Music’s impact outside the concert hall

August 23, 2012


From a blue and white converted garage in a New Haven, Connecticut, neighborhood suffering from unemployment, crime, and poverty, passersby can catch strains of music. It might be a minuet by Bach, one of Bartók’s violin duets, Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” or perhaps “My Girl” by The Temptations.

Inside, cheerful yellow and white walls are hung with framed photos of smiling kids holding violins and cellos. Metal music stands perched upon a colorful rug hold sheet music for the day’s lessons. Here in this welcoming space, tucked safely away from the chaos outside, kids aged 5 to 15 learn to play music at Music Haven.

The nonprofit organization was launched in 2006 by Tina Hadari (DMA ‘07) to anchor a professional string quartet to underserved neighborhoods. The members provide musical instruments and music lessons at no charge to inner city youth.

“We’re here,” said Hadari, executive director, “because we believe what we do should be fully accessible to the people in the community who have the fewest resources and perhaps the most need for this kind of opportunity.”

The power of opportunity is reflected in the dream of one 12-year-old boy who already has lost friends to street violence. “I know what I want to be when I grow up,” he said to Hadari. “Someday I want to run Music Haven like you.”

Convinced that a professional string quartet could contribute to social change in New Haven’s poorest neighborhoods, Hadari established a permanent residency for the Haven String Quartet (formerly the Vinca Quartet while in residency at CU-Boulder). The professional musicians teach 56 youth in the after-school music program. The quartet also performs in a variety of community venues such as prisons, soup kitchens, shelters, and mental institutions, as well as in traditional concert halls.

Music Haven believes in the influence of music to positively impact an under-sourced community and create change. In the two and a half years they’ve been in their current location, the area is looking cleaner and more vibrant. A restaurant and a retail store have moved into empty, boarded-up spaces nearby.

“We’re a part of a bigger revitalization effort in the neighborhood,” said Hadari,”and we’re doing that by building relationships through music. Learning how to play and listen to music is a transformative experience for kids and communities.”

As Music Haven is opening a window onto a world the youth of these neighborhoods might not otherwise encounter, many College of Music alumni, faculty, and students are engaging in a wide variety of other outreach activities. Whether organizing programs and clinics or presenting master classes and performances, they are taking music into schools and communities locally and throughout the world.

One of the college’s many faculty members who share their time and talent outside the United States is Alejandro Cremaschi, associate professor of piano and piano pedagogy. He is the chair of the diversity committee at the College of Music and teaches as a guest professor at the Universidad de Cuyo in Mendoza, Argentina. This will be the third year Cremaschi has been invited to teach in his alma mater’s Latin American music graduate program. His research on the study, performance, and recording of music by Argentine composers dovetails with his guest teaching activities.

In addition to Argentina, students in the graduate program come from Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, which results in Cremaschi engaging with a wide range of Latin American music. He compiles their diverse styles and brings it back for educators to use in the United States.

“I learn a lot of new repertoire this way,” said Cremaschi, “sometimes by composers I’ve never heard before. Every new piece of music and new composer expands my list that I can share with music teachers here. We as musicians should be in the community trying to make a difference.”

Launched in 2007, the Middle School Wind Ensemble (MSWE) and the Middle School String Ensemble (MSSE) program not only provides an extracurricular ensemble experience for middle school students, but it is also transforming the manner in which they are taught. Responding to concerns of a nationwide shortage of quality music teachers, Trying on Teaching gives high school music students hands-on teaching experience by teaching the middle school students. Simultaneously, the high-schoolers are mentored by CU-Boulder music education undergraduates and graduates.

Once a week for 12 weeks, middle school band and orchestra students from the Boulder/Denver metro area gather at one of the area middle schools for ensemble and small group instruction, which might include composition and music history-related activities as well as instrument technique instruction. More than 500 middle school students have participated in the MSWE/MSSE program, which supplements the training they receive in their home school music programs.

Margaret Berg, associate professor of string music education, is the faculty supervisor for the MSWE/MSSE program. Her involvement began a few years ago when one of her children was a percussionist in the MSWE program. She saw the need and opportunity for supplementing the musical training that students received at their respective middle schools.

Since its inception, more than 45 high school students have participated in the Trying on Teaching component of the MSWE/MSSE program. Nearly 80 percent of those participants have chosen to major in music education or music therapy in college. Undergraduate participation in MSWE/MSSE has risen from six students during the program’s first year to 29 in the 2011–12 academic year. The MSWE/MSSE program represents a pioneering effort in understanding effective methods for training highly qualified music educators. Results of research studies found statistically significant increases in motivation for teaching, teacher identity, and classroom management efficacy among the high school interns.

“This program is unique,” said Berg, “because it’s student-led with faculty supervision that serves multiple constituents. When you think of all the different parties involved, middle, school and high school kids, undergraduates and graduate students and how they're all learning from each other, it's a remarkable and synergistic program."

From inspiring inner-city youth with music they might not otherwise hear, to sharing obscure South American compositions with a wider audience throughout the world, to innovatively educating the musicians and teachers of tomorrow, alumni, faculty, and students of the College of Music are finding nontraditional ways to plant musical seeds in diverse communities.