What inspired you to launch the Global Learning Charter Jazz Initiative?
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have the means and support to pursue my dreams of performing. I was able to study privately and attend great music workshops and programs. I also grew up knowing that, although I was fortunate enough to have such an opportunity, not everyone was as lucky.
I knew from the second I began teaching that, as often as possible, I wanted to create and promote music education opportunities at little or no cost to students. Many young people have a great desire to study and perform, and the only thing keeping them from sharing their musical energy and ideas is financial burden, distance to programming, and lack of resources (mainly instruments).
I built the Global Learning Charter Jazz Initiative (GLCJI) based on a similar model program I began in Newport, Rhode Island, and it was my hope the GLCJI would be the perfect space for young people to begin their musical journeys without worry about cost or instruments.
Tell us about something that surprised you during the project this year.
I think one of the most surprising parts of the entire project was the genuine excitement and involvement of the parents and the general public. Parents were invited to be part of the informational meetings and first session, so they would be comfortable with whom and where they were leaving their kids. I made it clear that our doors were always open for them to drop in or stay.
I was struck by how many parents and/or family members took advantage of the invitation and came weekly to watch the rehearsals and workshops. Some of our students brought additional family members to observe. For example, one young man brought his grandparents two weeks in a row when they were visiting from Florida.
I got calls from other local teachers who wanted to observe, and even members of the general public who read about the program in the paper and wanted to check it out. I knew that there would be excitement surrounding a free music education program with highly qualified teachers taught in a safe space with all the tools necessary for success. The extent of the excitement and support was a pleasant and welcomed surprise.
What was the most challenging aspect of the project?
One of our three biggest challenges was gaining the trust of the community that this brand new program was something of great value to both young music students and teachers in the area. Since this was a new program, and the first of its kind, parents and teachers were apprehensive about sending their students to a program with no history.
We were able to overcome this by generating a great deal of positive attention in traditional and social media. We billed the program as the “pilot” program and used the model group to advertise. The small model program on which the GLCJI was built was featured in the newspaper, on local radio, and on local news websites, which generated more interest through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
We also invited local parents, educators, and students into the classroom to witness firsthand how the program would be run and what a successful outcome would look like. We had an open-door rehearsal policy for several weeks so other prospective students and/or their parents/guardians could check it out. What was most effective was when the student group traveled to other local programs to promote the upcoming project and meet with other young musicians. The connections they made musically proved the program's worth to their teachers, who in turn encouraged their students to participate in the program.
The second challenge involved several scheduling issues and consistent attendance. Sharing space was a challenge. We have a rather small campus that is used for a number of activities and programs even on the weekend, which made it challenging to schedule several consecutive Saturday sessions for the music program. Thanks, however, to collaboration with school administrators and teachers, and some out-of-the-box thinking, we succeeded in planning the program in available space without affecting the quality of instruction.
One of the requirements for the program was that all participants attend every session. This is paramount for the individual learning process and certainly for the ensemble process. However, we discovered that many of the older students had SAT commitments during the program, and others had significant family commitments, which led us to adjust our expectations. We found some middle ground with the attendance requirement to allow for these important commitments. Flexibility was key.
What four words best describe the Global Learning Charter Jazz Initiative?
FUN FUN FUN FUN
Having fun is the only rule we have at GLCJI. If you're not having fun, it's not worth trying to make beautiful music. Throughout the seven-week session, I can't think of a single moment that we weren't all having fun together. The rehearsals, workshops, and performances alike were all plain and simply put: fun. My students had fun making music together.
Do you have plans for continuing the Global Learning Charter Jazz Initiative? What are your next steps?
In addition to the regular Saturday sessions and Summer Camp, we will be offering Jazz Explorations for students with moderate to severe learning, physical, and emotional challenges. This will not be a music therapy study, but rather an exploration of sound, instruments, and improvisation with jazz. Music and the GLCJI is all inclusive, and we want to offer a specialized program targeting the audience with special needs.
What one piece of advice do you have for alumni interested in launching their own entrepreneurial grant project?
Don't think. Just do.
If you have any sort of inspired idea or plan to spread and share your love of music and education, do it. I don't believe you can do a young person any harm by sharing your passion and love of performing arts of any kind, no matter your skill level. Unless, of course, you can't spell a major scale yourself. In that case, perhaps you should choose a different role in promoting young people in music. However, an inspired musical soul can't do any harm. The worst thing that can happen is that your proposal or project doesn't work. Make a change, and try again.
Did you work on any exciting projects this past summer?
This summer, I offered a one-week jazz minicamp and a one-week fiddle workshop as a continuation of the GLCJI. The daily three-hour sessions featured brief lectures, applied theory, and performance workshops. Each student was also placed in a small ensemble or combo. Our culminating event was a concert and barbecue on the final day of camp. The program also provided a private lesson for each student. Over 75 students attended the program.