Music in Schools initiative expands outreach

Thanks to generous alumni, the School of Music has been able to reach out to New Haven with helpful youth programs.
Thanks to generous alumni, the School of Music has been able to reach out to New Haven with helpful youth programs. Photo by Joyce Xi.

The School of Music is using community outreach to strengthen its relationship with New Haven.

At its 50th reunion in 2007, the School of Music’s class of 1957 created an endowment to support a new program called the Music in Schools Initiative, aimed at strengthening music programs in New Haven’s public schools. Over the past six years, the school’s efforts to promote music education in the city have expanded as a result of the initiative. This academic year, the program has placed 50 School of Music students — called “teaching artists” — in 18 schools throughout the city to collaborate with music teachers in local classrooms. In addition, Hendrie Hall hosts 160 local 4th- through 12th-grade students for the rehearsals of three all-city honors ensembles each Saturday.

The growth of the School of Music’s involvement in the New Haven community exposes New Haven students to music education that may be inaccessible to them otherwise, administrators at the School of Music said, in addition to teaching them skills that will prepare them for the future.

“Music has the potential to save kids, there’s no question about that,” said Yale School of Music Dean Michael Yaffe.

Yaffe said that the impact of the Music in Schools Initiative is evident during Saturday rehearsals at Hendrie, adding that he has observed how serious students are about their involvement with their respective groups. For the duration of the three-hour rehearsals he attended last weekend, no discipline issues arose, he added.

Director of Yale Bands and director of the All-City Honors Band Thomas Duffy said he thinks that participating in the program teaches students responsibility, diligence, and self-motivation, as they have to practice regularly and contribute to the group each week. Many of the programs Duffy creates for the band include pieces that address history and social issues, he said, which merges music education with academic learning.

“I think they take away from this real experience … not something you read about, but first-degree contact with … all the ‘food groups’ in one activity,” Duffy said.

Lead teacher of Music in Schools Ruben Rodriguez Ferreira MUS ’11 said he thinks the program introduces students to the satisfaction they can glean from fine-tuning their talents. He explained that playing music in a group hones the students’ concentration, patience, and teamwork skills, adding that he believes participating in the program will make the students well-rounded people.

But sources said that the benefits of the Music in Schools program extend past the students involved. Ferreira noted that some parents have expressed the importance of the initiative to their families. Yaffe recalled one parent who explained that his daughter’s newfound focus is serving as a positive influence for her younger siblings. Ferreira mentioned that the same parent explained it was important for his children to learn music as a way to stay “[off] the streets.”

“We’re talking about children who potentially could be involved in crime or drug situations,” Ferreira said. “With music, they are doing something creative and positive with their lives.”

Duffy said parental interest in the program became so strong that the band had to tell them they could no longer stay during Saturday rehearsals.

Administrators explained that parents’ pride in their children transcends the fact that they are playing an instrument within a Yale-affiliated program.

“It’s not ‘my kid gets to be in this group and that it’s at Yale,’ it’s ‘my kid’s going to play something really interesting, really well, and the presence of my child in this group really matters and what they’re doing is a viable product’ … the outcome is real music,” Duffy said.

An additonal branch of the Music in Schools Initiative is the Morse Summer Music Academy, which last summer hosted 80 New Haven students for intensive music training.

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