Abstract: This is an account of an ongoing project embedded within a university program in music teacher education, aimed at providing firsthand interaction of musiciansbecoming- teachers with children and youth of diverse cultural communities. Documentation is provided of the challenges and rewards of knowing diversity through musical engagements in communities far from the comforts of campus life.
It's not easy to pack up a group of music majors for offcampus course activity for a few days, not when they're enrolled for a necessary run of scheduled sessions in a semester's classes, seminar, ensembles, and studio lessons. Their professors may ask questions, and rightly so, for student absences mean make-up classes and assignments for the missing students and a temporary 'tilt' and imbalance of the composition of the course for those who remain. For the ensemble directors, an absent oboist makes for a lopsided 'hole-in-the-middle' sound, and the loss of three sopranos from the chamber choir can clean out the treble sonorities. It takes a very good reason to shift a carefully laid-out campus schedule, and a logically articulated rationale (passionately and persistently proffered to colleagues) is essential in the process of making it happen.
Thanks to the flexibility of committed colleagues, we have been packing up University of Washington students since 1999 for trips across the Cascade Mountains, with the intent of 'making a dent of a difference' in a place far beyond campus. We sing, we dance, and we play for schoolchildren and youth in rural Toppenish, on the high plateau of the Yakama Tribal Lands, where Yakama and Mexican-American families live side-by-side. When there's funding (for seven of the ten years in this period), we do well with our program, Music Alive! in the Yakima Valley, and benefits stream in two directions to the Toppenish community and to the music majors. Our aims are multiple: to bridge the gap between privileged university music students and underserved school populations, to provide a civic engagement of music majors with children and youth of poor and rural communities, to perform for the Mexican-American and Yakama children vocally and on instruments they have never heard nor seen 'live', and to listen to and participate in the music made in these communities. With this last action, we seek also to validate a diversity of musical expressions that is beyond the standard university music-major repertoire.
Like many college music programs in North America, the University of Washington School of Music has offered programs of performance, composition, and scholarship for more than a century. In the 1920s, the School's mission expanded to include the preparation of teachers for music positions in K–12 schools. With the establishment of the ethnomusicology program in the 1960s, and the development of multicultural education studies in the College of Education by late in that decade, a theme was introduced into the content of its music education programs: To approach music and teaching from multiple cultural perspectives, and to develop music teachers who could think globally and act locally, and who could respond to diversity in the schools with cultural sensitivity ever-present. Through the pioneering efforts of musician-teacher (and humanist) Barbara Reeder Lundquist, seeds were lovingly sown some 40 years ago for a movement in multicultural music education where music is the powerful means of making a pathway to cultural awareness and understanding. Whether music of the Vietnamese or the Venezuelans, the Hawaiians or the Hungarians, the Saami or the Samoans, Barbara has provided the model for other multiculturalists to offer song, dance, and instrumental expressions of a people as a means of knowing music and culture in a profound way.
For cultural sensitivity to develop more fully into the perspectives of music majors, firsthand interaction with culturally diverse populations has proven effectiveperhaps even transformative. But how? Through short-term cameo-visits of 'culture-bearers in the classroom'? Year-long residencies of artist-musicians? Field trips to a given cultural community? At the UW, we opt for the mix of these experiences through an assemblage of guest musicians to our classes and seminars, arrangements for visiting artists (currently from Korea, Vera Cruz, Mexico, and northern Ghana) who teach their performance craft for a year on average, and field trips through Music Alive! in the Yakima Valley (also known as 'the MAYV program'). Especially with MAYV, the firsthand interaction is furthered, as students travel to the field of communities that are distinguished by their location, their ethnic-cultural composition, and their socioeconomic circumstance. There in the Yakima Valley they have opportunities to interact with students musically and socially in the comfort of their home-town, to feel the rhythm and pace of the people of the community, and to wonder about ways in which local values are reflected in the music of the conjunto, mariachi, and pow-wow events.
There are day visits, overnights, and one week-long residency by University of Washington music majors in the Yakima Valley. The day-long visits are very long indeed, as sleepy-eyed students assemble with their instruments in the parking lot of the School of Music in the pre-dawn chill, fingers crossed that the mountain pass they will reach in an hour's time will be dry and ice-free. Following 10–12 hours of energetic on-site activity in elementary, secondary, and tribal schools of Toppenish, they arrive back to a dark campus, fully exhausted and ready for bed. The week-long residency transpires in January, and music majors enjoy homestays when they live in groups of three with families in town. This becomes an opportunity for music majors to quickly enter into the town's cultural environment, as they gain firsthand knowledge of what family life is like in this community so far from Seattle's city lights. Whether for the day or the week, homestays are filled with time to talk across the boundary that distinguishes rural from urban life, poor from privileged circumstances, and minority groups of Mexican Americans and Yakama Indians.
The experience in the Yakima Valley is undergirded with discussion sessions wrapped into the course, Ethnomusicology in the Schools, that precede and follow the trip, in order to prepare students for activity and observation and to deconstruct the cultural experience. At the top of the reading list are classic works by John Blacking, E. Thayer Gaston, Christopher Small, and Charles Keil, all of which refer to a more musical humanity than is typically acknowledged, with emphasis on the position that all people have need for musical expression. Small refers to musicking as a common sociomusical practice across communities, and Keil describes all children as 'born to groove'prior to the unfortunate societal message sent out that 'some are, and others never will be, musical'. Tom Turino's Music in Social Life is the new 'add', a riveting look at why music and dance provide for profound personal and social experiences, in many times and places. Questions of sameness vs. distinctions emerge in class and on-site discussion, as the students tick off the myriad ways in which the people of the Yakima Valley think and do music. Without fail, the observation arises that all people are anchored in music, despite variations in sound, behavior, and values. Students of the MAYV experience are typically music education majors, but performance, ethnomusicology, and jazz studies majors have also joined in on the course, the trips, and the discussions.
Music Alive! in the Yakima Valley is an 'extra' in the lively work-a-day world of faculty and students. It works, though it has its bumps along the way, as it is not (yet) self-sustaining. There is the constant worry of where the next year's support will be coming fromfor student meals, van rental, fuel, small percussion instruments and instrument-making materials, and an assistantship for a seasoned graduate student with performance and teaching experience, who can negotiate and arrange for the various details of the approximately ten trips across the academic year. Many have committed themselves to 'making a dent of a difference' in the MAYV program. Amanda Soto, originally from a Tex-Mex border town, served three years as 'fieldworker' and facilitator of activities in the Yakima Valley, and her bicultural and bilingual experience is extraordinary in connecting to the Mexican-American community there. Robert Pitzer has worked in arranging for musical exchanges between music majors and the Yakama Nation drummers and flute players, so that give-and-take sessions can proceed in a manner that fits the school-day priorities of the Tribal School. Recently, Ethan Chessin has come on to continue Amanda's and Robert's work, and so far his efforts have been directed toward providing performances (and participatory events) with his campus klezmer group and with Son de Madera, the university's current visiting artists of son jarocho music from Vera Cruz, Mexico. There are great folks in the Valley that have supported the effort: Robert Roybal, principal of Valley View Elementary School; Toppenish High School music teacher Nicola Mayes; Earl Lee, the blues-guitar-playing music teacher at the Yakama Nation Tribal School; Steven Meyer and John Cerna, superintendent and assistant superintendent of the Toppenish Schools; and Ricardo Valdez of Heritage College on the Yakama Tribal Lands.
Projects like Music Alive! in the Yakima Valley are inspired by the works of others. Public sector music-activist Dan Sheehy, director of Smithsonian Folkways and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is an inspirational model for making music happen in communities, for seeking ways to support the continuation of music by the people and for the people. The outpouring of energy by Charlie Keil to create and sustain live music-making outside formal educational institutionsin 12/8 path bands, the east and west coast Honk! Festivals, after-school programs, and public gatheringsis the stuff of legend, and he is always in mind. Robin McCabe, past director of the University of Washington School of Music, offered continuing moral and monetary support to our efforts. Steven Demorest, Shannon Dudley, and Steven Morrison, close colleagues in music education and ethnomusicology, believe in the project and help to uphold and continue it.
'What's in it for you?', one senior (and distinguished) faculty member from across campus once asked me, in reference to the MAYV program. Oh my! There is the joy that we see on the faces of children who are visibly in awe of the university students' performances on violin, or saxophone, or guitar, their eyes wide and their jaws dropped open in their reverie on the music. There is the positive energy that can be physically felt in the exchanges of university and high school students over instruments, repertoire, and the meaning of music. There is the way that university students return to classes, fired-up and firm in their belief that they are destined make a difference as musicians and music teachers in their lives ahead by reaching out to the outlying communities (Rural? Poor? Socioculturally distinctive?) they had previously never connected to. There is their increased and genuine interest in 'other' musics and musicians. Finally, there are more than a few students, over the years, who have taken the pathway to teaching jobs in places beyond their own familiar and safe suburban environments, to work with children and youth far from the mainstream who deserve highly skilled and sincerely dedicated musicians in their midst.
In the music majors program at the University of Washington, we have seen how the MAYV program has opened ears, eyes, and minds to 'different but equally logical ways' (to use a Bill Malm-ism) of conceiving time and space, of thinking and doing, of musiciking, learning and transmission. For some music majors, the program is a 'startle experience', an 'in-their-face' event that is mildly disorienting to them in the midst of their orderly university lives. After all, there is plenty of adjustment in going from the gentle flow of campus events to the sometimes raucous and riled-up activity of a group of schoolchildren (anywhere!), and they also must adjust from a warm room in the residence hall to a cot in a family's spare (and sometimes drafty) room. There is a certain distance, both literal and figurative, between university students and the children of a culturally distinctive rural community, a crevice that needs a bridge. For those who work with Music Alive! in the Yakima Valley, there is our continuing hope that we can help to lessen the distance, so that Seattle students and the people of the Yakima Valley might come to know 'the other' through meaningful experiences in music.