Pupils Become Maestros

On a balmy Thursday last week, the students of Morse Summer Music Academy fanned out across New Haven for the first of their new “pop up concerts,” setting up shop inside the Peabody Museum and outside the Yale School of Music. Katherine Roque led the charge in a thicket of high school-aged students, joining an ensemble that was down one flutist. A few blocks away, Jocelyn Hernandez, Jesus Cortes-Sanchez and Richard Romero looked after the groups they had been “coaching” for a mere three days, readying them for their first public appearance.

What sets Roque (flute), Cortes-Sanchez (clarinet), Hernandez (clarinet) and Romero (alto saxophone) aside from the other teachers this summer is not just their bubbly and hands-on approach, but their age. Unlike the Academy’s typical bunch—graduate students at the Yale School of Music and several New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) teachers—the four are newly minted high school graduates, and the Summer Music Academy’s first crop of NHPS student interns. All four are also New Haven Promise scholars.

Lucy Gellman PhotoIn its fifth year, the Morse Summer Music Academy – a free, four-week summer intensive for NHPS students that is part of the multifaceted Music in Schools program – decided to take on the four in a different capacity because they have been with it from the beginning. 

“So here’s what we decided. Here are kids that have graduated from our programs, they’ve been in our programs forever. We’ve got School of Music graduate students, we’ve got New Haven Public School teachers, wouldn’t it be great to also have them,” explained YSM’s Associate Dean Michael Yaffe.

“These are four of the classiest young people I’d ever want to meet. They are so enthusiastic about going on and becoming teachers, and they’re just great people,” he added.

With funds from the program’s endowment, the Summer Academy was able to provide the four with “a small stipend” for the summer. In the arts, where internship positions are often unpaid and held by the privileged few who can “afford” them, it was an important issue for Yaffe and Rubén Rodríguez, director of Music in Schools and the summer program.

“Our fields are really complicated, and diverse. How you deal with the reality of what America is now and convincing both the organizations and the donors ... that the world isn’t the same world it was 50 years ago ... that’s what I’m loving about this microcosm and with these kids. We are happily providing these kids with some summer resources,” Yaffe said. 

For the four interns, the month-long program is both a learning experience and a way to give back to the community that has nurtured them for several years.

“As a student, coming to the Morse summer music camp definitely helped my playing, and my character through the years,” said Cortes-Sanchez (pictured), who placed at Connecticut’s All-State Festival this year. “Working in the summer camp I definitely have more appreciation for every teacher around here. I really look up to them and their hard work because now I’m doing that work, and it’s really intense. It’s really tough, but at the same time I really like it because it brings me responsibility. It has matured me, in a way.”

“I had so many people that encouraged me to do music ... even when I had terrible days ... they always encouraged me more than what I thought of myself. I want to continue that and give the kids an opportunity, which is why I decided to do this internship with Yale. Being able to see everything [that went into the Summer Academy] helped me appreciate my teachers more than I did, and it helped me realize what my occupation is going to be like,” added Hernandez.

Music has also opened doors for the players, which they are now hoping to open for other NHPS students. 

“I’ve seen what music does when people are troubled,” said Roque (pictured), who has been playing flute for almost 10 years and classifies herself as one of the Summer Music Academy’s “babies,” having evolved with the program. “Growing up in a community that isn’t always at its best ... going into music saves people from going into drugs, into alcohol, gangs, and it’s something that I personally want to keep impacting and keep changing. It’s really hard. But it’s probably been the best decision of my life, to teach and to get into teaching.” 

“Not only do they [our students] learn, but we learn from them. We have this experience to become much better,” added Romero (pictured above), who taught himself to play the alto saxophone, and credits NHPS’ Melinda Hartfiel with his development as a player and unorthodox entry into the Yale Symphony Orchestra.

For all four, the job isn’t their first interaction with teaching, nor will it be their last. All tutor or have tutored at the nearby Neighborhood Music School, in their high schools (Co-Op for Roque, Cortes-Sanchez and Hernandez; Hillhouse for Romero) and around the greater New Haven community, and all plan to pursue careers in music education when they begin college in the fall.

But this experience will be much more, all of them say, than something to check off on a resume.

“All their [the students’] hard work…it has inspired me so much. It gets to me and I’m like ... ‘I need to go home and practice,’” laughed Cortes-Sanchez.

“Seeing them [the students] put on a performance is probably one of the most beautiful things I could see, and being on the teaching end ... makes you feel very proud,” added Roque.

One way they are putting their teaching philosophy into action? As of July 11—the end of the Academy’s first week—each had taken on the task of learning a new instrument.

“I feel like this new step we took of saying ‘I’m going to learn an instrument’ is going to show them [students] ‘yes, I make mistakes. Yes, I have to go home and practice. Yes, I struggle, and yes, it’s not going to be easy—but hey, I have to put in that effort,’” said Roque, who plans to take on the trumpet.

Lucky for their students, the budding teachers aren’t going far when the Summer Music Academy ends in early August. Come September, Roque and Cortes-Sanchez will attend University of Connecticut, Hernandez will attend the University of New Hampshire and Romero the University of New Haven, from which he is planning to transfer into UConn.

To find out more about the Morse Summer Music Academy, visit their website or follow @YSMinschools on Twitter. The next pop-up concert will take place July 17 at 1pm inside the Yale University Art Gallery and Peabody Museum and outside on Cross Campus.

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