Baltimore Jazz Conference April 22, 2023
One of the sessions at the annual Baltimore Jazz Alliance Jazz Conference (at An die Musik, April 22, 20231) s was on Jazz Education in Baltimore. The panelists were Lionel Lyles, new head of jazz studies at Morgan State University; Gregory Thompkins, Music Director of the Baltimore Jazz Education Project and woodwinds teacher at Winston Middle School; Brian Prechtel, director of Peabody’s OrchKids program; Kwame Kenyatta-Bey, BJA board member and member of the Baltimore City Public Schools Board of Commissioners; and Anna Celenza, teacher of musicology at Peabody Conservatory of Music.
Lyles spoke about rebuilding the jazz education program at Morgan on a firmer jazz foundation, giving more prominence to the jazz ensembles. He also aims to cultivate stronger relationships with local schools.
Thompkins noted that through the Baltimore Jazz Education Project, he raised some $180,000 for instruments, supplies, lessons, and concerts for Baltimore’s youth. His goal is to teach the youth skills that are useful in both musical and non-musical careers, including promotion and technology.
Prechtel strives to connect all arts activities in the community. He arranges midweek student concerts, with bus transportation and free tickets to Title I schools. He says that arts organizations need to get out of their silos and start collaborating.
Kenyatta-Bey also spoke of the need to encourage more collaboration among arts organizations, to help overcome differences in culture and ideology. He wants to generate more equitably-distributed funding in musical education in the city schools. He observes that we are in an age that demands creativity and innovation—qualities that the study of jazz can foster.
Celenza said that children need to be led into music in accessible ways that allow for the time needed to develop competence. She wants music teaching to make more connection between the history of jazz and its social context, and to overcome the gulf between jazz history and classical history. She is aiming to develop data to show that schools with overall better performance are also schools that have strong arts programs.
Asked about barriers to music education, Lyles mentioned that change in staff can be a problem, as some students are easily distracted by change. Celenza notes that many children go into music to find a sense of comfort and asks how that comfort can be sustained. Kenyatta-Bey says that administrations ignore the social benefits of the study of the arts and thus resist fully funding arts programs. Prechtel notes that the emphasis on “STEM” education leaves out the “A” for arts, seconding Kenyatta Bey in saying that the prevailing notion in society is that the expressive arts have little value. The development of musical gifts takes years to develop; Kenyatta-Bey interjected a comment that we are a “microwave” society that wants instant results. And Thompkins agrees–-he laments the lack of dedicated music classes; instead, children are pulled out of other classes for short sessions of music instruction. He takes videos of children’s performances and sends them around to other teachers and administrators to show them what the kids can accomplish. Prechtel says that the whole system needs a consistent city-wide arts program; currently it is just hit or miss, school by school. Various members of the audience also spoke up to express support for a more robust music education program in the city schools.
Also in the audience was Marsha Green, a Baltimore native and founder and president of Next Up Music & Culture, Inc., (https://nextupmusic.org/), “a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting the next generation of talented musicians in Baltimore City by providing instruments and teaching life skills for success.”
In short, the panelists and audience members all agreed on the importance to children and to society in general of arts education inside and outside of the schools, and that there is a need for more funding of and consistency in programming in the city schools.
–by Liz Fixsen
Liz Fixsen is a member of the board of the Baltimore Jazz Alliance. She performs in the Baltimore area as a vocalist and pianist, and is often seen frequenting shows and jam sessions in and around Baltimore. She has written numerous articles for the BJA newsletter.