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Yale Symposium 2015: Music in the Schools

Ann Drinan of Polyphonic.org reports on the recent Symposium on Music in Schools, held at YSM June 4–7
June 30, 2015

Polyphonic.org | By Ann Drinan

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.

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Associate Dean Michael Yaffe

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[…]. 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.

Sebastian Ruth

Sebastian Ruth

Sebastian Ruth

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?

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