Posts Tagged 'Allyssa Jones'

BAA and the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Some of you may know that the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Education Resource Center (BSOERC) is housed in the BAA/Fenway High School Library. The BAA/Fenway Library and BSOERC won the 2004 American Association of School Librarians National School Library Media Program of the Year and is an incredible resource for so many teachers, musicians, and students.

Allyssa Jones, Milton Wright and Myran Parker-Brass

BAA’s Allyssa Jones, Milton Wright of the New England Spiritual Ensemble,                        and the BSO’s Myran Parker-Brass (photo by Helene Norton-Russell)

We are lucky to have a fantastic relationship with the BSO and Myran Parker-Brass, their Director of Education and Community Programs. Last week I was invited to give the opening remarks for their professional development workshop, “Teaching African American Spirituals: an Interdisciplinary Approach.” The workshop was hosted by the BSOERC and co-sponsored by BAA’s Center for Arts in Education and the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) Eastern District Outreach and Advocacy Committee, which includes one of our own music faculty, Allyssa Jones.

Tyrone Sutton

BAA’s Tyrone Sutton presents with Anthony Trecek-King of the Boston Children’s Chorus (photo by Helene

After an amazing day spent tackling the question, “Why teach African American Spirituals?”, the workshop closed with a performance by the New England Spiritual Ensemble (both Allyssa and Myran are members of this group) and students from the Boston Arts Academy Spiritual Ensemble. I am so proud that BAA was featured in this concert and that the ensemble (directed by BAA music and humanities faculty member, Tyrone Sutton) has been in demand around Boston, performing at the Room to Grow fall gala in November, BAA’s Council of Advocates breakfast in December, and now, at Symphony Hall.

I was impressed with Dr. Anthony Leach (Associate Professor of Music and Music Education at Penn State University) who led the workshop, and was incredibly inspired by the nearly 45 teachers from Boston, Chelmsford, Rhode Island, Newton, and Lexington who attended the workshop, including teachers from the Minuteman Technical School (I have always argued that we need to see the arts also embodied as vocational skills, and Minuteman Tech now has a band, recording studio, and sound engineering!). I was honored to be in the presence of these dedicated teachers, and have posted my introductory remarks below.

Dr. Anthony Leach

Dr. Anthony Leach led the workshop (photo by Helene Norton-Russell)

Introductory remarks- “Teaching African American Spirituals”
BSO, January 10, 2011

We live in an age where educational policy makers believe that only things that can be counted matter. Sadly, education reform has become synonymous with raising test scores. What it means to be a whole child, or a whole human being, who needs a strong intellectual center with many outlets for creative and even spiritual exploration, has been forgotten.  The conversation is completely lopsided. Our obsession with measurement and comparison has led to a curriculum that ignores the aesthetic, the musical or the imaginative. No one would ever argue that reading and math don’t count and shouldn’t be tested, but when a 9 month school year is reduced to a 7 month school year because of the number of days spent on testing and test prep, someone has got to say: Stop! It’s time to change our paradigm.

That is when I look to the arts. The arts teach us that judgment counts—not just finding right answers and filling in bubble test answer sheets. The arts teach about perspective, critique, working together, and learning from our history. The arts allow multiple opportunities to walk in another’s shoes, sing another’s songs and appreciate and empathize with lyrics and melodies that may be foreign to us.

American spirituals are a way into understanding our past, our traditions, our trials and aspirations, our greatest hopes for what can be. I’m not sure there is a test to measure what a good spiritual sounds like – I certainly hope not. The assessment of good (or not good) comes from the audience’s response. Were you moved? Did you come to a different understanding, emotionally and intellectually, than you expected? Were you transported? And what do those explorations mean to you?

I am so proud of the spiritual ensemble at BAA where our students work together to create a sound that helps us ask about our collective humanity and our history. That, to me, is why we are teachers

So, I welcome you to this wonderful day where you will work and learn together and where you will remind one another, and your students, that music – and this music in particular – is the stuff of life. We can never forsake it lest we forsake ourselves. I know we can struggle through these dark days of budget cuts and reforms that are a parody of what is actually needed. Remember the words of our spirituals: “I ain’t got time to die” and “don’t let nobody turn me around.” Stay focused on your good work. You know what is right for kids. Thank you for being here today… enjoy and sing!

Orlando Lightfoot of the New England Spiritual Ensemble sings with BAA student Anthony Lewis (photo by Helene Norton-Russell)


New Orleans

WOW! New Orleans seems a distant memory and I was only there last week. I was fortunate to combine a part of the book tour with the Coalition of Essential Schools’ Fall Forum, which meant that I traveled with two teachers and four music students. Music faculty Allyssa Jones and Science faculty Ramiro Gonzalez helped chaperone students Tizzi, Azhia, Roobvia and India.

Day 1: Arrival and the first book event, hosted by New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, our sister art school in New Orleans. Lively discussion about what we think works in education, and then two of the guests took us to a neighborhood restaurant for an amazing meal.

Day 2: NOCCA tour with principal, Kyle Wedberg. I had the worst case of ‘edifice envy’ ever! I’ve never seen such gorgeous dance studios, visual arts rooms (there are five kilns in the clay room), recording and TV studios, jazz rooms, etc..on any college campus, let alone a high school! The Ellis Marsalis jazz studio rivals anything I’ve seen at Berklee! NOCCA has many more majors than we do, including creative writing, musical theatre and technical theatre. Many teachers are working artists.

I gave a talk at NOCCA’s staff meeting. The meeting began with faculty sharing “joys” either about their students or their own work. It felt special to sit in on these joyful reports and experience the exuberance with which teachers talk about their work or that of their students.

If I were young and starting out, I might see myself coming to New Orleans, too. “The Big Easy” emits a delightful pull on one’s psyche. Folks are friendly; arts are everywhere and certainly it is a city trying to rebuild itself and many smart people have come to join in.


A little sightseeing in the French Quarter.

CES Fall Forum: Gloria Ladson Billings from University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of The Dreamkeepers (a fabulous book if you haven’t read it) was the keynote. I have always loved listening to her and she didn’t disappoint!

Lewis Cohen, the current ED of CES, gave a beautiful memorial tribute to Ted Sizer and then introduced a chorus from Upper Darby High School in Pennsylvania who had been working with a New Orleans elementary school to sing two songs in tribute to Ted. Ted has had a deep influence on my professional and personal life and being there with 900 people all recognizing his enormous contributions and the music swirling inside me gave me permission to just sit and cry. In a time where the conversation in our country is all about measurement and efficiency we have lost a voice of reason and compassion. I hope others will take up Ted’s mantle and push back on our ill-fated federal policies.

Our workshop at the CES conference went well. We focused on how others might build an over-arching framework a la RICO and we shared our experiences with our process. The girls facilitated small groups very well and we ended with the girls getting everyone up on their feet singing. A definite high point!

That evening we had another great dinner and roamed the French Quarter at night which included an impromptu stop for the girls to sing with “Stebo Willy” at some outdoor bar. They won’t forget that for a long time!

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