Category Archives: Music

Nano-Interview with Elissa Johnson-Green of UMass Lowell

Elissa Johnson-GreenName: Elissa Johnson-Green
Organization: University of Massachusetts Lowell
Title: Assistant Professor of Music and Music Education
Genre: General music education focused on composition
Years in the Field: 20

What do you do at University of Massachusetts Lowell?
I teach future music teachers. I also have created and run a program called the EcoSonic Playground Project, which provides open access to musical instrument play for all children. We have brought this program to diverse learning communities in the US, Canada, and Ireland.

Why do you do what you do?
My whole life has revolved around music. After being a classical performer (flute and voice) for many years, I decided to shift my focus to music education. I started out as a music teacher in K-8 education. This experience taught me that children understand music as a powerful and meaningful force in their lives – one that they rely on for so many aspects of their social interactions, emotional development, artistic development, and learning. Now, as a professor who trains music educators, I teach my adult students how to approach teaching music from the perspective that music is at the core of what makes us human. I do this work because I want to influence my students to teach music as a dynamic, living art form and as an essential form of expression.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
Teaching! I am fortunate to work with amazing students who are dedicated to music education. They are talented, intelligent, and passionate about bringing music to all children.

What challenges you in this work?
All of the administrative tasks I need to do to make sure my program runs smoothly. Helping my students to navigate the scheduling system – and making sure they are on track to graduate.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
I take seriously my responsibility to provide high quality music educators to my community. Having more great music teachers available and working in the schools, means it’s more likely that the schools will value their music programs. My hope is to graduate students who will contribute to the growth and development of music education for all.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
I listen to anything that I consider to be good music. Some of my favorites: Palestrina, J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Bartok, Kendrick Lamar, Logic, Aretha Franklin, Koko Taylor, Led Zepplin, Rush, Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn, Alison Krauss, and anything that Yo Yo Ma has ever played.

Seen any good movies lately?
Into the Spider-Verse. I highly recommend it.

Podcast: Opening Doors and Creating Pathways

Alexandra Oliver-Dávila On the Mass Cultural Council’s podcast, Creative Minds Out Loud, we spoke with  Alex Oliver-Dávila, Executive Director of Sociedad Latina, about the symbiotic relationship they have formed with numerous local colleges which allows their students to experience a pathway to higher education and bridges an institutional gap between higher education and community-based organizations.

Sociedad Latina is the oldest Latino youth organization in Boston. Its creative youth development program supports young people from middle-school into early college or career.

Listen to the episode.

Read the transcript

Check out other episodes featuring Creative Youth Development leaders.

New Book Published on CYD and Music Learning

Cover art for the book Music Learning as Youth Development.

Music Learning as Youth Development, a new book published in June 2019, highlights the role of community based Creative Youth Development (CYD) organizations as catalysts and trailblazers for bringing youth development practices into all areas of music learning.

Utilizing case studies and stories from organizations around the world — including Massachusetts-based programs such as Zumix, Berkshire Children and Families, the Sci Tech Band, Elevated Thought, Community Art Center, The Theater Offensive, RAW Art Works, and others — the evolution and impact of CYD is traced alongside the development of the youth development field.

Looking forward, this book is an important step in moving youth development into the center of music learning in schools, community based settings, higher education, and professional performance settings.

Erik Holmgren of Mass Cultural Council authored a chapter called, “Changing the Ecology of Music Learning: Lessons from Creative Youth Development,” and the book was edited by Larry Scripp of the New England Conservatory and Brian Kaufmann from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Podcast: Sonido Musica in Harmony

Eileen McCaffery and Julie JaronOn the Mass Cultural Council’s podcast, Creative Minds Out Loud, we spoke with Eileen McCaffery, Executive Director of Community Music School of Springfield, and Julie Jaron, Director of Visual and Performing Arts for the Springfield Public Schools, to discuss their work over five years on the Sonido Musica program, a partnership that aims to reduce Springfield’s high school drop-out rate through student engagement, leadership, and performance opportunities. What started with three public schools and 60 students has grown to 18 schools and nearly 1,000 student musicians! Now nearby Holyoke wants to replicate this model. Their goal was not to have the Community Music School replace music education in the public schools, but rather to help principals and administrators see the power of the arts working every day in their school.

Listen to the episode.

Read the transcript.

Check out other episodes featuring Creative Youth Development leaders.

Championing Creative Youth Development

by Gustavo Dudamel and Anita Walker

Look and listen closely to the student ensemble from Boston String Academy and you experience something profound. You hear music, of course: works from the classical repertoire played at extraordinarily high levels. You see learning too—rapt attention, mathematical precision, deft coordination. Peer more deeply and there’s still more: creativity, connection, community.

This is the power of the ensemble under the El-Sistema-inspired model of music education. Led by highly trained, caring teachers, a rich curriculum, and challenging opportunities for public performance, Boston String Academy students and thousands like them across Massachusetts are redefining what art means to young people, particularly those struggling against poverty and other socioeconomic barriers. They come to understand themselves not only as musicians and performers, but as citizens who matter and can make a difference in their community. This model of learning transcends music and is being adopted in the visual arts, theater, history, and science. It’s called creative youth development and it is drawing attention from educators and policymakers across the nation.

We have come to be champions for creative youth development from very different places: One of us was steeped in El-Sistema from childhood, under its founder and his mentor, Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu, who later initiated a ground-breaking cooperation between El Sistema in Venezuela and the New England Conservatory. The other saw El Sistema’s power on visits to South America and other US cities with NEC, then undertook to plant its seeds more deeply and broadly here in Massachusetts.

Those seeds continue to blossom. Mass Cultural Council now supports more than 22 El-Sistema inspired music programs across the Commonwealth through its SerHacer Initiative—from Lawrence Public Schools’ first-even string orchestra, to Kids 4 Harmony, grounded in a social service agency called Berkshire Children and Families that serves some of that region’s most vulnerable youth. At the same time the Council continues a decades-long investment in dozens of creative youth development initiatives that reach youth through other disciplines—from The Care Center in Holyoke, where history and literature open teen mothers to new ideas and new life possibilities, to Provincetown Art Association and Museum’s ArtReach, where teens learn about themselves and the world around them through drawing, painting, and digital artmaking.

On April 8, we joined state legislators, philanthropic and civic organizations, and cultural leaders at WBUR’s new CitySpace to honor these efforts and others with the 2019 Commonwealth Awards, Massachusetts’ highest honors in the arts and culture. These Awards remind us that even amidst our highly politicized and polarized world, art and music unite us. Leonard Bernstein, our great native son whose centennial we just celebrated, put it this way: “It is the artists of the world, the feelers and the thinkers who will ultimately save us; who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing and shout the big dreams.” It is true: everyone who contributes to the creation of beauty in this world helps carve out the vital time and space for people of all walks of life, all cultures and diverse political views to dream together. That is the power of music. And we need music today more than ever.” 

Massachusetts was not just the birthplace of the American Revolution, it is also at the heart of this nation’s cultural revolution. This state is renowned for creating and fostering some of the most esteemed institutions – both large and small – in the arts and education. And from such institutions come ideas and creative experiences that make people talk, think, and feel. The people and organizations of Massachusetts have brought joy and passion to millions of people, and helped fundamentally shift the paradigms of our social, intellectual and artistic understanding.

Let’s make sure we continue listening to each other and working together to foster a world that cultivates, embraces and empowers the arts. A world without them is unacceptable – and unimaginable.

Gustavo Dudamel is Music Director of Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra & Music & Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Anita Walker is Executive Director of the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency supporting the arts, humanities, and sciences.

Mass Cultural Council’s SerHacer program is supported by the Dudamel Foundation.

Nano-Interview with Betsy Hinkle of musiConnects

Betsy HinkleName: Betsy Hinkle
Organization: musiConnects
Title: Founder, Resident Musician and Curriculum Design
Music Genre: Chamber Music
Years in the Field: 20

What do you do at musiConnects?
After founding the organization in 2007 and being its only director for 8 years, currently I perform as a violinist in our chamber music performances, and I teach private violin lessons, Chamber music and a K2 String instrument readiness class. I design (with a collaborative approach) and help implement all of our private lesson and chamber music curriculum.

Why do you do what you do?
I firmly believe that access to the highest quality music education and performances is a right, not a privilege. I also firmly believe that to fully reap the benefits that music education has to offer, it must be done in a tailored, one-on-one approach, and that chamber music is the best model for young children to learn self-expression, peer leadership, and community development skills.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
It seems that ideas for teaching approaches and solving problems seem to flow out of me. Sometimes my ideas get changed right after I try them, but there are always new ones to take their place. I also love when some ideas stick and continue to work, so I try and find ways to keep these ideas solidified and continued, by helping to make them second nature for teachers. I also love hearing others’ approaches and identifying new approaches that work, and adopting them.

What challenges you in this work?
Going with the flow when the unexpected happens: a student you’ve invested so much in, and whom you communicate so well with, just quits all of a sudden. When an audience or community is completely different than you imagined and your wonderful planning doesn’t get used at that moment.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
Students whose previous experience in school or other activities wasn’t positive are suddenly revered, praised, role models. It takes a few years for some community members to trust that what we bring will be positive or lasting or relevant. But when they do, their commitment to the work takes on a new role, as collaborator.

How do you blow off steam?
Watch TV, knit, do yoga, walk or hike, cook and bake.

Whose work in the Creative Youth Development field do you admire and why?
Sebastian Ruth of CMW, he was a pioneer in this work, and who directly inspired musiConnects. Also Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music – a collective and long standing organization where chamber music ideals are really practiced in all aspects of the organization and passed along to all who encounter it.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
Carolina Chocolate Drops, Pixies, Crooked Still, AC Newman, and the New Pornographers

Do you live with any animals?
One cat and I’d love to get a dog. Do my two kids and husband count?

The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:
Slowly but Surely: the search for order amongst chaos inside the mind of a creative perfectionist

What’s next?
I’m going to continue to create, test, hone, and eventually publish my curriculum which includes a systematic approach to working with kids (violin, viola, cello) with few home-based supports and a graded chamber music curriculum with original compositions and arrangements for similar students.

“La Mesa” Project

Check out META Fellow Nicolas Perez’s “La Mesa” project:

“La Mesa” is a video series that is inspired by NPR’s Tiny Desk series. The goal of this video series is to provide a recording and performance space for rising artist to share their music. There is a brown table (la mesa) in the video that all performer sign at the end of their performance. This table serves as a symbol of community amongst all of the performers who use this space.

The first episode features youth from Hyde Square Task Force’s music program performing an arrangement of a song they learned during band rehearsals.

See all 3 episodes of “La Mesa” on YouTube

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.

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.