Alumna Olivia Malin ’07MM, on choosing a career as a music educator

Olivia Malin works with students at KAPPA International High School

Trumpeter Olivia Malin ’07MM, who studied with Allan Dean and worked in the Music in Schools Initiative during her time at YSM, is entering her 11th year as a public-school music educator and teaches at KAPPA International High School in the Bronx, New York. Malin spoke with us recently about being inspired, as a student, to pursue a career in education despite the pressure she felt to focus on performance.

Q: You were a Teaching Artist in YSM’s Music in Schools Initiative. How did that program prepare you for what you’re doing now at KAPPA International High School?
A: While I was a student at YSM, I was also working in the Music in Schools Initiative. At first I stayed firmly in my comfort zone, teaching elementary/middle school brass group lessons. Midyear, I was branching out to woodwinds and percussion, and in the spring, I was running full band rehearsals when the band director wanted to do isolated lessons himself. I also began working with first- to third-graders learning piano and guitar. My second year in the program, I was placed at a high school where I got the opportunity to teach higher-level lessons and music, and to assist teaching AP music theory. The varied placement over those two years gave me a significant taste of what teaching K-12 would be like, with significant hours teaching piano, guitar, band, and general music classes. Even more important, the program was the first exposure that opened my eyes to what urban schools need, and what they don’t need, from me. At KAPPA, I now teach rock band, guitar, IB music, band, beginner band, and chorus – and I have also taught piano and general music – so the majority of classes I helped with at YSM are in fact what I teach full-time now.

Q: Did you know or think, upon enrolling at Yale, that you’d become a music teacher?
A: I have always taught private trumpet lessons, but no, I never thought I would be a full-time music teacher. We all know the stigma that exists about music teaching, and I admit I used to believe that only those performers who weren’t very good would end up as educators. It’s an easy thing to believe, since once a person becomes a teacher, it’s pretty difficult to maintain a high level of performance on their instrument, and most people don’t see the “performance level” of teaching. It’s hidden in the classroom – your audience is 30 students who don’t always applaud. One of the most difficult barriers I broke through was deciding that public-school teaching would be a higher calling than performing. There is so much outside pressure in the performance world not to become a teacher, and that pressure shows up constantly in little ways from friends, teachers, family, and the general public.

[Prof. Dean, Malin said, “is a wonderful teacher who taught me well and supported me through this decision to switch to teaching, something I think not all professors would be able to do.”] 

Q: What informed your decision to transition from focusing on performance to focusing on education?
A: What I started noticing was that my levels of happiness and self-worth after teaching at Lincoln-Bassett School or Wilbur Cross High School were significantly higher than those after an orchestral rehearsal or concert. I also noticed that I looked forward to being around the students – learning from them and laughing with them as much as teaching them content – much more than I expected. Their energy in the band room was so fresh and vibrant that I wanted more and more hours teaching in the program, and I spent extra time there after my paid time expired. The real moment, however, was when Associate Dean Michael Yaffe approached me sitting in (operations manager) Tara Deming’s office one day. He started talking about me to other people in the office, about what great teaching looked like and that he saw amazing potential in me when he saw how I lit up around students. In that short conversation, I saw something in myself that had until that point been a hobby, something I was good at and made a little money at, but which had never been a true option. Hearing him say those things out loud suddenly gave the green light to a career I hadn’t realized was a possibility – and a highly respectable possibility validated by the associate dean.

Q: What would you tell incoming YSM students who’re starting to think about what their careers might look like after school?
A: Be open to absolutely anything, say yes to everything, and be professional constantly. The music scene for you can be a combination of so many fulfilling things that it makes no sense to pigeonhole yourself early on. Don’t rule anything out simply because of generalizations – they may not apply to you! I am going into my 11th year of public school teaching. I am a proud high-school teacher in the Bronx and a trumpet player in a salsa band in Manhattan – and I wouldn’t change anything about my life.

Published August 1, 2017
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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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YSM honors Distinguished Music Educators

The Yale School of Music is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2017 Yale Distinguished Music Educator Awards. Ten awardees, who represent city school districts across the United States, will be honored at the sixth Symposium on Music in Schools, which takes place June 15-17 on the Yale University campus.

The recipients were identified and nominated in partnership with the National Association for Music Education and the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. They were selected in recognition of their innovative approaches to music education, their dedication to the urban communities in which they teach, and their unwavering desire to make a substantive difference in the lives of students and families.

“The Yale School of Music is continuing its tradition of recognizing exceptional music teachers working in schools across the United States,” YSM Associate Dean Michael Yaffe said. “This year, we’re focusing specifically on the leadership of educators in city schools whose work is made more critical by a growing disparity in opportunities for music-making in America’s cities.”

The biennial Symposium on Music in Schools provides a national forum for the discussion of the role that music and music-teaching plays in community development. The 2017 Symposium, which will focus on the role that music-making plays in America’s city schools, will mark 10 years since the Music in Schools Initiative was launched with an endowment from the Yale College Class of 1957. MORE

Published May 12, 2017
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[ in the press ]

Yale School of Music and New Haven Public Schools: Changing lives through music-making

all-city-chorusYaleNews | By Bess Connolly Martell

It’s not uncommon for the students at the Yale School of Music to “blow their own horns,” but when it comes to the wealth of opportunities the school presents to New Haven schoolchildren, the school leaders aren’t known to boast.

YaleNews recently met with Michael Yaffe, associate dean at the School of Music, to discuss the recent Music in Schools Symposium, the numerous programs that the school provides for New Haven schoolchildren, and how this collaboration gives students “distinctive opportunities to flourish as musicians.”

An edited version of that conversation follows. MORE

Published July 21, 2015
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