Editorial: June 2020

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Editorial: June 2020

Dennie Palmer Wolf, Researcher & Writer, WolfBrown, Cambridge, MA


On my COVID-era daily hike, I found myself behind a woman on her cell phone. At first, I resented the noise; then I began to listen. “Hello, this is Ms. F., Leila’s violin teacher. How are you?…How is she? Does she know she has messages from her music class? We are doing song-writing, and she would be so good at it…Yes, I’d love to tell her.” I realized I was hearing a new kind of musical alliance between teachers, students, and families.

Years ago, at Community MusicWorks in Providence, RI, we invited children to make musical family trees by interviewing at family events. They turned up all kinds of “ancestors”: high school drummers, amateur guitarists, avid kitchen dancers. In this at-home time, why not ask students to investigate their musical histories? To hang their musical family trees over improvised music stands, make music videos in front of them, and send the results to faraway family members?

In the same spirit, teaching artists can share their own family lives. Many tutorials for online teaching recommend blank backgrounds, monotone clothing, and no ambient noise. Teaching artists at City Lore, in New York City, have gone in the opposite direction, accentuating the human context of music-making. Hector Morales, a cajón player, taught a Zoom training session against a background of the plaza in Peru where he grew up, taking suggestions from his wife, a classroom teacher, while his son did the filming. The session was about Latin rhythms, but it was also about the human connections that make music possible. As online teaching continues, why not broadcast both lessons?

Jane Kramer, at Enriching Lives through Music in San Rafael, CA, has asked some families to keep music journals during the pandemic. What emerges is a portrait of how children’s practicing and playing has motivated, punctuated, bonded, soothed, and entertained entire households. What if programs regularly collected such journals? What would they learn about families as partners, daily audiences, and people who long for music to be part of their lives?

Online teaching came suddenly, cutting into the natural intimacy of music programs. At the same time, it has brought families and teachers together as musical allies. We’re discovering that homes and families are quite capable of supporting what we do in our programs. Let’s use this time to deepen mutual respect and partnership between teachers, families, and students.


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