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


Tricia Tunstall


Dr. Bettina Love, the author and cultural philosopher whose riveting keynote speech kicked off last week’s YOLA National Symposium in Los Angeles, teaches her education students at the University of Georgia a course called “Black and Brown Excellence.”

“My students know all about the ‘issues’ of the kids they’re going to teach,” she told us. “What they don’t know about is the beauty and the brilliance and the excellence of the kids.”

Dr. Love’s speech was a passionate, generous, and far-ranging meditation on this theme. Her core message was that educators often view students of color through a lens of deficiency, and assume it’s their job to remedy students’ deficiencies by supplying what’s missing. “But a lot of what we keep saying we want kids to have,” she said, “in fact, they already have it, within the context of their own cultures and traditions.”

She wasn’t implying that we have nothing valuable to offer our students. She was simply enjoining us to know and value the rich array of skills they already have—to meet them where they are, and help them widen and expand those skills.

The symposium’s overarching theme was “Empowering Youth, Building Community,” and that theme was reflected in the widely diverse and highly energetic group of attendees, who included MAT students and YOLA students as well as leaders, teaching artists, and students in El Sistema-inspired programs across the U.S. In addition to discussion sessions, workshops, and concerts, a joint project—the creation of a book about music learning and shared power—engaged them all in ongoing collective action.

Throughout our three-day inquiry, Bettina Love’s words stayed in our heads and hearts. Music, she declared, is civics education. But “empowering youth” isn’t about teachers giving students power. It’s about teachers honoring and helping students to catalyze the power they already have.

Most important of all, we need to help our students to become confident in their knowledge of who they are. “That’s the work,” she said. “Confidence in the knowledge of who you are.”


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