University of Miami professor calls for commitment to social justice

Carol Abril. Photo by Matt Fried

Carlos Abril, professor and director of undergraduate music education at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, was one of 43 participants at YSM’s sixth Symposium on Music in Schools, which focused on “how to ensure that every child in every city in America has access to an active music life,” YSM Associate Dean Michael Yaffe has said.

Among the participants were public-school and university teachers and administrators, foundation leaders, music-education scholars, and public-policy experts who worked, Yaffe said, to “help us craft and complete a declaration about why music has the potential to change children’s lives and have an impact on issues of exclusion.” The purpose of the document, in Yaffe’s words, is to “encourage the creation of ecosystems” that support the goal of guaranteeing children in city schools the same opportunities their suburban counterparts enjoy.

“We’ve been having the conversation” about the value of music education for decades, Abril said, offering that the declaration that’s crafted needs to have an impact that previous efforts have not.

“I think we need to send a strong message speaking to the importance of training, mentoring, and showing that it’s more than just lip service, more than just a pet project.” Those working in music education, he said, need to be “committed to social justice in our work.”

And while he was “really impressed” with the Symposium participants, saying their collective expertise “lends a lot of credibility to the initial perspective,” Abril warned against magical thinking.

“It’s naïve to suggest that music is the answer to all our ills,” he said.

Published July 18, 2017
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Head of music-ed in Philadelphia’s schools is circumspect about work

Frank Machos. Photo by Matt Fried

Frank Machos, director of music education in the School District of Philadelphia, was a participant at YSM’s sixth Symposium on Music in Schools, which focused on “how to ensure that every child in every city in America has access to an active music life,” YSM Associate Dean Michael Yaffe has said.

The conversation about music education in America’s cities, Machos said, is part of a larger conversation about inequities across the public-education system. Like all of those who participated in the Symposium in mid-June, Machos is interested in constructing a new narrative about music education in city schools, and he was impressed with the company he was in.

“Most of the people in this building,” he said, in YSM’s Adams Center for Musical Arts, “are thought leaders, or at least disrupters in their field of expertise.”

Reflecting on the work that he and other public-school educators do, Machos said, “It’s important that we all understand the consequences of what we’re doing every day.”

Published July 18, 2017
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Policy expert points out that inequities in music education reflect society at large

Mike Blakeslee. Photo by Matt Fried

Mike Blakeslee, the executive director and CEO of the National Association for Music Education, was recently a participant at YSM’s sixth Symposium on Music in Schools, which focused on “how to ensure that every child in every city in America has access to an active music life,” YSM Associate Dean Michael Yaffe has said.

Among those invited to participate were public-school and university teachers and administrators, foundation leaders, music-education scholars, and public-policy experts who worked, Yaffe said, to “help us craft and complete a declaration about why music has the potential to change children’s lives and have an impact on issues of exclusion.” The purpose of the document, a draft of which was sent to participants ahead of the Symposium, is to “encourage the creation of ecosystems” that support the goal of guaranteeing children in city schools the same opportunities their suburban counterparts enjoy.

In America’s cities, Blakeslee pointed out, “we have these stark contrasts in terms of haves and have nots. If we don’t have a commitment to equity for all of our children, then we’re not going to have equity in music education, either. We’ve constructed a system where the self-interest of many constituencies is not social justice. You can tell the story,” but “the real question for me is, what are we going to do to make [change] really happen?”

Published July 17, 2017
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Symposium participant Tarik Ward calls music “the cultural equalizer”

Tarik Ward. Photo by Matt Fried

Tarik Ward, the director of music programs at ELMA Philanthropy Services, was one of 43 participants at YSM’s sixth Symposium on Music in Schools, the focus of which was “how to ensure that every child in every city in America has access to an active music life,” YSM Associate Dean Michael Yaffe has said. The work that was done at the Symposium will be part of a declaration that Yaffe said would “encourage the creation of ecosystems” that support the goal of guaranteeing children in city schools the same opportunities their suburban counterparts enjoy.

Ward talked about the “story of inequity,” saying, “If you tell me your zip code, I can tell you your life story.” To Ward, the Symposium and the declaration represent “an exercise in storytelling” about systemic inequity, and a chance to address “what we have to do” to bring about change. Music, Ward said, “is the cultural equalizer, the thing that everyone can do.”

 

Published July 17, 2017
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Symposium participant Lara Davis talks intersectionality

Lara Davis. Photo by Matt Fried

Lara Davis, the arts education manager at Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, was one of 43 participants at YSM’s sixth Symposium on Music in Schools, the focus of which was “how to ensure that every child in every city in America has access to an active music life,” YSM Associate Dean Michael Yaffe said. The work that was done at the Symposium, in mid-June, will inform a declaration that Yaffe has said would “encourage the creation of ecosystems” that support the goal of guaranteeing children in city schools the same opportunities their suburban counterparts enjoy.

During the Symposium, Davis said the conversation about music education in city schools is part of a larger discussion about “the inequities that are running rampant across public education in this country,” and that the gathering at Yale “is a step in the process.”

“This space could be one where we, as a small segment of the sector, can begin to articulate where we exist in the power structure,” she said. “We have to have an intersectional lens as we approach this” and ask, “How does that inform the ways we talk about music?”

 

Published July 17, 2017
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Hilary Purrington receives American Composers Orchestra commission

Hilary Purrington

Composer Hilary Purrington ’17MMA has been awarded the American Composers Orchestra’s 2017 Underwood Emerging Composer Commission, “bringing her a $15,000 commission for a work to be premiered by ACO in a future season,” according to a press release issued by the organization. Purrington was one of six finalists to participate, in late June, in the ACO’s Underwood New Music Readings, during which the orchestra played her 2016 piece Likely Pictures in a Haphazard Sky. More than 250 composers submitted work to the annual program.

Derek Bermel, the ACO’s artistic director, was quoted in the press release as saying, “Hilary Purrington’s music spoke in a highly personal voice … Her work unfolded assuredly, revealing an orchestral palette at once austere and lyrical.”

“The Underwood New Music Readings were beyond anything I expected or anticipated,” Purrington was quoted as saying. “I learned so much from our mentor composers, conductor George Manahan, and the extraordinary musicians of the American Composers Orchestra. I’m honored and thrilled to receive the Underwood Commission, and I’m very excited to compose for these incredible and fearless musicians!”

The mentor composers who participated are Libby Larsen, David Rakowski, and Trevor Weston.

“Founded in 1977,” the press release reads, “American Composers Orchestra is the only orchestra in the world dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promulgation of music by American composers. ACO makes the creation of new opportunities for American composers and new American orchestral music its central purpose.”

School of Music alumnus Andy Akiho ’11MM was awarded the ACO’s 2014 Underwood Commission.

PRESS RELEASE
HILARY PURRINGTON

Published July 11, 2017
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This young rising star from Philly just got the call-up of a lifetime

Kensho Watanabe

The Philadelphia Inquirer | By David Patrick Stearns

Kensho Watanabe can barely fathom the turn of events that found him on stage leading the Philadelphia Orchestra last weekend — with three hours’ notice.

 “I know what happened,” Watanabe said in an interview this week. “But my brain is still processing it.”

Surreal is one word that comes to mind, he said. Watanabe was notified at 5 p.m. Saturday that music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin had come down with a virus and could not conduct the 8 p.m. program at the Kimmel Center.

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Published June 29, 2017
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Central Conservatory of Music President Yu Feng visits Yale

Left to right: LIU Hongzhu, director of CCoM’s office of international affairs; CCoM President YU Feng; YSM Dean Robert Blocker; YU Hongmei, professor of erhu and director of CCoM’s department of traditional Chinese music; and YU Feng’s son YU Ji, a postgraduate conducting student at CCoM

YU Feng, the president of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China, paid a visit to Yale University this week as part of a trip to American schools with which his has institutional partnerships. The Yale School of Music has had a relationship with CCoM since the mid-1990s, when WANG Cizhao, whose daughter, composer Fay Wang, earned a master of music degree and an artist diploma from YSM in 2010 and 2012, respectively, was the conservatory’s president. YU, who leads CCoM’s conducting department, became the conservatory’s president in February 2016.

YU Feng was accompanied on his visit to Yale by his son, YU Ji, a postgraduate conducting student at CCoM; YU Hongmei, professor of erhu and director of CCoM’s department of traditional Chinese music; and LIU Hongzhu, the director of CCoM’s office of international affairs. MORE

Published June 23, 2017
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Yale Hosts Sixth Symposium on Music in Schools

Rubén Rodríguez, left, and Michael Yaffe during the 2017 Symposium on Music in Schools. Photo by Matt Fried

On June 15-17, the Yale School of Music hosted its sixth biennial Symposium on Music in Schools, an event at which 43 participants discussed “how to ensure that every child in every city in America has access to an active music life,” YSM Associate Dean Michael Yaffe said. That topic is one that Yaffe and Rubén Rodríguez, the lead teacher in YSM’s Music in Schools Initiative, have been thinking about for more than a year.

Among those invited to participate were public-school and university teachers and administrators, foundation leaders, music-education scholars, and public-policy experts who worked, Yaffe said, to “help us craft and complete a declaration about why music has the potential to change children’s lives and have an impact on issues of exclusion.” The purpose of the document, a draft of which was sent to participants ahead of the Symposium, is to “encourage the creation of ecosystems” that support the goal of guaranteeing children in city schools the same opportunities their suburban counterparts enjoy. The “gap” in quality public-school music education in the United States, Yaffe said, “is usually represented by city schools that don’t have full-time certified music teachers” or music-specific activities.

Symposium participant Tarik Ward, the director of music programs at ELMA Philanthropy Services, talked about the “story of inequity,” saying, “If you tell me your zip code, I can tell you your life story.” To Ward, the Symposium and the declaration that’s being crafted represent “an exercise in storytelling” about systemic inequity, and a chance to address “what we have to do” to bring about change. Music, Ward said, “is the cultural equalizer, the thing that everyone can do.”

Lara Davis, the arts education manager at Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, said the conversation about music education in city schools is part of a larger discussion about “the inequities that are running rampant across public education in this country,” and that the gathering at Yale “is a step in the process.”

Lara Davis, the arts education manager at Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture, addresses a working group during the 2017 Symposium on Music in Schools. Photo by Matt Fried

“We have to have an intersectional lens as we approach this,” and ask, “How does that inform the ways we talk about music?” Davis said.

Mike Blakeslee, the executive director and CEO of the National Association for Music Education, said, “We’ve constructed a system where the self-interest of many constituencies is not social justice. You can tell the story,” he said, but “the real question for me is, what are we going to do to make [change] really happen?”

In the coming months, Yaffe and Rodríguez, with YSM staff and input from Symposium participants, will finalize the declaration, launch a website, and identify organizations that will help disseminate the information. “We learned so much from this group of experts,” Yaffe said. In essence, the 2017 Symposium on Music in Schools was the opening salvo in what will be an ongoing effort to address the inequity that plagues America. And while the Symposium itself was an important step toward bringing about real change, what follows, in terms of the resulting document, will be even more critical.

In addition to brainstorming and sharing ideas and perspectives during the three-day event, participants also honored their peers. As has been tradition since the first Symposium on Music in Schools in 2007, the 2017 iteration included the presentation of Distinguished Music Educator Awards to 10 public-school music teachers, all of whom work in city schools.

The impetus for the efforts undertaken at the Symposium was the work of YSM’s Music in Schools Initiative, which was created in 2007 with an endowment from the Yale College Class of 1957.

Rodríguez looks forward to a paradigm shift in terms of how we think about music in schools. “We are declaring that we are all equal and we all deserve the same opportunities and freedoms and services and access to the same spaces and opportunities to thrive,” he said.

Related:
MUSIC IN SCHOOLS INITIATIVE
2017 SYMPOSIUM ON MUSIC IN SCHOOLS
YALE HONORS DISTINGUISHED MUSIC EDUCATORS

Published June 21, 2017
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New oratorio by Martin Bresnick to be premiered at International Festival of Arts & Ideas

Martin Bresnick. Photo by Nina Roberts

A new oratorio by School of Music faculty composer Martin Bresnick will be premiered at Yale on June 20 as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, which commissioned the piece. The oratorio, Whitman, Melville, Dickinson — Passions of Bloom, will be performed again on June 21 at the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. The oratorio, which celebrates the work of its namesakes — Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and distinguished literary critic Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English at Yale — will be performed by the Yale Choral Artists and members of the Yale Philharmonia. Vocal soloists include YSM faculty tenor James Taylor, who’ll sing Bloom’s words. The oratorio is modeled on Bach’s St. John Passion. Bresnick assembled the libretto using poems by Whitman, Melville, and Dickinson and excerpts from Bloom’s The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime.

Talking about the poetry of the 19th century writers he’s celebrating, Bresnick said, “These particular works have been part of my mental universe since I was a young student. Still others I only recently got more closely acquainted with.” He’s been familiar with Bloom’s work for many years. In the mid-1980s, Bresnick composed music for the PBS series Voices & Visions, which, through interviews with such experts as Bloom, explored the lives of American poets. At that moment, Bresnick said, he felt that Bloom, who earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1956, had established himself as a kind of Marlon Brando of critics, inasmuch as the “degree of passion and devotion he brought to his explanations” was “almost poetic.” It was while working on For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise, based on the William Blake poem, that Bresnick got to know Bloom and appreciate the shared “commonalities in our origins and points of departure.” In incorporating excerpts from The Daemon Knows into his oratorio, Bresnick had permission from Bloom to use “anything I wanted.”

Modeling the oratorio on Bach’s St. John Passion was a logical step considering that Bloom’s voice in the piece is not unlike that of the Evangelist — the narrator — in Bach’s passions. And Taylor, Bresnick pointed out, is a “well-known Evangelist in the world of the two Bach passions.” In addition to Taylor, Bresnick said, “I needed some very special singers.” Enter the Yale Choral Artists.

“Several of the soloists for this performance also happen to be YSM alumni, from both the Institute of Sacred Music’s voice program and from Yale Opera, including two former students of Jimmy’s — Paul Tipton and Sherezade Panthaki,” YCA founding director and YSM professor of choral conducting, Jeffrey Douma, said. School of Music alumni who’ll be performing include mezzo-soprano Katherine Maroney ’06MM, soprano Megan Chartrand ’13MM, soprano Sarah Yanovitch ’15MM, tenor Colin Britt ’10MM, tenor Gene Stenger ’15MM, and tenor Steven Soph ’12MM. Bass-baritone Tipton ’10MM will sing Melville’s words, while Maroney and soprano Panthaki ’11AD will sing text by Dickinson. Additional vocal soloists include tenor Brian Giebler, who’ll sing words by Whitman, bass Glenn Miller, who’ll sing the words of Captain Ahab, from Melville’s Moby-Dick, and baritone Thomas McCargar, who’ll sing the words of Melville’s Ishmael.

“During his composition process,” Douma said, “Martin often showed me excerpts of the solo writing he was developing, and would describe the kinds of voices he was hearing. This helped me choose singers from within the ranks of the Choral Artists best suited to each role.”

Bresnick’s oratorio, Douma said, “references not only Bach but also Brahms and other composers. People who know the St. John Passion will hear distinct echoes of its opening chorus (“Herr, unser Herrscher”) in Martin’s opening chorus (“Shine! Shine! Shine!”). For me as conductor, knowing that Bach was a starting point for Martin has influenced my thinking about the melodic writing in the piece and its relationship to the text. Martin may not be quoting Bach, but his careful attention to the natural rise and fall of the language and his singularly expressive way of emphasizing particular words reminds me very much of Bach’s use of melody, especially in the extended recitatives we hear in his passions. It has reinforced how important it will be for the audience to connect with the language in a very direct way.”

Of the literary works that inspired the oratorio, Douma said, “I love all three of the writers who inhabit this piece, but I will admit that my understanding of each of them — especially Melville — has been enriched greatly by the process of preparing this music.”

Originally, Bresnick said, he conceived a piece that would celebrate Bloom’s writings on Whitman. “I found that that wasn’t congenial for me,” he said. “That wasn’t enough.” The piece “needed more contrast.”

Bloom, Bresnick said, is “very shy about the fact that this whole thing, in some ways, is about him.”

Whitman, Melville, Dickinson — Passions of Bloom will receive its world-premiere performance, as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, on Tuesday, June 20, at 8 pm, in Morse Recital Hall at the Yale School of Music. The oratorio will be performed again on Wednesday, June 21, at 7:30 pm, at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS & IDEAS PERFORMANCE
NORFOLK PERFORMANCE

Published June 15, 2017
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