Nano-Interview with Maria Doreste Velazquez of Berklee College of Music

Maria Doreste VelazquezName: Maria Doreste Velazquez
Organization: Berklee Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs and Boston Public Schools
Years in the Field: 10+

What do you do at the Berklee Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs?
During the past eight years I have been a piano, ensemble, and early childhood instructor as well as a new course developer. I have also presented several workshops and lectures at Arts Better the Lives of Everyone (ABLE) conferences as well as facilitated professional development opportunities for music educators around the state and internationally. I have also had the pleasure to be the music specialist at The Edison School in Brighton where I teach general music and coordinate the instrumental program.

Why do you do what you do?
As a musician and music educator, I have encountered diverse learners in all kinds of teaching environments. In order to better serve my students, I’m always looking at what other educators are doing and thinking about what tools I need. I use that to inform the creation of new resources and ways to approach music learning.

For my META Fellowship I have started two projects, Diverse Music Learners and Culturally Responsive Teaching in Music Education. DML was created with four other Fellows. Together, we have launched and presented to our music teaching communities in Massachusetts and beyond. We started with a survey completed by over 200 music educators and then built a site to share tools and address the needs that other educators have shared with us.

Culturally Responsive Teaching in Music Education is an answer to the challenges and needs I encountered in urban public education in 2020 during a global pandemic, and in an extremely diverse school community. Over the course of months our families shared their cultural backgrounds, songs, and musical traditions through a questionnaire and a series of coffee talks. Today we’ve partnered up with schools all around the globe – from Spain to Taiwan, Santo Domingo or Brazil – to share our musical experiences and had several artists in residence coming to school and sharing their Brazilian Drumming, Marimba playing, Steel Pans ensembles, etc.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
I strongly believe that music is an intrinsic part of our human souls and that music education is not a privilege but a right for all learners. I love to challenge myself in finding new ways to provide meaningful learning experiences, find new resources, and engage with all learners, challenging the limits of what we are supposed to be able to do and creating with them and for them. I have students that started playing with two fingers and struggled to play more than twinkle twinkle and today they are playing Bach minuets and Beethoven sonatas when nobody would ever imagine this was even

I love to learn about where my students come from, and what music they like. I think music is a game and that we learn through playing and having fun together, becoming a community that trusts each other and helps students to become the best version of themselves.

What challenges you in this work?
The socio-economic disparities of our communities and the bias students and families with special needs students have been exposed to throughout their lives is devastating. The educational system and our society has failed them too many times and the trust in the educational system is sadly gone. Many of our migrant students struggle to find an identity within a society that segregates and imposes assimilation while not giving opportunities to flourish. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the “Poor thing, he can’t do it, you know he is in the spectrum.” or “He can’t join the instrumental program because he doesn’t understand.” or “His home situation is too unstable.” Constantly fighting those limits that we as a society impose on young learners and their families, is very tiring and at some points in my journey I wonder why am I fighting the universe, but I just don’t know any other way and I can’t and won’t give up on my students.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
The Edison School is a wonderfully diverse Boston Public School community with families that come from more than 60 different countries and speak more than 20 languages. Of the students The Edison serves, 83% qualify for subsidized lunch, 43% are English language learners, and 22% have special needs.

My students need a voice, they need to find beauty around them to fulfill their lives. They need to be able to explore their own identities and rejoice in their family cultures. Recognizing where they come from is a right and something that should be absolutely done and facilitated in music class.

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