so ready to start off another year of teaching fresh and inspired! diving into a few of my favorite violin books :) all are definite must-reads and I highly recommend them if you’re in need of inspiration or new exercises
teaching minority youth & combatting racism in classical music
So I’ve just been hired as a teaching assistant with a project at Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra called the ICP. Basically BYSO realized in 1998 that most of the kids that come into their programs are from richer communities outside (or in wealthy areas of) Boston & certain communities that are more underprivileged weren’t being represented. 19 years ago they created the project I have begun working for as a response to that, bringing in kids from the inner city, all minority kids. They teach those kids how to play string instruments (violin, viola, cello & bass) and work with them from the age of 4/5 all through high school, all that time supporting them with scholarship money. The result is that 100% of the children are trained enough to play with the best youth symphonies in Boston, come to graduate high school, go to a four-year college, and most importantly, stay out of trouble. It’s a pretty cool project.
Recently, the head of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) lost his position for his racist remarks; last spring (of 2016), he stated at a conference that he “could not diversify his board” due to the fact that “blacks and Latinos lack the keyboard skills and music theory abilities to become musicians or music educators”.
Obviously, after this, he received extensive criticism from American musicians and educators alike for his blatant racism and was forced to forfeit his position. It was a shameful moment for music education in the US.
How does this tie into what I’m trying to say?
An alarming statistic is that very few blacks and latinos are represented in classical music. Orchestras are overwhelmed with white and Asian musicians, however, it is rare to see many POC on stage playing a Beethoven symphony. Why is that?
My best guess, though I could never really say, is simply that the study of classical music is costly for the long-term. Parents have to pay for private lessons, the cost of an instrument, and even might have to pay a fee for participation in some ensembles. Not that I am trying to imply that there are not POC who are perfectly well-off or even wealthy–there certainly are–however in cities like Boston, or where I’m from, Pittsburgh, many of the communities with POC aren’t well-off and send kids to low-budget city schools with little-to-no music education, (with exceptions like Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts 👏🏻 yay) and therefore minority communities must turn to programs like Boston’s ICP or Pittsburgh’s Hope Academy to get involved in classical music at all.
This past Sunday I worked with 4-5 year olds for multiple hours followed by an hour with 11-14 year olds. The children, all black and hispanic, were extremely excited to be making music and showed a lot of promise.
I began playing the cello at the age of 5, and I currently am studying cello at one of the best schools of music in the country, with one of the best cello professors in the country. I have an annual scholarship of almost $54K.
It is outrageous to even humor the idea that any of these 4 and 5 year old children, simply because of the color of their skin, could not have the same future as me–could not be studying the cello at their top choice school 14 years from now. I am white, but I wasn’t born into a family with a lot of money. They paid for music lessons, I received scholarships for youth symphony, and I worked hard to get the scholarship that I have for college.
I’m not yet sure that I see myself as a future educator, but I do know one thing: when I was 5 years old, I was just as excited as the five kiddos I’m working with to be playing the cello. And they deserve every opportunity that I had and more. And in many ways, I want to fight for the kids who need someone to fight for them.
The times have changed. Classical music has changed. Therefore, educators need to change. Those who believe classical music is a game for Asians and Caucasians need to step down from their positions. They are both racist and extremely foolish. As a white person, I don’t know if my voice is the one that people want to hear, but what I have to say is this: everyone deserves access to arts education, and every child has equal potential to grow into the next Yo-Yo Ma or Itzhak Perlman. Shame on music educators who don’t want to see the beautiful smiles of 4 and 5 year olds learning how to play the cello completely regardless of the color of their skin. Seeing little tiny cellists smile makes my heart glow with joy–and knowing I get to be a part of their journey makes my day feel a little bit brighter.
Racism in classical music needs to END. I can’t believe that it’s still an issue. Shameful. We need to combat it with all of our strength, so that the world of the arts will become diversified naturally.
Like many other Broadway fans, I was incredibly saddened to hear that Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is set to close on September 3rd. As someone who enjoys theater, I was obviously sad to hear that my favorite show on Broadway and, perhaps, of all time, had gotten a closing notice. But on a level deeper and more personal to me– the little musician part of my psyche– I was heartbroken.
Computer scientist and Yale professor David Gelertner bemoans the sorry state of classical music in cyberspace, and offers some ideas for improvement in a great essay in The Wall Street Journal:
“To know nothing about Beethoven? That is cultural bankruptcy. That is collapse. It goes far beyond incompetence, deep into betrayal and farce.
“Why should we know anything about Beethoven?” The question was asked in all seriousness by a sophomore just a few months ago. When I dredged up old, tired clichés, he listened carefully—and seemed convinced! What could be sadder? He was only waiting for the smallest bit of encouragement.
I told him (approximately), “You must know Beethoven’s music because no one has ever said anything deeper about what it means to be human, to look life and death in the eye, to know beauty at its purest and most intense—if you can take it. Because Beethoven asserts his own mere human self against the whole cosmos and makes it listen; he addresses God face-to-face, like Moses, whether God listens or not. And so people all over the world study and listen to and perform his music with reverence.” Clichés, but they were news to him.”
I was going to make this post a study tips AND music post, but the music part got so long that I just decided to make this a study music list…so I guess a lot of you will see a non-language side of me for (one of) the very first times.
Sometimes when I’m actually studying for a course and not listening to foreign language music, I love to listen to classical music and I’ve been obsessed with it literally since I was a kid. A lot of my favorites are a mix of modern composers and popular classical composers.
I have two lists of pieces/composers separated by modern and classical. The name of the composer will be in parenthesis but the artist (if there is a specific one) will be after the song name):
Ludovico Einaudi (fav. modern composer: pianist) - Some of my favorite pieces are below but anything he plays is gold, and he has a lot of work out so check it out. He’s amazing. I Giorni Life Lady Labyrinth Night Nuvole Bianche Angèle Dubeau - violinist. She plays music composed by other people but I love her rendition. I found her years ago looking through iTunes but I am in heaven because she has a version of Ludovico Einaudi’s I Giorni (linked below). I’ll link some of her things in the classical section because the majority of the stuff I listen to from her is composed by classical artists. I Giorni by Angèle Dubeau (Ludovico Einaudi) Summer (Joe Hisaishi?) Hoe-down (Aaron Copland)
Also check David Garrett, Escala, & Bond - They’re slightly edgier in certain pieces than other “modern composers” so if you’re into that kind of instrumental/classical music, check it out. A lot of them do an instrumental rendition of popular songs, just fyi. Only listing a couple from each (but Garrett is probably my favorite of the 3). Explosive - David Garrett Dangerous - David Garrett Explosive - Bond Victory - Bond Palladio - Escala Requiem for a Tower - Escala
The Piano Guys and Joe Hisaishi (composer for many of the Ghibli movies, check out his piano pieces) are also great if you don’t know who they are already. And just putting this here, because this is my absolute favorite rendition of Canon in D ever.
For many years, the Taliban banned music and the education of girls in Afghanistan - and although many women still find themselves restricted, one 17-year-old has become the country’s first female conductor.
Kabul is a noisy place with helicopters, sirens, and heavy traffic. But walking into a building in one of the city’s quieter neighbourhoods, I’m welcomed by quite a different sound.
Boys and girls are playing the piano, cello and flute as well as traditional Afghan stringed instruments such as the rubab and sarod. This is the Afghanistan National Institute of Music - the only school of its kind in the country.
The female students have just finished their first concert. Their male colleagues were watching and are now milling around, playing and chatting before heading home at the end of a big day.
What was so special about this concert - apart from the fact that it was an all-female ensemble playing music to a big audience in the middle of violence-ridden Kabul - was that it was led by the country’s very first female conductor, 17-year-old Negin Khpolwak who is also a student here.
Now, she has retreated along a concrete corridor to one of the rehearsal rooms where she’s sitting at the piano playing one of her favourite pieces - Piano Sonatina in C major by the Italian composer Muzio Clementi.
I can see she’s still learning it but what she lacks in experience, she makes up for with her spirit and passion.
“Khosh Amadeed - welcome,” says Negin with a shy smile. “Today my hands are aching a bit so I am not on a top form. But I love practising the piano.
"All I want is to become a very good concert pianist and conductor, not only in Afghanistan, but in the world,” she says.
“So did you grow up around music?” I ask. “No,” she says looking startled.
She comes from a poor family in Kunar province, a conservative area - one of the strongholds of the Taliban insurgency in the north-east of Afghanistan.
“Girls in Kunar don’t go to school and many are not allowed to study music by their families,” she says. “So I had to go to Kabul to fulfil my dream. My father helped me.”
When Negin was nine, he sent her to live in a children’s home in Kabul so that she could get an education. That’s where she first started listening to music and watching performances on television.
She auditioned to join the institute and has been studying here for four years - of more than 200 students, about a quarter are girls. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. Negin’s mother was happy for her to go to school, but didn’t like the idea of her studying music. She wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
“My uncle told us, ‘No girls in our family should learn music. It’s against tradition.’”
Under pressure from her relatives, Negin had to leave the institute for six months. Eventually her father intervened, telling her uncle, “It’s Negin’s life. She should study music if she wants to.”
“So I came back,” she says.
This is a common problem, according to Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and director of the institute. “A child is enrolled with the full blessing of their parents but then an uncle or aunt or grandfather or village elder starts putting pressure on the parents to pull the child out of the music programme or from education in general.”
It’s not just tradition and conservatism that the institute has to contend with - there’s also violence. There are many here who believe most music is sinful. Last year, one of the student concerts organised outside the campus was targeted by a young suicide bomber - one person in the audience was killed while Sarmast’s hearing was damaged and eleven pieces of shrapnel lodged in his head.
“Does that not scare you, the prospect of further bombings?” I ask him. “No,” he says. “We are part of this struggle. We are standing against violence and terror with our arts and culture, particularly with music. That’s one of the ways we can educate our people about the importance of living in peace and harmony, rather than killing each other.”
He looks at Negin. “Part of my inspiration is her and students like her, who keep coming here despite the difficulties.”
In February 2013, Negin was chosen to represent the institute on a trip to the US where she performed at the Carnegie Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, playing the sarod.
“It was so amazing. I felt so good but I had always wanted to become a pianist,” she says.
So after she returned to Kabul, she started learning the piano and took up conducting as well.
“It was my first time [conducting a performance] today. I was so happy. I cried when I got on the stage and saw all the people in the audience. I want Afghanistan to be like other countries in the world, where girls can become pianists and conductors.”
With that in mind, she’s also been practising conducting male and female students together in the mixed orchestra.
“So, when you become a famous pianist and play abroad, can I come along for free? Or will I have to pay for an expensive ticket?” I ask.
“Hmmm, no, sorry you have to pay,” she jokes. I say goodbye promising, one day, to come to one of her concerts.
And as we drive through checkpoints amid the noisy traffic, I can still hear Negin’s beautiful music along with the faint but still persistent promise of hope in Afghanistan.