Music Takes Time

In a recent meeting, the Boston Public Quartet and mC Guild shared with each other different strategies and tools we use in our music teaching. Jason sang the praises of his favorite book, I Can Read Music by Joanne Martin, and described a minuet composition project he was working on with his Thursday viola class. Betsy talked about fun technique exercises she’s done with her students, and pieces she’s composing for our chamber groups. Liz described the stretches she leads her students through before approaching viola work. Mike and Laura talked about cello bow-holds and a left hand exercise they call “ski jump.” Josh and I chatted enthusiastically about a Hungarian violin method with Bartók-like teacher/student duets. We compared notes about specific students, our hopes for them, and ways we’d like to develop as teachers.

Mike, Jason, and Betsy work together to get students ready for a performance.

During this conversation, it became clear (all over again) that we’re all passionate about teaching and our students; we could have stayed on the topic all day, maybe into the night. We all want musiConnects to be a music education marketplace – we love sharing and helping each other, and we know that our students benefit immensely when we act as a communicating, collaborating teaching team. But we don’t yet have the time and resources to create the infrastructure for the ideal commerce. We’re doing the best we can, and are optimistic about building toward our goal. We meet as a teaching team on a monthly basis, and as a designer, I’m developing teaching goals and materials in response to those meetings. In the near future, budget willing, we hope to meet for weekend-long teacher development workshops, build peer-mentorship into our structure, and pursue educational design as a collaborative project.

As a teaching team, we also know and feel very powerfully that we need more time with our students. Our students and their families echo this sentiment. We’d like to offer our students a great deal more time each week, and we’re strategizing how to make this happen in future years. For now, within our limited time and resources, we’re weaving together more quality time and activity where we can.

One example of this effort is a new initiative called The Shostakovich Club, an opportunity for our older Chittick students (fourth and fifth graders) to take on new responsibilities and participate in music in a wider variety of ways. Read on to learn more about this new endeavor.


Russian composer and pianist, Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Why Shostakovich?

The 20th-century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich represents many of the musical hopes we have for our students. Shostakovich took an approach to music that synthesized a deep appreciation for music of the past with a compositional practice that was innovative, expressive, and deeply personal. For Shostakovich, music was not just an aesthetic pursuit; it was a political statement – a response to the extremely challenging world he lived in. Last but not least…he wrote fifteen amazing string quartets. We love the guy. Read below about what the Shosties (the first members of the Shostakovich Club) have in store.

Shosties as Chamber Musicians

Our students continue to boost our confidence in our philosophy of putting chamber music at the center of all musical activity. In particular, our older students are showing strides in their chamber musicianship. As of this fall, they can lead themselves through the performance of a piece without teacher aid. They are enthusiastic to come to after-school and connect with their colleagues. They work together in positive, creative and productive ways, even when tasks are difficult and tensions are high. Now as newly-minted Shosties, we want to keep their momentum going with new, fun, challenging pieces and performance opportunities.


Some happy chamber musicians at the Chittick School

Shosties as Musical Literati

In order to support our students’ development as creative, curious, responsive artists, we want to offer them multiple ways to think about and work with music, especially music that comes at them in the form of standard notation. Starting this semester, we’re supplementing the Shosties’ weekly chamber music class with forty-five minutes of music literacy activity, in the form of theory assignments, puzzles, composition exercises, sight-reading, and ear-training games. In groups, alone, in play, in quiet, and in creative exploration, they will approach music through numbers, shapes, words, stories and other illuminating means.


A Student Composition

Shosties as Mentors

When students take on new leadership roles and responsibilities, they shape our musiConnects community in important ways. The Shosties – the veterans of the Chittick after-school program – have the capacity to help new, younger students acclimate to our musical community, and we are offering them a formal opportunity to do that. On the days they are not in chamber music, the Shosties will be our after-school special helpers. In Music Circle, they will model musical concepts, lead games, and help teachers with snack and bathroom break. In Chamber Music they will serve as mentors to younger musicians: this means they will participate in and help with chamber music repertoire and games, assist teachers with demonstrations, partner with students who need extra help, and lead room set-up and breakdown.


A fourth-grade violinist mentors a second grader.

Shosties as Ambassadors

Because music has a unique capacity to transcend language, politics, and other social barriers, musicians are often called upon to serve as ambassadors of their communities. We are giving the Shosties a chance to experience the broadly communicative, cross-cultural potential of music through two very different ambassadorship projects:

  • The Chittick Peace Quartet will serve as ambassadors of musiConnects within the Chittick Elementary School. In classroom visits with their peers and younger classrooms, they will demonstrate how they solve musical problems and make decisions as a team. In addition, we will develop a series of videos that demonstrate different examples of “chamber music democracy” in action. See their first video here.
  • The World Peace Quintet will participate in a video exchange with a quintet of young musicians in the Eastern Mediterranean island country of Cyprus. With the help of myself and Ertem Nalbantoglu, a wonderful violinist and music teacher in Cyprus, students in both communities will make a series of short videos to introduce themselves, their music-making, families, and neighborhoods to their new friends across the world. Over the course of this exchange, the two quintets will play music from Cyprus, the U.S., and beyond, teach each other words and phrases in the languages they speak, ask each other questions about life on the other side of the world, and (we hope) establish long-term friendships based on a shared love of music.

The Chittick Peace Quintet


Ertem Nalbantoglu, his music colleagues, and students in performance in a cave (!!) in Karpasia, Cyprus.

Does any of this sound interesting to you? Please watch this blog and website for updates from The Shostakovich Club!

-Marji Gere