Ariel Horowitz receives Yale-Jefferson Award for Public Service

Ariel Horowitz

Violinist Ariel Horowitz ’20MMA has received the Yale-Jefferson Award for Public Service in recognition of her leadership of the Heartbeat Music Project, which “offers music education for Navajo (Diné) K-12 students living on the Navajo Reservation,” according to the organization’s recently launched website. “We cultivate a safe space for our students to thrive and gain confidence in themselves, their abilities, and their local and global potential.”

The Yale-Jefferson Award recognizes “sustained public service that is individual, innovative, impactful, and inspiring” and individuals who “demonstrate service that draws on the Yale community and/or resources to benefit the world beyond Yale.”

Horowitz, the Heartbeat Music Project’s artistic director and founder, said the leadership effort “sort of fell into my lap” during her junior year at the Juilliard School. Her mother, Amy Horowitz, an affiliate faculty member at the University of Indiana Bloomington’s Center for the Study of Global Change, was at the Navajo Technical University, in Crownpoint, New Mexico, working, with a grant from Indiana University, on the “redistribution of intellectual resources,” (Ariel) Horowitz said. Discussions with her mother led Horowitz, with a small grant from the Juilliard School, to Crownpoint, where she organized a five-day workshop for a handful of Navajo third-graders. “It was like a little music day camp,” Horowitz said.

Folks at the Navajo Technical University wanted to bring more musicians to Crownpoint to work with Navajo students in kindergarten through 12th grade. “I’d never taught a high-schooler,” Horowitz said. “I was barely not a high-schooler myself.”

This coming summer will be the fifth that Horowitz has led a two-week tuition-free music camp for Navajo children in Crownpoint. Enrollment is up to about 60.

Horowitz is quick to point out that she doesn’t do the work alone. Sharon Nelson, a Navajo woman and a graduate student in NTU’s Diné studies program, has been instrumental. “She has added a really important cultural component for out camp,” Horowitz said. Specifically, Nelson has served as a generational bridge. Camp attendees don’t speak Diné, Horowitz explained, and the elders with whom they live don’t speak English. (According to a 1993 article in The New York Times, “Dine … is an Athapascan word for man, but has been translated as ‘the people’ by the Navajos, who routinely use it to refer to themselves and their language.”)

“A lot of YSM students have become involved,” as well, Horowitz said. Violinist Greg Lewis ’19MM, to name one, is the organization’s communications director. The classical music scene is competitive, Horowitz said. Working on an initiative like the Heartbeat Music Project offers “a different perspective on what’s important.” A lot of students who attend the annual music camp “haven’t seen our instruments before,” Horowitz said. “Their lived experience is so drastically different from mine.” The Navajo people, she pointed out, face “massive systemic inequity” and “intergenerational trauma.”

Horowitz’s goal for the project transcends music. First and foremost, she wants Navajo children to have a meaningful experience “because there’s not a lot of that to go around” on the reservation. She wants to help children reach a point at which they can be academically competitive without losing contact with their traditional Diné culture.

Horowitz is learning as she goes. “People get degrees in nonprofit management,” she said. “I’m a violinist at a music school.” Still, she said, “I feel proud of how I’ve risen to the occasion, to the challenge. I honestly think I’m a better person for it.” Receiving the Yale Jefferson Award, though, is overwhelming. “I feel kind of awkward,” she said. “I am fully aware that while the Heartbeat Music Project is a really fantastic endeavor, it’s a drop in the bucket. I don’t think one person can affect the change that needs to happen.” She does hope the award provides a platform from which she can encourage other musicians to broaden their perspectives. “I get excited every time I see a project like this.”

Violinist Ariel Horowitz ’20MMA received the Yale-Jefferson Award for Public Service on Friday, November 22.

Published November 21, 2019
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Nancy Marx Better, on her relationship with the School of Music

Nancy Marx Better

In addition to her service to the University, for which she will receive the Yale Medal today, Nancy Marx Better ’84BA has long been committed to furthering the specific interests of the School of Music. Better has served on the School’s Board of Advisors since 2012.

“Our family’s dedication to music at Yale really comes from my mother,” Better said, explaining that through her mother, pianist and philanthropist Sylvia Marx, her family developed a relationship with the School.

Better’s family has had a decades-long relationship with the University. Four generations of Better’s family have studied at Yale, including her three children. The only member of her family who did not study at Yale is Marx, who has served on the School’s Board of Advisors since 2002. “If Yale had been co-ed in the early 1950s, I’m sure they would’ve wanted her,” Better said of her mother, who studied at and graduated from Connecticut College.

Better’s service to the School is of a practical nature. “While I’m not a music expert, I think that I have some good institutional knowledge about Yale,” she said. Better, who has worked as a journalist, chairs the Yale University Library Council, and, as the University has pointed out, “has participated on the Yale Development Council dating back to its establishment in 2012, has been an Alumni Schools Committee interviewer since 1990, and served on the Yale Tomorrow Campaign Committee from 2005 through the close of the campaign,” among other areas of service. Better takes a holistic view of her work for the University.

“The School of Music is part of the fabric of Yale,” she said. “Music is everywhere at Yale,” from University President Peter Salovey’s interest in bluegrass to the countless students who have relationships with music. “There’s this broader sense that the arts spark creativity and innovation in other areas. It’s sort of osmosis. I like to think that the tremendous breadth and depth of what’s available at Yale benefits everybody.” Better is interested in connecting the dots.

“The stuff I really like is strategy,” Better said. “I really enjoy talking with (School of Music Dean Robert Blocker) and my colleagues about the strategies for the School of Music. I love to look forward.” She sees the future in the students whose performances she hears. She’s “dazzled” by their artistic potential.

Better is also encouraged by the School’s Music in Schools Initiative, a partnership with the New Haven Public Schools in which teaching artists from the School support the work of music teachers in the public schools. The Declaration on Equity in Music for City Students, which the School published in 2017, and the work that Yale does in the community is “extraordinary,” she said. “It’s classic Yale.”

Nancy Marx Better will receive the Yale Medal on Thursday, November 21, during the Yale Alumni Association Assembly and Yale Alumni Fund Convocation

Published November 21, 2019
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