Honoring 51 distinguished public school music educators from 37 states, welcoming an additional 60 music teachers from New Haven, probing critical educational issues, building skills in panels and workshops, and drawing national attention to the value of music and music teachers in the lives of our children, the Yale School of Music’s second biennial Symposium on Music in Schools was a resounding success. Taking place on June 10 and 11, 2009, the Symposium was sponsored by the Yale College Class of 1957 and the Yale School of Music as part of the Music in Schools Initiative.
“The symposium was a wonderful opportunity for the School of Music to contribute to music education in our country and to recognize the wonderful work done by so many music teachers,” said Associate Dean Michael Yaffe, who oversees the School’s Music in Schools Initiative. “It really exceeded my expectations. There was so much high level conversation about the topics, and teachers were really energized about what they were doing. They left feeling that they could go back and conquer the world — which is just what we were hoping they would do.”
The first event in the symposium was a gala dinner on June 10 in the historic Yale Commons dining hall. Lucia Brawley, an actress, writer, and outspoken advocate of arts education, gave the keynote address. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Brawley has also studied at Harvard University and Trinity College (Dublin). She regularly blogs about arts education for the Huffington Post. Her stated mission is to empower students through arts-integrated education. At the conclusion of her 30-minuteinspirational address, which she directed for the most part at the distinguished music educators, she said, “As a music teacher, you offer as much to society as any doctor, lawyer, fireman, policewoman, or politician. Without the passion, delight and purpose you ignite, there are children who literally would not want go on living, or would go on living in a colorless world of obtuse sounds and severely limited prospects…. And, as you touch life after life, changing each one forever, opening new pathways, liberating youth from their innumerable struggles, offering them hope and opportunity, new modes of reflecting, connecting with, and affecting the world, your song takes on symphonic splendor.” [For a video of her speech and the complete text, visit her blog on Huffington Post here]
At the dinner, Distinguished Music Educator Awards were presented by Robert Blocker, Dean of the Yale School of Music, to 51 teachers who had come from as far as Alaska to be recognized and to participate in the symposium. Entertainment was provided by a chorus of fourth graders from New Haven’s Worthington Hooker School.
The real work of the symposium took place the next day. Panel discussions and workshops focused on two topics: “Is El Sistema adaptable in the US?” and “Linking Music to the General Classroom.”
In “El Sistema” the government of Venezuela has infused music into every school at every level for every student. There have been amazing results in terms of the musical literacy of the students and the country overall. The panel consisted of Daniel Trahey, a graduate of the Yale School of Music now working as Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s ORCHkids program and Music Teacher Mentor at the Peabody Institute; Larry Friend, Supervisor of the Arts for the Baltimore Unified School District; and Robert Capanna, Executive Director of Philadelphia’s Settlement Music School. [Trahey is on his way to Venezuela to study El Sistema in greater depth. Follow his experiences on his blog.]
The panel on music in the general classroom was led by the two program managers of Yale’s Music in Schools Initiative, Olivia Malin and John Miller, and professor Thomas C. Duffy, who has worked for many years with school music programs and who was acting dean at the time of the Class of 1957 gift. Malin and Miller, both recent graduates of the Yale School of Music, described the numerous creative programs that Yale has in place in schools, including 28 New Haven public schools as well as schools in other parts of the state and in New York.
To illustrate the kinds of innovative projects that are possible in a public school setting, there was a performance of “Seeing Through Diamond’s Eyes.” For this project, fourth grade students of the Davis Street Magnet School in New Haven wrote and illustrated a book, and professor Duffy wrote a score. At the performance in Sprague Hall, he narrated, joined by the Davis Street School’s band, chorus, and several readers who took on the roles of children in the book.
After each panel discussion were break-out sessions with lively discussions by the music educators, followed by brief reports to the entire group in Sprague Hall. As one astute observer from the Class of 1957 noted, “If the degree of government involvement represented by El Sistema is one pole on the spectrum, some of the break-out sessions explored territory nearer the other end and more familiar to the participants—how does an individual music teacher, with little initial backing, develop support from parents, school boards, foundations, corporations, and the whole community?
In addition, there were workshops, led by two educators who were recognized at the 2007 symposium. Jeb Gist’s workshop was on “Music and Storytelling,” and Matthew Shay led the educators in a lyric and songwriting projects called “Emerging Voices.”
The day and the symposium concluded with a South American-themed dinner and dancing to the Yale Tango Ensemble.
Responses from the participants was unanimously positive. Typical comments:
“I particularly enjoyed the panel and discussions about El Sistema, and this gave me some wonderful ideas on how I will continue to shape my program and connect with community organizations…the Yale School of Music deserves a ton of credit for the work you are all doing to improve the lives of young people through music.”
“I was very impressed with all of the participants, and with the lively and 'passionate' discussions that energized the two days.”
“The opening dinner and key-note speaker, the panel discussions and breakouts, and the very memorable evening of 'tango' will remain a highlight to my year – and my career.”