Violinist and YSM alum Jessica Oddie, on music education in the United States and abroad

Jessica Oddie

Since she graduated from the Yale School of Music, violinist Jessica Oddie ’13BA ’15MM has been living in Germany, “playing chamber music of all varieties and working in educational initiatives, supported by a DAAD [German Academic Exchange Service] fellowship to research the differences between the European and American systems of music education.” We talked recently with Oddie, who was immersed in the Lincoln Center Teaching Artist Development Labs “discovering how I can deepen my teaching artistry further,” about her time at YSM and how it informed what she’s doing now.

Q: How did participating as a Teaching Artist in YSM’s Music in Schools Initiative influence what you’re doing today?

A: My time in MISI strengthened my belief that we as artists have a strong imperative to share our passion and knowledge, not only through performance but also through teaching. MISI offered me an opportunity to be involved in my community as a musician and educator, while also providing a platform to engage with ideas about art and education with colleagues, mentors, and other professionals. MISI’s commitment to creating another musical community in New Haven, and YSM’s support for innovation in that field, inspired me to continue this work when I moved to Germany, at a time when cultural exchange, multiculturalism, and how these themes influence music education are particularly important topics.

In Germany, I’ve worked in collaborations between music schools and normal schools, bringing music education to students who would not otherwise have an opportunity to try out an instrument, including students from difficult socioeconomic or refugee backgrounds. I’ve been involved in conversations at the Musikhochschule Stuttgart and the recent Germany-wide Musikschule Kongress, exploring how music education can be inclusive of new members of European society, especially through intercultural music collaboration and exchange. I started a project at a local middle school aimed at getting young string players excited about upcoming orchestral performances in the area, by arranging orchestral repertoire for players of all levels. By playing this repertoire, whether they were beginners who were pizzing open strings or advanced students playing an excerpt from the solo line of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, students got to know the pieces from the inside out.

Q: How is the work you’re doing there similar to and how is it different than what you did in New Haven as a YSM Teaching Artist?

A: My students in Germany have an enormous amount in common with my students in New Haven. Children are children, and the joy of exploring or creating something beautiful together is the same regardless of the culture. My work is therefore largely the same. One of the most important things we as teachers can do is to affirm to children the value of their experiences and the power of their creativity, and to provide them with tools to express their own voices.

The biggest difference logistically is that funding in Germany is generally from the state, so initiatives are developed in conjunction with the local government, whereas in the United States, most are developed by entrepreneurial individuals who have an idea and find the funds to make it happen.

Q: Can you share some words about the importance of programs like the Music in Schools Initiative and the one with which you’re involved now? 

A: I believe there is no task more essential to crafting a brighter future than engaging with young people about ideas, seeking and creating meaning together, and celebrating a multitude of voices. Programs like MISI inspire creativity, connect people, and strengthen communities.

Q: What would you say to incoming YSM students who might not be familiar with the Music in Schools Initiative? 

A: Absolutely get involved! You will share a lot and learn even more, from colleagues, mentors, and most of all your students. I am constantly surprised by how much I learn through teaching. I also can’t think of a more fulfilling way to spend your Saturday mornings than working with young New Haven orchestral players.

Published July 26, 2017
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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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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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