YSM interns serve as Morse Academy Teaching Artists

Jesús Cortés-Sanchez, left, and Jocelyn Hernandez

Talking about Jesús Cortés-Sanchez and Jocelyn Hernandez, in the context of YSM’s Music in Schools Initiative, Associate Dean Michael Yaffe said, “They represent the reason we’re doing this.” While Cortés-Sanchez and Hernandez worked as interns in previous years, this was the first summer that they served, alongside YSM students, as Teaching Artists during the month-long Morse Summer Music Academy. They also helped Yaffe’s team in June during the School’s sixth Symposium on Music in Schools, whose focus was on “how to ensure that every child in every city in America has access to an active music life,” as Yaffe has described it.

Cortés-Sanchez and Hernandez, who are studying music education at the University of Connecticut and Western Connecticut State University, respectively (he’s a senior and she’s a junior; each is a clarinetist), are “going to be great role models for the next generation,” Yaffe said. Cortés-Sanchez and Hernandez have spent half their lives in and around the Music in Schools Initiative, starting as participants when they were middle-schoolers at John C. Daniels School of International Communication. Their participation continued through their high-school years at New Haven’s Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. Today, they are New Haven Promise scholars and served their internships at YSM through that program.

Reflecting on what music afforded him early in his life, Cortés-Sanchez said, “It kept me busy, and as simple as that sounds, it did a lot for me. The easy thing to do would be to be in the streets.” Instead, he said, “I was focused.” Working with young people this summer during Morse Academy, he said, “I saw my reflection in a couple of students.” He also saw in them the difficulties that many families face getting students to and from Morse Academy activities, as his parents experienced when he participated in the summer program.

Hernandez, too, recognized the hardships that young people and their families endure in our community and elsewhere. This summer, she worked with an Iraqi student who was a bit culturally out of step with his peers. “As a teacher,” Hernandez said, “I will not always have kids who will know what it’s like to live here.

“Be friends with him,” she told other Morse Academy students. “Don’t make him feel like an outsider.”

Several years ago, when Hernandez lost her drive to study and play music and entertained the idea of becoming a lawyer, her music teachers helped her find the musical inspiration she’d lost. It was at that point that she decided to pursue a degree and a career in music education. “It’s about inspiring kids to be the best that they can be,” she said. “Music is a universal language, and that’s what I want to help teach.”

Cortés-Sanchez decided during his senior year of high school to become a music educator — to influence young people’s lives the way his teaches had an impact on his.

“Music is the way that these two young people found themselves, found their voices,” Yaffe said.


Published August 31, 2017
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Alumna Olivia Malin ’07MM, on choosing a career as a music educator

Olivia Malin works with students at KAPPA International High School

Trumpeter Olivia Malin ’07MM, who studied with Allan Dean and worked in the Music in Schools Initiative during her time at YSM, is entering her 11th year as a public-school music educator and teaches at KAPPA International High School in the Bronx, New York. Malin spoke with us recently about being inspired, as a student, to pursue a career in education despite the pressure she felt to focus on performance.

Q: You were a Teaching Artist in YSM’s Music in Schools Initiative. How did that program prepare you for what you’re doing now at KAPPA International High School?
A: While I was a student at YSM, I was also working in the Music in Schools Initiative. At first I stayed firmly in my comfort zone, teaching elementary/middle school brass group lessons. Midyear, I was branching out to woodwinds and percussion, and in the spring, I was running full band rehearsals when the band director wanted to do isolated lessons himself. I also began working with first- to third-graders learning piano and guitar. My second year in the program, I was placed at a high school where I got the opportunity to teach higher-level lessons and music, and to assist teaching AP music theory. The varied placement over those two years gave me a significant taste of what teaching K-12 would be like, with significant hours teaching piano, guitar, band, and general music classes. Even more important, the program was the first exposure that opened my eyes to what urban schools need, and what they don’t need, from me. At KAPPA, I now teach rock band, guitar, IB music, band, beginner band, and chorus – and I have also taught piano and general music – so the majority of classes I helped with at YSM are in fact what I teach full-time now.

Q: Did you know or think, upon enrolling at Yale, that you’d become a music teacher?
A: I have always taught private trumpet lessons, but no, I never thought I would be a full-time music teacher. We all know the stigma that exists about music teaching, and I admit I used to believe that only those performers who weren’t very good would end up as educators. It’s an easy thing to believe, since once a person becomes a teacher, it’s pretty difficult to maintain a high level of performance on their instrument, and most people don’t see the “performance level” of teaching. It’s hidden in the classroom – your audience is 30 students who don’t always applaud. One of the most difficult barriers I broke through was deciding that public-school teaching would be a higher calling than performing. There is so much outside pressure in the performance world not to become a teacher, and that pressure shows up constantly in little ways from friends, teachers, family, and the general public.

[Prof. Dean, Malin said, “is a wonderful teacher who taught me well and supported me through this decision to switch to teaching, something I think not all professors would be able to do.”] 

Q: What informed your decision to transition from focusing on performance to focusing on education?
A: What I started noticing was that my levels of happiness and self-worth after teaching at Lincoln-Bassett School or Wilbur Cross High School were significantly higher than those after an orchestral rehearsal or concert. I also noticed that I looked forward to being around the students – learning from them and laughing with them as much as teaching them content – much more than I expected. Their energy in the band room was so fresh and vibrant that I wanted more and more hours teaching in the program, and I spent extra time there after my paid time expired. The real moment, however, was when Associate Dean Michael Yaffe approached me sitting in (operations manager) Tara Deming’s office one day. He started talking about me to other people in the office, about what great teaching looked like and that he saw amazing potential in me when he saw how I lit up around students. In that short conversation, I saw something in myself that had until that point been a hobby, something I was good at and made a little money at, but which had never been a true option. Hearing him say those things out loud suddenly gave the green light to a career I hadn’t realized was a possibility – and a highly respectable possibility validated by the associate dean.

Q: What would you tell incoming YSM students who’re starting to think about what their careers might look like after school?
A: Be open to absolutely anything, say yes to everything, and be professional constantly. The music scene for you can be a combination of so many fulfilling things that it makes no sense to pigeonhole yourself early on. Don’t rule anything out simply because of generalizations – they may not apply to you! I am going into my 11th year of public school teaching. I am a proud high-school teacher in the Bronx and a trumpet player in a salsa band in Manhattan – and I wouldn’t change anything about my life.

Published August 1, 2017
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