No Vacation For Young Musicians

Daniela Brighenti PhotoThough James Maciel-Andrews might be on school vacation, he is spending seven hours of each weekday in class.

It is not any traditional classroom. For the fourth year in a row, Maciel-Andrews is participating in the Morse Summer Music Academy, a month-long program for New Haven public school fourth-through-11th graders. So instead of staring at books or listening to long lectures, Maciel-Andrews joins in ensemble practices, plays outdoor concerts and learns more about the world of music —  all while having fun.

“The kids want to be here,” Yury Maciel-Andrews, mother to James Maciel-Andrews, said. “And I know someday, I’ll watch a full orchestra somewhere and it will be one of them playing.”

The Academy is organized as a partnership between the Yale School of Music and NHPS, with a staff including teachers from New Haven schools and “teaching artists,” who are current graduate students at the Yale School of Music who volunteer their time during the summer month.

The teaching artists, which Michael Yaffe compared to teaching assistants at universities, undergo training sessions before the Academy starts.

“They are all great performers, but not all are natural teachers,” Yaffe said.

Each teacher leads a group of students, which are set up based on skill level and type of instrument. The average age of each group can vary, as some younger students might be more skilled than their older counterparts.

On Tuesday and Thursdays, these small groups take turn performing at “Pop-Up Concerts” in four different locations around New Haven: the New Haven Public Library, Yale’s Cross Campus, the Yale Art Gallery and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

On Thursday, one quartet and five ensembles performed on Cross Campus, to an audience made up of parents, friends and the occasional gust of wind, which forced student-performers to hold on tight to their sheet music while still playing their instruments.

Following these concerts, students retreat to classrooms, where they practice pieces and prepare for their next performances.

“The piece they are playing today? It’s not the same one they played on Tuesday’s concert,” said David Brensilver, communications officer for the Yale School of Music.

For Yaffe, the academy is more than just “another summer-camp style program.” To him, it reflects the importance New haven as a city continues to give to music education.

“Most urban school systems haven’t been able to maintain music education in their curriculum,” Yaffe said. “But most of New Haven still does.”

He added that the Academy, as well as other initiatives run out of the Yale School of Music Music in Schools Initiative complement the work teachers are already doing in the classrooms, and serve to provide students with opportunities they might not otherwise have — opportunities that are too often concentrated on more affluent or urban cities.

“It’s basically one of Yale’s biggest commitments to New Haven,” Yaffe said, summing up his view of the Academy.

And it doesn’t stop there. These same teaching artists from the Yale School of Music also participate in year-round programs in NHPS, which includes lessons and ensemble coaching, All-City Honors Ensembles, winter and spring concerts and a solo-showcase concert.

For Ruben Rodriguez, the program’s lead teacher, the most memorable instances are when he notices either a child or parent finding, for the first time, their passion in music.

“Parents often discover their kids in a new way, when they come to a concert and realize what they can play,” Rodriguez said. “They see their kids passionate about something as great as music can be.”

Much the same happens with students. Rodriguez recounted a story about one student he had his first year as a teaching artist, who years later has come back to the program — this time as a teaching artist himself.

“Jesus Cortes was part of a group I had to scold often, that year,” Rodriguez said reminiscently. “And now he’s come back as a teacher. It’s full circle. And kids love him, of course.”

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