their first string orchestra program based on the El Sistema model, which employs music to empower generations of youth across the globe. The schools later hired the first district-wide orchestra director.

El Sistema Lawrence was intentionally woven into the school day to leverage parental support and school resources. The program actively recruits students as they enter high school. Students perform in winter and spring school concerts, along with pop-up performances in cafeterias, hallways, and other informal settings. El Sistema Lawrence is now developing pathways for peer mentors and student leaders who will shape the social and cultural goals of their ensembles.

Creative youth development was a nascent concept when Leonard Bernstein died in 1990. But we believe he would endorse its commitment to youth agency, equity, and civic engagement. And we suspect he would be pleased to know that a child born in Lawrence in 2018 would have an even greater chance to create a life filled with music and art than he did 100 years ago.

Jamie Bernstein is an author, broadcaster, filmmaker and concert narrator who travels extensively, speaking about music as well as about her father, Leonard Bernstein. Jamie’s film documentary, “Crescendo: the Power of Music” has won numerous prizes, and is now viewable on Netflix. Her memoir, Famous Father Girl, was published by HarperCollins in June.  Anita Walker is the executive director of the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency, and founding member of the Creative Youth Development National Partnership.

Nano-Interview with Josh Snyder of Sociedad Latina

Josh SnyderName: Josh Snyder
Organization: Sociedad Latina
Title: Manager of Arts, Culture, and Civic Engagement
Artistic Genre: Guitar
Years in the field: 5

What do you do at Sociedad Latina?
I oversee all of our arts programming and most recently, am taking on oversight of our health education and civic engagement program. More specifically, we serve 30 high school youth in our after school programming and are aiming to serve 300 students through our in school arts classes and Saturday lessons program.

Why do you do what you do?
Music had been a passion of mine since early middle school, being an adult and able to sustain my life on something I truly love is extremely rewarding. Beyond this, I really enjoy being able to provide tools and resources to young people who are passionate about music as well; having a supportive figure during my early years as an artist was crucial.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
The front line work with students is by far my favorite part of the work I do. When students discover something they enjoy or have never been able to do before, it pushes me to continue to challenge them and provide guidance.

What challenges you in this work?
Admin tasks! I really struggled with sending emails on time, organizing data, and putting together long term plans when I first started. I’ve since remedied this due to the fact that all of these “no fun” pieces allow me to deliver better programming to the youth
we serve.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
To be honest, I can’t speak for what it means to all of the students. My job is to make sure the access is there for them to develop their own artistic vision and ability. Whether its a student on the track for a conservatory, or a weekend living room musician, I treat every student with the same amount of respect and urgency. I hope
they see me, other instructors, and Sociedad Latina as a safe, fun, and challenging space for them to develop.

How do you blow off steam?
Other than playing music with friends, I like to get rid of stress rock climbing. When the weather is good, I’m often in New Hampshire or Western Mass with friends camping and climbing for the weekend. I’ve also has the opportunity to climb in New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Utah.

What do you create in your free time?
I’ve been really inspired lately by solo acoustic guitar pieces. One of my favorite players, Julian Lage, has really pushed me to work harder in this style. I’m trying to get together a full set of repertoire to record a CD of original pieces.

Whose work in the CYD field do you admire and why?
My supervisor, Juan Maldonado, is someone I’m very inspired by both professionally and musically. His approach to teaching and working with young people commands respect and challenges students to really utilize the time they have in program. Musically, he is a fantastic bass player (among many other instruments) and
composer.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
I listen to a lot of jazz, both contemporary and classic, hip hop, R&B, folk, indie, really all styles besides country.

Maestro José Antonio Abreu: A Tribute

Boston String Academy (BSA), a Mass Cultural Council grantee, is inspired by El Sistema. BSA provides after school string programs for inner-city young students, offering high quality string instrument instruction, using standards that will give them the necessary skills to build a strong foundation in their musical growth. Those who believe in the power of music in the lives of children lost a vital voice this week with the death of Maestro José Antonio Abreu. We mark the passing of this visionary, who inspired not only our commitment to his El Sistema model of music education, but to our broader investment in exceptional creative youth development programs serving kids across the Commonwealth.

It may seem odd that the work Maestro Abreu began more than four decades ago in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Caracas, Venezuela, has taken hold so firmly here in Massachusetts, a global education leader. The sad reality, though, is that too many of our own children in poor communities and neighborhoods are denied the joy and inspiration that comes from learning music in the company of excellent teachers and artists.

That is why Mass Cultural Council became of the first public funder of El Sistema-inspired work in the United States. It’s why one of us traveled twice to Venezuela to study this education model in real time, and why the other—a student, friend, and mentee of the Maestro Abreu—relocated from Venezuela to nurture the seeds of El Sistema work here in Massachusetts. We now invest in 18 SerHacer music programs that engage young people in music, and another 60 creative youth development programs that do the same work through other disciplines. In 2014 the Boston Globe wrote that “SerHacer is a model not only for music education, or even arts education, but of an approach to weave underserved kids more tightly into the social fabric and have a lasting impact on everything from educational achievement to future career paths.” And last year, we received further affirmation with the first US grant from a Foundation begun by another Abreu protégé, Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra.

“We hasten towards the encounter with music, not only in concert halls, but in people and things of everyday living, against the perfidious use of leisure, against drugs and violence, promoting at the same time the access of the least fortunate towards aesthetical formation and the life of arts,” Maestro Abreu once wrote. “Material poverty will be ultimately defeated by the sublime wealth that spawns from and within music. Social justice and cultural justice constitute two halves of a single, indivisible dimension…”

That clarion call for art to serve our highest aspirations as a culture rings as true today in Boston, Holyoke, and Lawrence, as it did in Caracas in 1975.

Maestro Abreu has transformed the lives of millions of young people around the world through the power of music. We extend our condolences to his family, friends, and the countless artists he has inspired, and take comfort knowing that his legacy lives on in Massachusetts and around the world.

Anita Walker
Executive Director

Rodrigo Guerrero
Creative Youth Development Program Manager

Podcast: Creating Great Human Beings, One Song at a Time

Anthony Trecek-KingOn the Mass Cultural Council’s podcast, Creative Minds Out Loud, we spoke with Dr. Anthony Trecek-King about Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC).

At BCC music is a catalyst to create social change. BCC Artistic Director Dr. Anthony Trecek-King recounts how kids from over 120 different zip codes come to the Chorus to learn about music, and are also given time to discuss and learn about their differences and how they can work together to become a more creative and cohesive community.

Listen to the episode.

Read the transcript.

Check out other episodes featuring Creative Youth Development leaders.

New Year’s Inspiration

Boston Children's Chorus performing. Image: Gretjen Helene.

Happy New Year! Social justice is at the heart of Creative Youth Development work. Join us in celebrating Dr. King and his legacy with YouthReach and Ser Hacer programs’ young artists across the state:

COMMUNITY MUSIC SCHOOL OF SPRINGFIELD
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration
11am-1pm – MassMutual Center
Free
Presented by Community Music School of Springfield, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, DREAM Studios, and Springfield College.

Performances CMSS youth musicians from our ensembles, chorus and Springfield school partnerships.

BOSTON CHILDREN’S CHORUS
Take My Hand: 15th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Concert
7pm – Symphony Hall
Just before sunset on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke with musician Ben Branch in the courtyard of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Branch asked Dr. King what to play at a meeting planned later that evening. Dr. King replied, “You should play Take My Hand, Precious Lord. Play it like you never played it before in your life. Play it real pretty.” The lyrics “lead me on to the light… lead me home” proved prophetic, as Dr. King was assassinated that night. Five days later, Mahalia Jackson performed this same hymn, one of Dr. King’s favorites, at his funeral in Atlanta.

This 15th annual MLK concert reflects the message that a seemingly small gesture – the taking of one’s hand, for example – can lead to enormous change. Small gestures bring us together, unite us, and help us build movements, just as Dr. King’s gestures of love, compassion, tolerance, and hope led to a civil rights movement that transformed the world.

BOSTON YOUTH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
MLK Tribute Concert
NEW TIME/PLACE: 10:30am – Metcalf Hall, Boston University
Free
BYSO performs classical music, spirituals, and freedom songs, with a sing-along and a keynote speaker.

PROJECT STEP
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Open House
10am-5pm – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Free
Project STEP students will perform at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Open House at the Museum of Fine Arts. Mayor Martin J. Walsh is expected to attend and introduce Project STEP. More detailed information regarding Project STEP’s performance time will be posted on the MFA’s web site.

Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration
5pm – Hibernian Hall
Free
Students playing classical music plus a panel discussion featuring musicians of color in Boston.

 

Nano-Interview with Rebecca Frost of Margarita Muñiz Academy

Rebecca FrostName: Rebecca Frost
Organization: Margarita Muñiz Academy
Title: Lead Teacher of El Sistema-Inspired Music Program
Music Genre: Varied Genres – Wind Ensemble
Years in the Field: 9

What do you do at Margarita Muñiz Academy?
I teach instrumental music (wind ensemble) to high school students ranging from beginners to students with 3-4 years of experience.  On a typical day, I coach students in sectionals and/or direct full ensembles.  When in sectionals, I work mostly with woodwind players, while our faculty who specialize in brass and percussion typically work with those sections accordingly.

Why do you do what you do?
Since I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to go into music, and then I fell in love with teaching when I was in college.  I love watching students grow as people and as musicians; their excitement fuels my motivation on a daily basis!  I am also passionate about providing quality music education to students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
Teaching beginners.  They are eager to learn and their enthusiasm at every accomplishment fuels their motivation to continue learning more and improving.

What challenges you in this work?
Supporting students through many challenging situations that happen outside of school.  It is hard for me to imagine what many of my students live with on a daily basis – violence, interrupted schooling, language barriers, living in a shelter, or being the primary caretaker at home.  I am constantly wondering how we can better support our students not only as musicians, but as people.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
There is a need for high quality music programs in Boston Public Schools, and the Margarita Muñiz Academy attracts students not only for its dual-language curriculum, but also for its music program.  We also provide opportunities for teaching artists at local universities and music organizations to come in and work with our students, in addition to accepting student teachers from Boston Conservatory/Berklee.  Our students participate in collaborative community events with the El Sistema community, Boston Public Schools community, Charles River Wind Ensemble, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra through their residency program in Jamaica Plain.

What do you create in your free time?
I try to “create” space to relax in and focus on life.  I practice flute regularly and I fill-in as a flautist with various local ensembles.  I also enjoy making modern needlepoint artwork.  I have many of them framed in my apartment, and I make them for friends sometimes too.  I also “create” time to volunteer.  In the past, I have volunteered weekly at a soup kitchen and a senior home; I am currently volunteering at Daily Table in Dorchester – a non-for-profit grocery store that provides high quality healthy food at affordable prices.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
I like a wide variety of music, and what I listen to depends on my mood.  I like classical music, especially Shostakovich, Copland, and Mahler.  I also really like a lot of international music – lots of Latin music and sometimes Irish music.  I am a huge fan of Broadway shows, so I often shuffle some Broadway soundtracks into my listening.  Right now, I’m listening to a lot of “Hamilton”, “Les Miserables”, and “Book of Mormon.”