Grant reflects music education innovation
Community Music School infuses curriculum with social justice.
Building on the momentum of 10 years of high quality, sequential music education, the MSU Community Music School-Detroit has engaged in a year-long initiative rooted in social justice.
Music Empowers 2020 is designed to infuse all youth instruction at CMS-D with thought-provoking social justice concepts. Funded by a $100,000 grant by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the program is engaging 300 students ages 7-17 who are enrolled in music instruction at the school.
“This project is driven by the scholarship of College of Music faculty and graduates who are innovating the way music education is taught today,” said CMS-D Director Jill Woodward. “Children are savvy connoisseurs of musical culture, and our programs can have an even greater impact when the curriculum is culturally-relevant and reflective of the world we live in today.”
As one of Detroit’s largest providers of sequential music education outside the regular school day, Music Empowers supports the musical and intellectual development of youth through 30 weeks of music classes and five weeks of summer day camps. The school actively recruits children from low-income Detroit neighborhoods to participate and provides tuition assistance for those with demonstrated financial need.
Woodward said the program is informed by the expertise of MSU College of Music subject matter experts, including Assistant Professor of Music Education Juliet Hess and University Distinguished Professor of Jazz Bass Rodney Whitaker, MSU’s director of Jazz Studies. College of Music alumna and CMS-D instructor Tia Harvey is also leading workshops, consulting sessions, and research activities to support the development and implementation of the curriculum by CMS-D faculty. Harvey received her doctorate and two master’s degrees from the College of Music and is the program manager and teacher at Accent Pontiac.
“Music Empowers gives Detroit youth a voice and a learning experience that directly relates to their own lives,” says Woodward. “As we begin our second decade, it makes a statement about our ethos as an institution and the diverse community we serve.”
Hess said she’s excited about helping shape curriculum by building on the culturally-relevant music education and musicking activities practiced by CMS-D faculty. The curriculum will include music from diverse genres, musical selections that illuminate social issues, teachings on the musical and cultural contributions of people of diverse backgrounds, and music activities and discussion that encourage varying points of view. The end goal is a teacher-designed curriculum that embraces the backgrounds and cultures of students at the Detroit-based school.
“As teachers, we often feel like we don’t get a lot of opportunity to find out what others are doing, and to discover and share new strategies,” Hess said. “We’re looking to provide times and structure sessions where we can talk to each other and explore ideas.”
Among the initial activities made possible by Music Empowers is a reading group for CMS-D teachers led by Hess and Harvey. Monthly sessions encourage dialog and discussion on culturally-responsive music education, jumpstarted by readings in a selected text on the same topic.
Harvey said the reading group is one way CMS-D teachers can contribute to the process of developing and formatting curriculum—something she remarked is unique among community music programs.
“It’s incredibly cool that we all have this opportunity to sit down and talk to one another,” she said. “This program shows that the CMS-D believes in investing in their teachers, and in turn, making opportunities better for our students.”
Curriculum development for Music Empowers is ongoing through Summer 2020. The initiative will encompass all programs offered by CMS-D, and will result in social justice themes as the foundation for weekly sectional and ensemble classes, youth workshops, student concerts and recitals, summer camps, and CMS-D teaching artist visits to Detroit schools.