A message from Michael

Hello!

I am writing to you from the Avenue of the Arts, not far from New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, at the office of the NPR show “From the Top” where I have taken on a full-time position in the education department.

My role here, as Program Manager for Arts Leadership on the National Tour, is to engage performers on the show as leaders in the arts. I introduce the young musicians to pictures of practice through an Arts Leadership Orientation, produce an outreach workshop with the group, and advise them on leadership projects in their locale. In this slideshow, there are some photos of me on the job!

This position takes me to many states across the US (South Dakota and Ohio so far, with California and North Carolina coming this month). In between travels, I am in Boston and I am not all that far from the Chittick! The musiConnects community – with its inspiring students, parents, supporters, and teachers – remain close to my heart. This year, I am glad to perform with the BPQ as a regular guest musician, visit the students for their performance parties, and continue to be an ambassador for the valuable work that musiConnects does in the neighborhoods of Boston.

I wish all of you a wonderful autumn season and I can’t wait to see the students’ growth at the next performance party!

Sincerely,

Michael

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Michael and Jovi, 3rd grade cello student at the Chittick, spring 2013.

 

 

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Meet Laura Messina, musiConnects’ Newest Guild Member

by Laura Messina

I feel that the best way to introduce myself as the newest member of the musiConnects Guild and Sumner Quartet is through my students, so I will first share a few stories from this year:

In a conversation with my 2nd grade student Julien recently, we were talking about what it feels like to play cello in the concert with all the other performers. I always remind my students that what we are working towards is the ability to play music with others, and our goal is to collaborate to make something beautiful. I suggested that the reason we have to keep a steady beat and play in rhythm is so we can all stay together. Julien added, “When we all play together, it adds up to a steady stream of music.”

I asked another 2nd grader Luna to write a journal entry about how she was feeling after her lesson in early May. We had worked hard that lesson, preparing Stand By Me, learning to use 4th finger, and practicing her note reading. She seemed tired and worn out, so I was expecting her to write something in that vein. Instead, she wrote, “I felt good and happy. My favorite thing was playing on the cello.”

My third grade cello student Isaac has been working on a solo piece for the final concert. After a few lessons of struggling through his piece, Isaac came in last week with a big smile on his face. “I practiced a lot!” he said, and I expressed how excited I was to hear him play his solo. He sat down and started to play. In the spots that gave him trouble last week, he breezed right through. His rhythm was steady, and his fingers landed correctly so he played nicely in tune. When he finished, he looked up at me with an even bigger smile than before. Light was just beaming out of his face; he was so proud of the job he had done. I will never forget that moment!

Working with the students at Chittick and Sumner Schools this year has allowed me to embark on an exciting and different type of teaching adventure. These students are truly special, and they have some of the most creative and musical minds I have seen. In the past I have worked mostly with students in public school music programs in large ensembles and group lessons. The structure of the musiConnects program allows the students to learn instrumental technique with a private teacher, and to learn musical and collaborative skills in chamber music. The best part about music making, in my opinion, is the ability to make music with others. Chamber music offers these students the opportunity to make music in an intimate group and learn to really trust themselves and their friends. Not only are they learning to play music together, but they are also learning to work together, to communicate, to feel safe in a small group of musicians, and to become independent performers.

Playing with the Sumner Quartet has been the perfect companion to teaching with musiConnects. The skills we are teaching the students in chamber music are put into practice ourselves as we rehearse and get to know each other. Four acquaintances in September turned into four close friends by May. Quartet rehearsal with Josh, Carol, and Liz is one of my favorite parts of every week, and I am so happy to have the chance to play with such amazing musicians and great friends. I can only hope that we are instilling the same feeling into the student chamber groups that we coach!

Inspiring. Rewarding. Musical. Hilarious. Insightful. Fun. Creative. Collaborative. Frustrating at times. Joyous. These are just a few words that can describe my first year teaching with musiConnects. Teaching is a job where each day is a different adventure, and every day and every year, I learn more and love teaching more than I ever thought I could. musiConnects is a unique teaching experience, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with these students and colleagues. I look forward to next year and cannot wait for future musiConnects students to bring light into my life.

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Laura teaching a private lesson at the Chittick School

Chamber Music Update: The Chittick Peace Quintet

There are three weeks until this school year’s musiConnects programming comes to the end, and we’re all going into reflection mode. Today, before rehearsal, one of our Shostakovich groups, the Chittick Peace Quintet (who you may remember from the earlier blog post Girls Going Places With Chamber Music) did some free writing. The writing prompt was “The Chittick Peace Quintet Is…”

They wrote quietly at the table for ten minutes.

Reflective Writing Time

Reflective Writing Time

Here is what each of them wrote (as read aloud):

Ayiana: The Chittick Peace Quintet is an amazing group of five young girls playing music and having fun. At times it is not always work work work. Sometimes we make mistakes but our teacher is always there to help. People that have music are the same as everyone else. That is what the Chittick Peace Quintet is all about.

Avrie: The Chittick Peace Quintet is a sensational group. We have been together for nine months. We get along together, play music together and sometimes have a great laugh and act silly. It’s kinda like we’re a family. We are called the Peace Quintet because we’re full of peace and friendship.

Amie: The Chittick Peace Quintet is good exposure for me because when I started I didn’t know if I was ready. But I got through it all because I had teachers there to help me. We’re a family too. Look at where I am, standing with one of the greatest music teachers in the world because of my mom and my music teachers. But one more thing: I have to thank Daelen, Ayiana, Avrie, and Hadassah. We are peace. Peace.

Hadassah: The Chittick Peace Quintet is loveful and careful of what they do and they don’t give up on each other. The fun thing about it is we know about the things that are fun and mindful to us and if one person is mad of course everybody is going to feel bad because that is how a team works together.

Daelen: The Chittick Peace Quintet is…crazy, fun, exotic, wonderful, amazing, tremendous, colorful like a family.

As the teacher of this group, I agree with all of them, and could add more. They have come together very beautifully as a chamber group. Any chamber musician — student, professional or avocational — could learn something from watching how they interact as musicians and teammates. They always make sure everyone’s voice is heard. They are open and frank and supportive of each other’s ideas. They share a sense of humor and playfulness. The thrust of the work we’ve done together this year is that as they play chamber music, they must – at all costs – connect with each other and not let go until the final notes finish ringing. In order to stay connected, they listen widely and carefully and play in a way that is welcoming to everyone in the group, that keeps the energy in the center, where everyone’s sounds are mixing.

To be honest, the work they have done this year has not resulted in an impressive-sounding, flashy performance piece. In fact, their musicmaking sounds quite raw; you would not want this quintet to play at your wedding (at least not yet). Harmonic intonation has not been a big topic. We haven’t gotten into discussion of dynamics, tone, phrasing. Their piece “Gimme a Cue” (which the girls LOVE, written by Betsy Hinkle) doesn’t pretend to be something more than elemental: it’s a simple jazz-like harmonic progression in rhythmic unison, and that’s enough for now. There will be time in 5th grade (and beyond) for polish and complexity. That’s not what this year was about. This year has been a year of hard labor: these girls (and our other Shosties too) have built a shared structure that will allow them to explore all that music has to offer – as a team.

Artists in the Community: BPQ partners with Celebrity Series

This year, we, the BPQ, embarked on an exciting partnership with the great performing arts organization, the Celebrity Series of Boston. As Celebrity Series Artists-in-Community (AIC), we brought the experience of live performance to audiences who are unable to or uncertain about visiting traditional performance venues. In conjunction with performances at the Harriet Tubman House in the South End, St. John/St. James Church in Roxbury, and the Mattapan Library, we gave performance-based educational presentations in four Boston Public Schools: Timilty Middle, Hurley Elementary, and our own beloved Sumner and Chittick Elementary.

We’re excited for a second season as Celebrity Series AIC ensemble; in fact, we’re already busy making plans! But before any more time passes, we need to update our musiConnects friends on what’s happened so far. There’s already danger of this blog post turning into a novel!

Artists in the Community: Educational Presentations in the Boston Public Schools

Thanks to the Celebrity Series school workshops at the Hurley, Chittick, and Sumner schools, the Boston Public Quartet explored and developed relationships with new friends in two ways – as people and listeners. As the neighborhood quartet of Boston, this was a fantastic chance to connect with and foster active listening in our young neighbors in the South End, Mattapan, and Roslindale.IMG_8280

The question in front of us –

How can we, as a string quartet with music of Beethoven, Gideon Klein, and Schubert ready to go, convey powerful listening techniques to audiences?

In preparation, we locked ourselves in Jason’s apartment for three hours (always a surefire method of deliberation).  Conversation wound through a hearty brainstorm – ideas leapt from sketch comedy, to lectures on Beethoven’s turbulent personal life, to a video of salsa dancing – until we uncovered the skeleton of a workshop. It was framed around four “aural lenses,” or filters through which one could enjoy a live performance. These we called The Detective, The Dancer, The Poet, and The Storyteller. With some luck, we believed these lenses could heighten their listening experience and make newcomers to classical music feel like seasoned concertgoers.

Each portion of workshop invited students to try on a new lens. First, Marji introduced “The Detective.” This listener uses “just the facts,” sensory information collected with the eyes and ears to understand the music. With her trusty Sherlock Holmes cap, she helped students follow the dominant line of the violinist and supportive commentary of the cellist and violist in Schubert’s String Trio in B flat, I. Allegro Moderato. You would be astounded at the number of observations and questions these students had!new doc20130327211721402

When they had enough of watching us have all the fun, swaying and making faces to the music, Jason reminded everyone that sometimes the best way to listen to music is be “The Dancer” and let your own body respond. He and Betsy floated out of their chairs and danced to the groove of Lev Zhurbin’s “Bagel on the Malecon,” without ever dropping a beat. There were not many brave middle-school souls standing to join but the students sure enjoyed watching those two show off their moves!

Next up, as“The Poet,” I invited the class to feel the vast emotional contrasts in the slow, Theme and Variations movement of Gideon Klein’s String Trio (1944).  It begins with a folk melody thumping like a heartbeat. Students joined us in singing this tune and shared some amazing personal memories that came up as they listened, from trips with friends to get ice cream to funereal services of family members.new doc20130327211422010

Nearing the end of the workshop, “The Storyteller” appeared. Betsy, the leader of this portion kept “forgetting” to come in with her next line because she was so absorbed in a book! Of course, that is just what we wanted them to think. Saying proudly, “Storytelling is my favorite way of listening,” she welcomed the students to use their imagination to invent a story of their own as we played the final movement of Beethoven Op. 95.

new doc20130327211702090Overall, the workshop landed well with our new audiences. The workshop was built to say, “You, as a listener, are an equal partner in a live performance.” It is a simple equation: by lending us their ears, the quartet could bring the music to life and by framing listening as four characters, the students could let their creative ideas take shape, as well. All they needed was an open mind, a raised hand, and a strong voice (the added pencil and paper did not hurt).

Thank you to all who made these workshops possible! Through them, we met an extraordinary new collection of students and teachers and discovered listening tools that have changed our rehearsals and performances ever since.

– Michael, BPQ cellist

Our New Friends at the Celebrity Series

Our quartet has truly found kindred spirits at the Celebrity Series of Boston  – three in particular:

1) Gary Dunning, the warm and thoughtful executive director: new to Celebrity Series last year, Gary brought to the executive directorship of the organization a vision to prioritize depth, quality, and relevance of arts experiences for a wider, more diverse audience. He was drawn to the Boston Public Quartet’s work because of its emphasis on creating lasting relationships with the children and families of Boston. We were excited that he noticed and valued that. And we’re learning a lot from him; in particular, we appreciate how he consistently models ways of thinking of the “big picture” and acknowledge complexity all at once.

2) Robin Baker, the new Manager of Community Performances and Partnerships: we have had a chance to get to know (and appreciate) Robin very well because she is the one who organized the details of this new Artist in Community program, including setting up and publicizing all related events (which she did effortlessly and with imaginative detail), and attending the events as our fifth, best quartet-mate. Her ideas and feedback at each event were indispensable; she served as a surefire set of outside eyes, ears, and antennae as we felt our way through our presentations and concerts in a dizzying variety of non-traditional settings, for all kinds of listeners. We could go on and on, but in a nutshell:  Robin’s a kind and forthcoming, wise and artistic person, and we’re a much more flexible, agile quartet because of her input.

3) Robert Torres, the CS Staff Photographer and Graphic Designer: Our quartet had a ton of fun working with Robert on our photo-shoot, and the posters he designed for us are really superb. He is also a friendly, comforting soul to encounter at school visits and community concerts. Our quartet has so much more fun doing our thing when we know he’s there, and above all, he is amazingly good at capturing moments while we’re going crazy playing and teaching.

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In our most recent meeting with Robin, we discussed ideas for the 2013-2014 season, which happens to be the Celebrity Series’ 75th anniversary year. The CS staff has some exciting ideas about how our quartet (and our students) will participate in the celebration, including collaborative performances with other Artists in the Community groups. We think you should be the first to know that CS is scheming an incredibly ambitious, whimsical, public “happening” for fall 2013; we’re sure it will make an impact on Boston for years to come…stay tuned!

-Betsy and Marji, BPQ violinists 

Girls Going Places With Chamber Music

-by Marji Gere

On March 11, the 3rd/4th grade Chittick Peace Quintet played at an MBTA/MassDOT Diversity Luncheon at the Transportation Center downtown. The theme of the event was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination,” and the keynote speakers were a highway director, a business analyst, and an environmental engineer – three women leading in male-dominated fields.

The all-female quintet got the message: women can and do lead in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (and music! and education! and journalism! and…and…and…). On the train ride home, Daelen, a cellist, announced, “I’m a girl. I can do anything!” Hadassah (the violist) and Ayiana (one of the violinists), concurred that their favorite part of the event was hearing the women talk.

The quintet played two pieces. They started with “Gimme a Cue,” a piece by Betsy Hinkle. Their cues were solid, they made lots of eye contact with each other, and they projected rhythmic, expressive, unity. The spiritual “Deep River” is a real favorite for the girls–it was fun to share it again for a new audience.

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The Chittick Peace Quintet with Betsy, at the Transportation Center, Downtown Boston

Between pieces, the two cellists of the group made a choice to take a moment to talk to the (very large) audience. Amie talked about how “musiConnects is like a family,” and how we “take care of each other.” Daelen drove home the crucial point: “Not many kids get to play music.” She went on to say, “musiConnects kids need to work hard because they have the opportunity.” It was haunting and agitating to hear this young Bostonian describe music education as a privilege that she may or may not deserve. Honestly, that’s the message society is sending her. Could we (her family, school, city, country, world) please show her some evidence that we believe artistic development is a not a privilege, but a right for all children?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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The Chittick Peace Quintet

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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

Let’s Go, Chamber Kids!

I am proud to report that a number of students who formerly received music
instruction as participants in the Chittick residency are continuing their musical
education with musiConnects’ Community Lessons program. And, on a personal
note, I am thrilled to continue working with Johanna Stim-Phil, Clarence Joseph and
Joseph Bibb—all former Chittick students—in private lesson and chamber music
settings. We are encouraging Boston-area students to continue applying for spots in
Chamber Kids throughout the year as we are seeking to expand certain groups and
indeed create new ones if the demand requires it!

Part of the excitement of the past few weeks has been the process of choosing new
repertoire for students. Some Chamber Kids are planning to become masters of the
musical “round,” whilst others (Johanna and Joseph) have conspired to bring the
music of Star Wars to the musiConnects community in an exciting String Quartet
arrangement! We hope to follow this first foray into the music of cinema with a
John Williams medley to include themes from Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones…
And beyond the printed scores, we continue to add new improvisatory games and
exercises to our repertory (credit to Raina Hall-Brown, Samkyu Jaffe and Divya
Murthy for thinking up some awesome variations on music circle classics such
as “Rhythm Machine” and “Orchestra”).

Speaking of chamber music, one last tidbit of note: word on the street is that four
very passionate musicians and educators have begun playing together with the
intention of performing as the Sumner String Quartet…

-Josh