The Youth Brass Band Mentorship Program
Capitol District Jazz Ltd. is currently seeking funding for The Youth Brass Band Mentorship Program, an afterschool music program for junior high school students who are considered “at-risk.”
The New Orleans Brass Band Tradition
The New Orleans brass band tradition is a living embodiment of American musical culture. It honors the past and points to the future while keeping focus on the philosophy that connects the two. There is a remarkably robust, multi-generational and varied brass band scene in the city of New Orleans and across the U.S., which crosses race and socioeconomic lines. It is a truly American art form that celebrates the harmony that can be made from seemingly disparate entities. Its practitioners are known for being transformers, adapters, improvisers and experimenters. Yet this vital American musical tradition remains largely unrecognized and under-utilized by academia and music educators. .
Our mentorship program is modeled on the traditional pre -academic jazz education system and is in direct inverse to traditional classroom situations with regard to teacher to student ratio. In a traditional classroom setting, there is generally one teacher and a group of students. The teacher is typically regarded as the only one with the knowledge and he/she must pass it on to the group. In the traditional jazz education model, the student is immersed in a group wherein many of participants know more than he/she does. This provides for a fertile transfer of information, similar to the immersion techniques favored by linguists. The young musician who finds himself in the midst of older more experienced musicians is, above all, working on listening skills; hearing older musicians improvise, hearing how notes fit into given harmonic structures; and, perhaps more importantly, hearing correct musical style. In linguistics, it is not only important to use the correct vocabulary (note choices for the improvising musician) but one must also speak with an appropriate accent (style). Students who play traditional band instruments often feel they have little or no connection to the music they play in band; they don’t listen to it and their peers don’t listen to it. We understand that students who feel a connection to the music they play will be more inspired to continue playing. By juxtaposing music they already are connected to and music they are unfamiliar with, we can expand students’ ideas and parameters about what is “good” and what they are willing to commit themselves to. This has educational ramification beyond music.
Benefits of Exposure to Jazz Music
Music programs in general give students a chance to meet other like-minded kids; to learn skills that earn them distinction among peers and leads to higher self esteem; to gain logic and math skills as a result of learning to read (and “think”) music; and learn discipline and other skills that lead to success in school at any level. Participating in music programs allows students to feel appreciated for something they CAN do. However, very little has been done to incorporate jazz and other American music into arts curriculum. This singularly inventive and expressive music, created, in the United States, is something many students have not had access to (if they are taught to play an instrument at all), in part due to the decades-long decline in funding for school-based arts education. Exposing youth to jazz music means exposing them to a broad range of positive influences and valuable life skills. Jazz introduces students to an important element of the nation’s cultural fabric; not just the music itself but also the philosophy behind the music. The U.S. is a nation that prides itself on individualism and innovation. Jazz provides students a workshop for negotiating these values in their own lives. Because it often does not privilege written notation, students learn solely by listening to others, then they must keep that data straight in their minds as they negotiate with others in the moment. The musician is encouraged to make an individual statement, to take what they have and sing their song yet must also realize when to play a supporting role so that the group can sing its song. These sorts of improvisational skills are applicable in all aspects of future success (adaptability, creative thinking, etc.) and above all, provide them with a vehicle for self-expression and the ability to exercise choice.
The organizers of the Youth Brass Band Mentorship Program are professional musicians and educators Keith Pray and Dr. Arthur Falbush. Pray, a native of upstate New York, has been playing saxophone professionally since 1988, both in New York City and the Capital District, and is the director of the All Ears Jazz & Improvised Worksphops, a program devoted to teaching improvisational music entirely via aural transmission. He has taught saxophone at the State University of New York College at Oneonta (SUNY Oneonta) and Schenectady County Community College, and in the Schenectady City School District. Falbush, a professional trumpeter and trombonist, has performed with jazz luminaries Billy Taylor, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Tom Harrell and is a Lecturer in the SUNY Oneonta Music Department; his educational approach has been profiled in Downbeat Magazine and he has lectured internationally on jazz and improvised music and its role in curriculum. He is also the founder and executive director of the Oneonta Jazz Festival, the only jazz festival that brings together students and teachers from SUNY institutions across the State.
In 2013 CDJ ran a successful year of the brass band program. We are currently raising funds to continue the program in 2014-2015. Our plans for expansion of the program include more frequent meetings, the incorporation of literacy and reading lessons, tutorial assistance with homework, and guest artists and more faculty members as the program grows.