The Symphonic Youth Program (SYP) provides instrumental music instruction to students in grades 6th to 12th in public schools of Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. The main goals of the SYP are to promote music & academic proficiency, social skills and social justice awareness. The main objectives of the SYP focuses on developing the passion for music through guided session in aesthetic experiences, increase performance skills for admissions in specialized music programs, and to promote social skills and better academic achievement through group reflection and historical research.
Under contract with the New York City Department of Education, the MMG Symphonic Youth Program (SYP) provides direct multicultural music instruction to approximately 500 public school students annually and approximately 2,000 students through concerts, panel presentations and internet connections.
The instruction takes place Mondays through Fridays at various times during the day and the after school schedule for 36 weeks per year, The SYP can be structured as a full orchestra, a concert band, a jazz ensemble, a Latin band, a wind ensemble, or a percussion ensemble. The program is structured by levels of achievement: basic, competent, proficient, and distinguished.
Each level represents one year of study. During each level the students will learn a selection of musical genres from each region of the world: North America, South America, Europe, Africa (sub-Sahara), the Middle East and the Oriental Regions of Northeast and Southeast Asia. This program of instruction is focused on the teaching of multicultural music instruction.
This section will study simple arrangements of different musical styles. Performance techniques, history, theory, aesthetic awareness, use of available materials and activities in different types of music.
Includes arrangements within a 2nd grade of difficulty. Performance techniques, history, theory, aesthetic awareness, improvisation, use of available materials and activities in different types of music.
Includes arrangements within a 3rd grade of difficulty. Performance techniques, history, aesthetic awareness, improvisation, arranging/composing, community involvement, use of available materials and activities in different types of music.
Includes arrangements within a 4th & 5th grade of difficulty. Performance techniques, history, aesthetic awareness, improvisation, arranging/ composing, community involvement, use of available materials, activities and career opportunities in different types of music.
The grades of difficulty are based on the classifications presented by the New York State School Music Association’s Manual and the classification of levels presented by several music publishers. All program structures (orch., band, Jazz, etc.) follow the curriculum levels and the repertoire classification.
The SYP also bridges the professional component of the MMG (the MME) with the students’ instruction by involving them every year in research with scholars and a professional composer who depicts a major historical event of his/her culture through the use of instrumental/vocal music. By engaging students in the study of historic events of different cultures, MMG seeks to instill respect for cultural difference and thereby promote global understanding and cultural awareness not only through research but also by experiencing the composer’s sensitivity by studying and performing his/her intention depicting the historical event through music.
The collaboration between the SYP and the MME not only promotes performance improvement by motivating our students to perform at the MMG Orchestra final concert but also promotes technology involvement by enhancing the show with the students’ research material which is converted into an impressive audio-visual presentation.
For the past 23 years, the MMG has commissioned music inspired on historical events from different parts of the world within the symphonic setting. These events and the music depicting those incidents are utilized in the SYP as the central curricular aspect in order to study and research history, perform the commissioned music and reflect on the participants’ aesthetic experiences. In addition, our faculty has been trained and receives continuous training for the teaching of this comprehensive teaching concept.
Schools’ Selection and Ensemble Structures
Each program at every school is planned with at least a year in advanced. The schools are required to create an steering committee (usually composed by administrators, teachers, parents and students) which is in charge of selecting the structure of the partnership (teacher-training for existing music programs, teacher training for classroom teachers, direct instruction for schools without music programs, integrating the history/music/reflection into the classroom or multicultural workshops on specific topics – all structures include our basic concept of history/performance/reflection). The steering committee also is in charge of fundraising, selecting participant teachers, students and themes to be studied. Depending on the selected structure, SYP participants receive instruction in theory, instrument techniques, the histories that inform cultural works, styles and genres, and opportunities and/or strategies for aesthetic reflection. They will receive further music exposure through in- and out-of-school performance opportunities such as student exchange performances among partnering SYP and neighborhood schools and trips to civic performances, cultural institutions and artist residencies. SYP participants are encourage to join the MMG Youth Ensemble or the MMG Orchestra, our professional ensemble, for proficient students. The participation in our ensembles is designed to retain, motivate and give practical experience in the Playing History curriculum. This aspect helps our advanced high school students with their community service requirement. The Bronx Lebanon Hospital supports our students as a venue for regular performances in patient wards and ambulatory clinics.
Professional Development on the Playing History Curriculum
Each program at every school receives training on research practices on hidden aspects of history, music sensory perception (connection of music, senses, and emotions), commissioned repertoire to depict historical topics, and the use of affective reflection to analyze the music–history connection and its relationship to the students’ lives.
The History/Research aspect of the training is conducted by senior MMG personnel. In this component, the trainers present events of major historical import that have been excluded from the mainstream curriculum. Some topics may include the United States Civil Rights Movement, the Caste System in India, the Apartheid procedures in South Africa, the Ponce and Parsley Massacres, the Tiananmen Square Crisis, the Rwanda Genocide and many others. The topics are choose as historical events that represented the student population in the SYP and the importance and lack of exposure of these topics; an aspect that opened the intrigue and curiosity among the students and gave them the drive to research the events and their causes. Moreover, these topics kindled within students a sense of curiosity about history and interest in conducting research that they would likely not have had otherwise.
The music sensory perception is based on multi-sensorial strategies to connect senses and emotions within the music students. Music instructors receive instruction from MMG personnel on how to connect the production of sound with colors, textures, smells and even flavors. They use trips to multicultural fairs and the use of video clips presenting different types of music, dance, drama and visual art which helps the students to connect their senses with culture or the connection of sounds and colors: high sounds with light and brilliance, low sounds with the opposite; sounds with taste and smell of foods as presented in community fairs or school assemblies; and sound with texture as presented with folkloric clothing.
The connection of music with history involve the students in an empathic relationship with the topics. The repertoire aspect required music specifically composed to depict historical events. For that reason, composers, musicians, scholars, and community activists came to the classrooms to support the history behind the events and the performance of different musical genres. All the history information and rudiments’ strategies are integrated into a real framework of interpretation and perception. The connection of music sensory development with referential aspects of history helped the students with interpretation of external factors and the affinity of the appropriate sounds with the intrinsic intention of the musical work. For these reasons, music instructors receive training on the affective reflection and the music/history connection.
SYP participants are from predominantly low-income families living in underserved communities in the South Bronx, East Harlem and Washington Heights. Many of these young people have experienced hardships and traumas that are difficult for them to verbalize or otherwise express. For this reason, MMG also has the support of community activists, scholars, composers and the artistic community in order to help MMG music instructors in affective reflection and empathy development. Facilitators, help MMG faculty on innovative ways to strengthen creative expression and affective skills with historical research, visual arts, drama and music, and a variety of techniques in which teaching artists could foster emotional development within SYP youth.
The SYP has achieved major positive outcomes. Over 2,500 students have been admitted into specialized music programs and 75% of our alumni have continued higher education studies. During the past 17 years, the program has achieved its goals of promoting instrumental music with a multicultural focus through the use of history and aesthetic reflection. Moreover, the school teachers at the participating schools have joined forces with our instructors in order to learn how to include our teaching concept into their classes.
One gratifying example is to see our strategies implemented in different classrooms at the participant schools: ex. – the application of lyrics to the blues’ structure in order to depict such topics as the civil right movement, the Sudan genocide or the Wounded Knee incident in the Native American culture. The continuous support of all these educators and their application of our comprehensive teaching concept give us strength to continue this multicultural journey.
Our students have performed with major artists such as Grammy Award Winners Mr. Eddie Palmieri and Mr. Ray Santos, and Jazz Legends Mr. Wynton Marsalis and Mr. Jimmy Heath. In addition to these accomplishments, the SYP has been awarded with the Union Square Award in 2008 and with the Gold Medal Performance at the NYSSMA Festival in New York University and the Performance Arts Center at Great Adventure for the past five years. Furthermore, the SYP was selected by the William T. Grant and the Center for Arts Education Research (CAER) at Teachers College, Columbia University in 2011/12 to study the effect of history and music reflection on music students in urban settings. This evaluation component is expected to continue this year. Moreover, the MMG and the Bronx Lebanon Hospital created in 2012 a collaborative project in which SYP advanced students at the high school level performs at their in-patient wards and ambulatory clinics in after school sessions. This collaboration provides a modest stipend for the students as a motivational aspect to continue their musical studies and the opportunity to fulfill their community service graduation requirement.
As mentioned above, the MMG collaborates with the Center for Arts education Research at Teachers College, Columbia University, the SYP assess its program implementation utilizing an experimental study with pre and post testing. The experimental study uses five control and five experimental groups (two in each school). The selection of students (stratified sample selection) will consists of two students per academic level: Level I/ Does Meet the Standards, Level II/ Developing Skills to Meet the Standards, Level III/Meets the Standards, Level IV/ Meets the Standards with Distinction / 8 students in each group, 2 groups per school (control and experimental). The testing includes the following components: observations, interviews, surveys, analysis of students’ journals and teacher’s logs. The collected data is tabulated and analyzed after each testing procedure (pre & post) and final report of the program outcomes is expected by the end of July 2013.
The research component in the SYP provides valuable data not only for the improvement of the students’ music skills but also for the impact of our curricular structure in the students’ academic achievement and their social skill development. From a total of eight participating schools in the SYP for 2011/12 the study focused on eight groups (four control and four experimental groups) of six students per group in four schools. The CAER evaluation provided correlations among the music components, the academic disciplines and the areas focused for the students’ social skill development. The most noticeable aspect of the evaluation was the outstanding improvement of students’ music skills and social skill development.
The jurors’ comments for the music aspect and the parents and teachers interviews validated the recorded statistical data in those areas. Other findings validated the correlation among social studies- music history- repertoire-ethical-diversity-interpersonal, all aspects dealing with human behavior and how human actions can affect the individual, their families and communities. The exercises, sight reading and repertoire also correlated to the affective aspects of inter/intra personal, ethics and aesthetics which are technical areas in music that promotes personal interpretation by developing performance skills which consequently will allow the students to articulate emotions musically. Furthermore, the aspects dealing with the scientific method are evident in the scores presented by the science component and the research process presented in the music history and the orchestra repertoire. The math and reading scores represented a decreased or no increase which is a reflection on the need to emphasize the research and reporting process in these curricular aspects.
On the other hand, the affective component reflected the highest scores and the need to express emotions and the eagerness of students to have a better understanding of this aspect in their lives. These findings were clearly evident in the interviews and observations with outstanding demonstrations of group cohesion, exceptional display of trust and an amazing understanding for external concerns. In addition to the CAER evaluation, the SYP brings participants students to the NYSSMA evaluation, the New York State agency for music education which provides group and individual assessment.