Start music education in schools without music programs

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September 1, 2021, 5:17 PM Music education in public schools across the United States is extremely inconsistent, with some schools offering strong programs in instrumental and vocal music, and others offering none.

So I found it fascinating to speak with Brooklynn Phillips, who as Director of Education and Engagement for Bravo! Vail, is tasked this fall with expanding a music education program in a public school district that until recently had virtually no music education.


Brooklynn Phillips teaches Bravo! Vail Music Makers Hacienda Música Program.

It may seem a little strange at first – Well done! Vail, isn’t it a summer music festival? And Vail, Colorado – isn’t that an upscale beach resort?

Yes and yes – but Vail is actually located in the rather rural Eagle County, Colorado, where public schools serve a student community that is over 50% Hispanic, 32% being English learners and 42% qualifying. free of charge and at a reduced rate. breakfast.

And well done! Vail actually has a year-round presence at Vail – not just in the summer. Founded in 1987, the organization has continued to expand its educational mission ever since. Of course, there are the educational programs associated with the summer festival, such as pre-concert public education programs, professional development programs for accomplished young musicians, and arts administration internships. But there is also a plethora of free programs for the community.

“During the summer months, we have over 50 free programs for the community,” Phillips said. “In fact, over a third of what we do at Bravo is free to the community – we have our pre-concert lecture series, library concerts for toddlers. We have hospital concerts. and concerts at senior centers, and we also have chamber music series at the Vail Interfaith Chapel and our music box.

But beyond that, “for eight months of the year, during the school year, we have a program that has weekly music lessons for students in grades two through 12,” Phillips said.

Well done! Vail began offering instruction in the Eagle County School District a dozen years ago with an after-school piano program, expanded to offer a violin program four years ago.

Recently, however, they redesigned the program, coming up with a three-year plan to expand it.

“It’s kind of an exciting business that we are undertaking,” said Phillips. In the Eagle County School District, “six of our nine elementary schools do not have music education, and Bravo is the only organization to fill this gap. We have over 120 children on the waiting list for the program, and so over the next three years. we will expand to be present in the nine elementary schools, eliminate the waiting list and make our program completely bilingual, to better serve our local population. “

They even renamed the program, Music creators Haciendo Música, to reflect the region’s largely Hispanic population, offering instruction in schools in Eagle County and Lake County. (Neighboring Lake County is in Leadville, Colorado)

“For the first time too, we are moving from a group model with our violin lessons and turning it into a program that runs from second to 12th grade, so whatever school they go to, they will have a place in a set, ”she said.

Bravo Vail Music Makers Hacienda Musica
Violin students in Bravo! Vail’s Music Makers Hacienda Musica program.

Violin students will be able to start anywhere between second and fifth grade, “and then we will provide them with a place to continue their education until grade 12, no matter what school they attend and what this school may or may not deliver, ”said Phillips. . “We will have benchmarks that students meet to advance to the next level, so that students can progress at their own pace.”

The first three levels, beginner, beginner-intermediate and intermediate-advanced, will take place in groups of up to eight students. Upon completion of these levels, which should take three to five years on average, students will move on to a set “so they can learn to follow a conductor and have a stand partner and all of that stuff. that if they want to play in a community orchestra are essential to know, for the violin, ”she said.“ Our more advanced students will also be part of the advanced quartet after their ensemble training. This quartet will have the opportunity to perform throughout our community and to integrate into our summer music festival. “

The idea is to “provide students with a comprehensive path to develop technical violin skills, learn to read music, learn more about music theory and history, and finally experience an ensemble environment, with stand partners and following a conductor “.

If this program looks a little different from typical school programs, it may be because it was influenced by Phillips’ extensive experience teaching music in Peru with an El Sistema-inspired program called Sinfonia por el Perú.

Brooklynn Phillips Sinfonia por el Peru
Brooklynn Phillips in Peru, with music students from Sinfonia por el Perú.

“Sinfonía por el Perú is an organization with over 10,000 young people across the country, in a very typical El Sistema style intensive music study program to help fight child labor and gang violence – things which are big problems in South America, ”said Phillips, who spent four years in Peru. “I came back to the United States and wanted to continue working there, but in my home country, so that I could advance music education in a part of this country where it is not taught in schools. public. “

“The issues that young people face in the United States are slightly different from those in South America, but the tools that music can provide are the same: leadership skills, social-emotional learning, social work and education. ‘team and find a sense of community through music, Phillips said.

One idea she got from her time in Peru was to “get out of that mindset that in the first year you have to do this, this, and that, and move more into the state of mind. mind: if we get our kids to do things nine out of 10 times they’ll be up to it, if they have the tools to do it, ”said Phillips. “Incorporating this into our programs has been important.

Another idea: let go of perfectionism and perform more.

In Peru, “they would do concerts for 3,000 children around Christmas in the big plazas of the big cities,” Phillips said. “It’s about creating tons of performance opportunities in the community so that the community knows who you are, and the kids come out of the community more. It’s less like, ‘We have to be perfect before we can. performing in public, “and more on embracing the joy of music.”

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