Global Teaching Artistry Models: Ideas for Reflection
Nancy J. Uscher, Ph.D., Dean, College of Fine Arts and Professor of Music, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Editors’ Note: Have you and your colleagues ever allowed yourselves the luxury of imagining a community-building event or concert that’s much more ambitious than anything you’ve ever done before? If so, wouldn’t you have welcomed help from advisors who could bring broader perspectives from the fields of social science, education, and civic policy?
The Global Leaders Program (GLP) is an international non-profit organization based in Washington, DC that aspires to provide exactly this kind of support for programs around the world that pursue music for social impact goals. The following article is the third in a series of articles by members of its 2021 cohort. (The first and second appeared in our March and April issues.) All three articles describe how current cohort members have been working alongside social impact-oriented music programs to imagine and design bigger, broader, and more impactful community events. We hope this series affords you food for your own thought experiments and inspires you to think even larger about such events for your own programs!
Artists’ careers will likely undergo considerable transformation over the next decades, as those trained in arts disciplines increasingly invent their own pathways for the future. As the arts expand their mission to include delivering social impact, not only will artists flourish in new contexts, but society may also be repositioned to build richer perspectives around the value of the arts and artists in the world.
These points are illuminated by the creative work of musicians participating in the 2021 cohort of the Global Leaders Program. This article will examine three imagined scenarios that embody the purposeful sharing of musical experiences by teaching artists.
These imagined experiences, in which social value is delivered through music, were conceived to take place in Haiti (BLUME Haiti Teaching Artistry and the Haitian Summer Community Concert: UNITY); in Panama (Festival Alegria: Dia de la Cancion Panameña / Alegria Festival: Day of Panamanian Song); and in Rochester, New York (Celebration of the Tenth Anniversary of ROCmusic). To be clear, these invented activities have not yet taken place, although they could potentially happen—since the three programs actually exist, and the narrative for each imagined project described here has been gifted to the program for which it was created.
Each venture demonstrates a well-thought-out opportunity—a celebratory arts event or festival—that creates meaningful connections to communities. Here is what the three proposed endeavors had in common.
Research: In each case, the team or author of the project undertook well-designed preliminary research through an interview with at least one of the program’s teaching artists. This aspect of the work has important implications, as research is a fundamental part of an artist’s professional life.
Understanding the culture and its communities: In all three cases, there was an understanding about the culture where the event was to take place. This artistic wisdom was central to the preparation of the proposed project.
Meeting a community where it is, with an element of familiarity—and then adding value to the experience: In each proposal, the hypothetical event was a thoughtful “fit” for the existing community, built on the pride the community felt about its heritage. There was also a uniform effort to include new community members—those who were not regular concert-goers—to experience the key event.
In the proposed BLUME Haiti project, the Haitian Summer Community Concert would be performed during the Haitian Orchestra Institute (HOI), using a familiar venue, the Palais Sans Souci. Respect for the culture would be conveyed through concert dress in colors of the Haitian flag: red, blue, and white. For the Panamanian project, a half-day outdoor educational music festival initiated the celebration, with the broader Panama City community being encouraged to join the festivities. Musicians would wear traditional Panamanian clothing and/or a shirt with the national colors (also red, white, or blue). In the ROCmusic project, there would be a day-long schedule of activities, culminating in the final event. The inclusion of newer ethnic immigrant cultures from Puerto Rico and West Africa would be particularly notable.
In each project, the teaching artist’s central goals included interactivity, experiential goals, and participation of the audience a central philosophy for the teaching artist. Engaging audiences and creating a welcoming experience was at the heart of each of these endeavors. A broad range of music was tapped for all three projects—classical and other repertoire, drawing upon the local and/or national folk and ethnic cultures, as well as improvised music. Each team or author employed inventive approaches in fashioning these events/festivals. For BLUME Haiti, three chamber music groups were featured, each selected from a different part of Haiti and offering a piece that focused on a different facet of Haitian rhythms and culture, combined with the reading of stories, poetry, or folk tales. Even the seating for the three groups was intentionally designed. Another example from BLUME Haiti was the Haiti Voodoo drum experience, in which audience members were engaged through the five dance rhythms and by clapping rhythms heard from the tanbou drum.
For the Panama and Rochester projects, interactivity started with pre-culminating events. In Panama, the pre-concert sites were conceived as two experiential stations, the drum circle and the instrument petting zoo, with student leaders facilitating the experience for participants. The repertoire shared an emphasis on Panamanian song themes and highlighted the diversity in the Panamanian population, with rich Caribbean, African, and Spanish/Indian influences. For Rochester, there was an entire day of participatory workshops (La Bomba dance from Puerto Rico, West African drumming, Improvisation, Conducting, Careers, Cooking, and Folk Crafts) in advance of the culminating concert. The workshops also included creating ethnic food dishes and crafts (utilized as door prizes) for the concert’s afterparty. Additionally, the more established part of Rochester’s music institutional history (Eastman School of Music) was integrated with traditions from newer immigrant groups. The concert’s three works, two commissioned pieces by both ROCmusic and Eastman students and an improvised work conducted by five ROCmusic students who had attended the conducting workshop earlier that day, demonstrated this cultural inclusivity.
Overall themes helped define the goals of the celebratory events created for Haiti, Panama, and Rochester. To a certain extent, each project was illuminated by storytelling, and selected themes conveyed this aspect of the coalescing premise. For the Haiti project, the word UNITY carried the value of coming together as one Haitian community, described as “a community concert that bridges genres, geographies, and social and religious backgrounds through a musical exploration of the multi-dimensional Haitian identity.” For Panama, it was a “Celebration of Panamanian Music,” and for Rochester it was the acknowledgement of ROCmusic’s 10th anniversary: “Celebrating a Decade of the ROCmusic Collaborative: Experiments in Sound.”
Special attention was paid in each case to creating the right entry points to engage participants. For the Haiti concert, this entry point was determined to be Haiti Chérie by Othello Bayard de Cayes, a patriotic song everyone knew. The audience would be encouraged to sing along with orchestra and chorus. For Panama, the pre-concert discussion and selected familiar repertoire were tied into the entry point. After the preliminary activities (drum circle and instrument petting zoo) there would be a guided discussion, with audience members being asked to make emotional and storytelling connections to the music presented. Throughout the concert presentation, the audience would actively participate in the music-making with song, body percussion, or dance. For ROCmusic, after a day-long schedule of participatory workshops, at the start of the culminating event, children in the audience would be asked about the workshops they attended during the day, leading up to the concert.
A final reflection: I was recently reminded of the Sun Tzu quote from The Art of War: “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” From my vantage point, this project is about removing barriers to a deep reservoir of ideas that can spark the imagination. The hope is that the models embedded in the projects presented here might inspire others to “seize opportunities” for delivering social impact through distinctive, participatory, and innovative musical encounters.