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Music in Schools Initiative

New Morse Summer Academy gets underway at the School of Music

Musical talents of 42 New Haven students nurtured through free summer music academy

Cultivating the musical talents of New Haven students is the focus of a new Yale School of Music program making its debut this summer July 26 through August 30.

The Morse Summer Music Academy at YSM is designed to nurture creativity and develop musicianship in students who have a passion for music, who desire to become stronger self-sufficient musicians, and who aspire to be musical leaders.

The program will provide free, comprehensive music instruction to 42 New Haven public school students in grades 6–10. It is made possible through a generous gift by Enid and Lester Morse ’51.

The concept for the academy began to take shape over a decade ago in conversations between the Morses and Yale School of Music Dean Robert Blocker about how to improve the state of music education. The Morses — long-time supporters of Yale in addition to the Juilliard School and Carnegie Hall in New York — were interested in providing educational programs in New Haven similar to successful programs in place at Juilliard.

“Music is being pulled out of the public schools,” says Lester Morse. “If you don’t grow up making music in your family, and if you don’t have it in school, you’re not going to have it at all. So I think we should do whatever we can do to re-inject interest in music in the schools.”

Blocker notes, “We have always had programs for school children here at Yale during the academic year. In the Academy we saw the opportunity to complete the circle by offering summer training to students who have demonstrated to our faculty that they have a special talent that needs nurturing.”

The students were nominated by New Haven Public School teachers and had a formal audition at YSM. At the same time, parents came to the school to learn about the details of the program. Ultimately, 42 students who would otherwise not have access to summer music programs were chosen to participate in the academy’s inaugural year. All are receiving full scholarships.

In order to participate in the Academy, students and their families had to agree to a serious commitment to a rigorous program. There will be a private lesson for each student once a week along with scheduled daily individual practice, ensemble rehearsals, special workshops and master classes. There will be four performances in Sprague Hall, a field trip to the Yale’s Norfolk Summer School of Music, and visits to the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments and the Yale Center for British Art.

Associate Dean Michael Yaffe, the director of the Academy, says, “We hope the Morse Fellows will go back to their schools and be musical leaders because of the work they did this summer.” Ellen Maust, music department facilitator for the New Haven Public Schools, is optimistic that this will happen. “Their musical growth will be so evident that others will aspire to participate in the Academy next year and will work toward that goal.”

According to Lester Morse, “If the parents are involved, it’s more likely that the students will stay enthusiastic. And having the parents involved will encourage them to come to concerts and other kinds of events at Yale. It opens up what Yale has to offer to a wider community.”

Among the workshops will be a session for students and parents by Dr. James Comer, the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center and associate dean for student affairs at the Yale School of Medicine. Comer is best known for the program he developed to fully integrate parents in their children’s education. Originally introduced to New Haven’s public schools, the School Development Program has been implemented in hundreds of schools in more than 20 states. At the Music Academy workshops, Dr. Comer will discuss the relationship between music, child and youth development, and academic learning. “I am a strong believer in the importance of the arts in education,” says Comer.

In another workshop, Dean Blocker will work with parents on how to encourage their musically gifted children. “The key to the development of a young musician is support at home,” he says.

Several of the Yale School of Music’s most distinguished teachers will work with directly with the students. These include clarinetist David Shifrin, violinist Wendy Sharp, flutist Ransom Wilson, trumpeter Allan Dean, and hornist William Purvis. Pianist and composer Joan Panetti and Blocker, a renowned pianist in his own right, will also teach at the academy. The program’s faculty includes recent graduates of YSM as well as New Haven Public School music teachers with expertise in working with middle- and high-school students.

“One amazing thing about the program is that the teacher to student ratio is so low,” says Michael Yaffe. “We have 15 people working with around 40 students. So the fellows are going to get a lot of attention, and this will push them in ways they have never been pushed before."