[ symposium ]
Music-making in America’s City Schools
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.”
“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. Awardees were identified and nominated in partnership with the National Association for Music Education and the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. Awardees were selected in recognition of their innovative approaches to music education, their dedication to their urban communities, and their unwavering desire to make a substantial difference in the lives of students and families.
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.
2017 Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award Recipients
Alandra Abrams, 27 years of service
Music Technology, General Music, Choir, and Dance
Alandra Abrams has been teaching for more than 30 years. She has been the music technology teacher at Tilden Middle School, in Philadelphia, for 22 years. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in music education from Temple University, a master of arts degree (summa cum laude) in education, curriculum, and technology from Grand Canyon University, and credits in computer technology from the University of the Arts. She has received awards from the International Society of Poets and the Met-Life Foundation, was a winner of the Futures Without Violence’s Respect! Challenge, and has been honored by the Give A Note Foundation. Abrams has seven children, 33 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Rita Black, 13 years of service
General Music and Choir
Rita Black teaches music in Nashville, where she is a school leader, mentors pre-service teachers, directs theater and choir, and presents workshops for educators. She holds a BME from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a member of the National Association for Music Education and the American Orff-Schulwerk Association, having served as a committee co-chair in 2014. She is an advisor for music curriculum and serves as a peer reviewer for the Tennessee Fine Arts Growth Measures System. Black is a 2016 Teaching Fellow at Tennessee’s State Collaborative on Reforming Education, where she focuses on education-policy issues, and was named a Music Teacher of Excellence in 2016 by the Nashville Public Education Foundation and the Country Music Association Foundation.
Adam Brooks is the heart and soul of the band program at North Atlanta High School. The 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year, Brooks’ passion for teaching is as clear as his passion for music. A horn player by trade, Brooks earned a bachelor of arts degree in music education from Bethune-Cookman University, in Daytona Beach, Florida. He earned his master of music degree in conducting from Reinhardt University, in Georgia, and is pursuing a doctor of music degree in conducting.
Brooks is also an accomplished percussionist who has taught and performed with several Top 10 Division I and Division II drum and bugle corps.
In 2009, Brooks conducted the orchestra for Grammy-nominated rap artist Rick Ross and the Grammy-nominated production team J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League for Ross’ 2010 Teflon Don album.
The North Atlanta High School band department, under Brooks’ leadership, consists of 200-plus students and offers a full range of classes and ensembles that suit all the needs and skill levels of high-school musicians. All groups consistently receive Superior and Excellent ratings at the Georgia Music Educators Association’s annual Large Group Performance Evaluations, have won countless awards in all areas, and have produced more than $11 million in scholarship money for students during his tenure. Through partnerships and training programs with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Essentially Ellington jazz program, the NAHS program continues to grow in size and reputation.
Brooks has a beautiful family that includes his wife, band director LaToya Brooks, and daughters Aria, Skylar, and Kai Brooks. He is thankful for his blessings and grateful for the opportunity to live out his dreams.
Monique Brusca, 25 years of service
String Orchestra, Concert Band, Modern Band, Beginning Winds, Beginning Strings, Drum Line, Jazz Band, and World Drumming
Monique Brusca received her bachelor of arts in music education and music performance from UCLA. She is in her 25th year at Columbus Middle School in the Los Angeles Unified School District and is the lead teacher at Columbus Middle School’s Conservatory of Music. Brusca has received numerous grants, including those from VH1 Save the Music Foundation and the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. Brusca was recently named one of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Teachers of the Year and selected as a semifinalist for the Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year awards.
Nathan Cohen, 9 years of service
Band and String Orchestra
Nathan Cohen is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music and the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. He has been teaching in both international and public-school settings for the past nine years. He has been at his current position teaching middle-school band and orchestra in Trenton, New Jersey, for the past six years. Cohen is a jazz saxophone player who also performs professionally on flute and clarinet. He is excited to be part of the Yale School of Music’s 2017 Symposium on Music in Schools.
Aldie Lopez-Rios, 11 years of service
Band and General Music
Aldie Lopez currently works at Ed & Verma Pastor Elementary School in the Roosevelt School District in Phoenix, Arizona. He has worked there for nine years as the general music and band teacher. The band program currently boasts more than 180 students in grades five through eight. Lopez is a graduate of the Las Vegas Academy of Performing and Visual Arts (2000), received his bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Nevada, Reno (2005), and earned his master’s degree in educational administration from Grand Canyon University (2016).
Jeff Midkiff, 20 years of service
Jeff Midkiff is in his 10th year as an orchestra director in the Roanoke City Public Schools, in Virginia. Previously, Midkiff taught in Fairfax County, Virginia, and Collier County, Florida, and conducted youth orchestras in McHenry County, Illinois, and Prince William County, Virginia. Midkiff received his bachelor of arts degree in music education from Virginia Tech, and his master of music degree in clarinet performance from Northern Illinois University. Midkiff’s Mandolin Concerto, From the Blue Ridge, was performed in March 2017 by the Boulder Philharmonic at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as part of SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras.
Corina Miller, 28 years of service
Vocal and Classroom Music (Pre-K–8th grade) and Choir (Middle School)
Corina Miller has been teaching vocal and classroom music in the urban school setting for 28 years. She spent her first two years teaching at a preschool in Dallas, Texas. Since then, over the past 26 years, she has been teaching music at the Richard R. Green Central Park School, which is part of the Minneapolis Public Schools system, in Minnesota. She earned a bachelor of science degree in vocal music from Minnesota State University Moorhead, a master’s degree in education from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, her Kodály certification from the University of North Texas, and her Orff certification from the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Robin J. Paige, 23 years of service
Choral and General Music
Robin Paige is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. She earned her bachelor of arts degree from Spelman College in 1991. While she was a student at Spelman, Paige was elected to membership in Pi Kappa Lambda, received the United Negro College Fund’s Michael Jackson Scholarship, and graduated cum laude. She received her master of arts degree from New York University in 1994. Paige is a member of the Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity for Women, Inc. and the Baltimore Musicians of Root Excellence, an affiliate of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc. She is married to John Paige and has a son, John.
Larry Ward, 32 years of service
Larry Ward received his bachelor of music degree from Sam Houston State University, in Huntsville, Texas, and currently serves as director of bands at Whittier Elementary School, in Houston. He was previously the manager of music programs, and before that a band teacher, at Project GRAD Houston’s Fine Arts Program. As music manager, he organized and coordinated musical performing groups in which more than 400 students from the Northside (formerly Davis) High School feeder schools participated. Earlier in his career, he was the director of bands at the Madisonville Consolidated Independent School District, in Madisonville, Texas. Ward is also a professional musician who performs regularly as a trombonist and guitarist.