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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Morse Academy welcomes public-school students to Yale

Morse Summer Music Academy participants perform at the New Haven Free Public Library

Young musicians from the New Haven Public Schools have arrived at the Yale School of Music to participate in the Morse Summer Music Academy. For four weeks, these students will take private lessons and take part in scheduled daily chamber music lessons, large and small ensemble rehearsals, workshops, and master classes. The program also includes field trips to local galleries, museums, and the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Summer Music Festival.

A primary goal of the Morse Academy, in partnership with the Music in Schools Initiative, is to address equity in access to music for the city’s public-school students. Musical equity has been widely discussed at Yale School of Music in recent years, most notably at the 2017 Symposium on Music in Schools, after which the School published its Declaration on Equity in Music for City Students. “Access is one thing, but equity is another. Access means there is a teacher, but equity means everyone has the opportunity to work with that teacher,” YSM Associate Dean Michael Yaffe said.

Morse Academy is free to participating students and is made possible through a generous endowment established by Enid and Lester Morse (Yale College ’51). Students in grades four through 11 who sing and/or play piano, guitar, woodwind, brass, string, and percussion instruments are eligible to apply. Instruction is provided by certified music teachers from the New Haven Public Schools, and graduate-student Teaching Artists, alumni, and faculty from the Yale School of Music.

Clarinetist Richard Adger ’19MM ’20MMA is a returning Teaching Artist who was drawn to the Morse Academy by the opportunity to help nurture young musicians and pass on what he has learned. “As a Teaching Artist, my goal is to always try and unlock a love of music in the students,” Adger said. “Whether the students decide to pursue music as a career or not, I hope to give them something that will last their whole life.”

Morse Academy also allows Teaching Artists, as young educators themselves, to hone their pedagogical skills. “As an educator, it’s really important to be able to effectively communicate with students of different ages and backgrounds,” Adger said. “The diversity of the students at the Morse Academy allows me to gain experience in both of those areas.”

Participants will give more than 30 performances throughout the course of the month-long program. Concerts take place Monday through Thursday at Sprague Memorial Hall, starting on Monday, July 15. Every Friday, starting Friday, July 12, Morse Academy students will perform pop-up concerts at the Yale University Art Gallery, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, New Haven Free Public Library, and elsewhere around New Haven. These concerts begin at 2 p.m. A final concert will take place at Sprague Memorial Hall on Friday, August 3, at 5:30 p.m.

MORSE SUMMER MUSIC ACADEMY

Published July 8, 2019
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Associate Dean Michael Yaffe advocates for arts education on Capitol Hill

Michael Yaffe

In May, Associate Dean Michael Yaffe attended the National Association of Music Merchants’ Music Education Advocacy D.C. Fly-In. The annual conference is organized to advocate “for the right of every child to learn and grow with music,” according to the organization. “NAMM delegates had over 230 meetings with members of Congress or their staff, in addition to meetings with governors from 19 states,” NAMM’s public-relations team said.

“The group of 100 people from the NAMM Foundation delivered 230 copies of the Declaration (on Equity in Music for City Students) to members of Congress (and/or their staffs),” Yaffe said, referring to the document the School published after the 2017 Symposium on Music in Schools. During the 2017 Symposium, 43 public-school and university teachers and administrators, foundation leaders, music-education scholars, and public-policy experts discussed ways to “ensure that every child in every city in America has access to an active music life.”

Yaffe spoke during the NAMM conference in May “about the Declaration and its role in the School’s concept of cultural leadership” and reported there was enthusiasm in Congress “for making the case for arts education.”

This month, from June 13 to 15, Yaffe will lead the seventh Symposium on Music in Schools, the goal of which is “to craft a set of principles aimed at creating and improving higher education programs that prepare music educators and teaching artists for work in the 21st century,” Yaffe said. As part of the Symposium, the School will present Yale Distinguished Music Educator and Yale Distinguished Teaching Artist awards.

The School of Music’s seventh Symposium on Music in Schools will be held June 13-15 at Yale. The biennial event is part of the Music in Schools Initiative

Published June 7, 2019
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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 Philanthropies 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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