EPISODE 04: THE STORY OF

Access to Music Education

with Rebecca Holmes

More Ways to Listen:

Podcast Transcript

Download the transcript

This could be what changes his life. This could be the thing  that lets him believe that he is capable and that he is confident and can help him get to where he needs to be.

Jamie Hipp

Music is the universal language, and today’s guest has global ideas for the future of music education. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in Arts Integration and STEAM. On this episode, we’re joined by the multi-talented Rebecca Holmes, 2019 Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award recipient. Ms. Holmes is an expert at getting music education funded through grants. In the past, she has received grants from Little Kids Rock and VH1 Save the Music. Rebecca, we are so excited to have you on the show today. Thanks for giving us a little bit of your time.

Rebecca Holmes

You’re very welcome.

Jamie Hipp

Tell us a little bit to get us started about the communities where you have taught music.

Rebecca Holmes

I’ve been fortunate to teach in a wide variety of communities, mostly in the New Orleans area. I’ve spent about… this is my 18th year teaching. So I’ve taught in schools in Orleans Parish, St Charles Parish and St John the Baptist Parish. I’ve taught in schools all the way from what we would have previously called inner city schools. Ah, where students had very few resources, very little parent involvement. Um, really, really difficult situations at home. And then I’ve taught, as well, at schools where students seem to be more affluent and already have access to resources. So I’ve had a very broad scope that has formed a perspective, but just try to take everything into account is a big picture,

Jamie Hipp

Both ends of the spectrum. I love to hear that. You’ve seen it all. And for those listeners who may not know what a parish is, it’s simply Louisiana’s word for counties, right?

Rebecca Holmes

Yes.

Jamie Hipp

Great. So currently, you are in Saint John the Baptist Parish. And what does the student access to arts education look like in that school district where you currently teach?

Rebecca Holmes

St John the Baptist Parish, There were there were no arts programs for about 19 years.

Jamie Hipp

At all. No visual art, no music, no dance, no theater.

Rebecca Holmes

Seven years ago, we had a superintendent who had the vision where, a school board member actually, who had the vision to bring music to our students through a conversation he had with Chiho Feindler from VH1. Save the Music in an elevator at a conference. So VH1 stepped in to begin with a band instrument donation to one school in the parish, so the Parish hired their first music teacher. The success was such that other schools began to want music teachers, the community wanted more, and VH1 made an agreement to donate one band to every school each each school year. So eventually all 10 schools would have music programs. During the 19 year absence of music and the arts, there were programs at the high schools because there were high school marching bands. But what those teachers were experiencing is because we did not invest in elementary music, they were having to begin band experiences as 9th graders, which is just not ideal. Great to offer it if kids have never had it, but not ideal, because the kids lack the knowledge that they needed. We are… this is year eight of developing the music programs, and we’re kind of we’re in a situation. I guess that that is most accurately described growing pains because in building the music programs, we have not determined how often every child should have music or if every child should have music experiences and what that should look like in terms of a schedule. And should it be a priority, or should it be secondary to tested content? So we are. We’re planning ahead to see what we can come up with that will best address our students, where music and the arts are considered. I will say that because music has gotten a bit of a following from the community and a ton of interest that there is, um, there’s more of a focus now to bring visual arts in. Unfortunately, the community is not aware of how powerful theater and dance experiences should be. So that’s that’s what motivates me every morning is to go back and see how we grow this and how we make art experiences a priority in our schools.

Jamie Hipp

I love it. And to think that it all started in an elevator conversation with VH1. Incredible. It sounds like, though bringing music education to more schools and more schools in the district that sounds like a ton of instruments are needed and are you guys still partnered with VH1 Save the Music to get instruments in kids’ hands? Or have you looked to other community partnerships for that?

Rebecca Holmes

Both. VH1 gives you the instruments … it’s 40 instruments total to establish a program. And since many of our schools or K-8, the decision was made that the, you know, those incidents would be for 6th through 8th grade, which we now decided was better to go at 5th grade. So we get on extra year in there after your program begins to grow, you need more instruments, many more instruments. So many of our teachers apply for grants being close to New Orleans, we are very fortunate to have access to a lot of grant opportunities that we might not have otherwise. Such is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival grants, sometimes as much as $5000 going towards the purchase of an instrument. Because the interest has grown and because of students had become, I mean, they’re the best advocates we have for the arts. Sure, you know, they go home excited. Then they find out that an aunt or an uncle played saxophone and then they come back with this beautiful old saxophone. Um, and that’s what they choose to play. Or people donate instruments to help students just be a part of it.

Jamie Hipp

You’re giving me goose bumps. How would you say that these music education opportunities that are currently growing promote equity for all of these students?

Rebecca Holmes

We were very, very specific and very careful to make sure that no student is excluded from music if they want that opportunity. But sometimes we don’t have choices, because the district might see something different for our music programs. Right now, we’re left to the discretion of principals, so there may be a situation where students excluded for whatever reason. I guess I represent our music programs. But it’s my music teachers daily who are making sure that our students are not excluded if they cannot afford a trumpet, or not excluded if their behaviors in a science class were not what they needed to be or not excluded because they didn’t mean a certain grade point average. We have, we have determined, the 11 of us, that we’re going to make sure that every student has that opportunity and what’s begun toe happen because of that on some small levels and some very big levels, when our principals come into classrooms and they see E L L students sitting in participating and speaking English or not. But being able to communicate because it’s music and when they see special ed students or students who were you have a history of behavior challenges, they’re seeing them participate positively in an environment and beginning to question. But how do I grow this for this child? Because that experience is something very different than what they’re having in any other aspect of their life. So someone’s just being aware of what we need and being very careful to respect that every child deserves that opportunity. Their past doesn’t define them that labels don’t define them. This is something I mean, my phrases that the arts belong to all of us because we’re human. We have to make sure that that in our work almost as like a little music missionaries that we’re making sure that our kids each get that opportunity no matter what it takes.

Jamie Hipp

It sounds so inclusive in your district, with all of the music education opportunities really available to everyone at all levels. And I know from your bio another big part of what you do is, a great deal of time, is spent training core curricular teachers how to utilize the music in their academic classrooms. So I wanted to ask you, how can music either music enhancement or music integration in traditional classrooms, foster equity for students?

Rebecca Holmes

We have to consider what we mean by equity. There’s another aspect of my job is that I do get to speak with people who teach ELA and math and science and social studies and SpEd. We have different ideas of equity, right? My idea of equity is that every child that walks through my door has an experience in music, that they could be successful, that so I’m not concerned about whether a child has a deficit in an academic setting and because that child enters my classroom as a student, just as any other student without a label, that’s a type of equity. Now they have access to something where they can succeed where let’s say that the state is because music music is a new door district. Maybe they’re in fifth grade the first time they have a music experience where they can succeed. That is, that might be the only success that student has had for years in an educational setting. So in terms of equity and that aspect, it’s brought a student who’s normally labeled as unsuccessful and quite honestly as a failure and when they walk into the music classroom they’re celebrated for their successes. So I feel like then they have equal footing in terms of who they are is a little person and who their you know what their spirit is because of that, their situations in our district because we’re going music programs that were also growing talented music programs. What we’ve begun to discover is that we have students who are in special education and receive resource classes because they do not read and write at grade level. They’re not set to succeed academically, but we’ve discovered that they have insane ability in music. And now, in addition to being labeled special ed in resource experiences there, also receiving talented music services.

Jamie Hipp

So they’re thriving in the music education space. Even though they might have grades that are not up to snuff in their academic curriculum.

Rebecca Holmes

And it changes the narrative for that child. I mean, I can think of one of my students. He’s held back as often as we can hold them back. By law, he knows that he doesn’t read well because by the time you’re in fourth grade, you know this there’s, you know, that the kids know exactly what their labels are. They know what they mean. He can be very inward, not exude confidence. And when the music teacher, the classroom music teacher, that he has discovered that he could play piano really well we nominated him for talent for talented music and now he performs it recitals for the entire district community.

Jamie Hipp

That is wonderful!

Rebecca Holmes

And so then his special Ed teacher, who’s, you know equally is important in this process. She was like, You know, Rebecca, we have to make sure he gets the service is because this could be what changes his life. This could be the thing that that lets him believe that he is capable and that he is confident and can help him get to where he needs to be an offer, the world what he needs. So it’s those experiences I just I don’t know. I don’t know how we grow them more. I don’t know that there’s a one answer solution. To that are. This conversation certainly wouldn’t be long enough to solve that problem. But he is a great example of why every child deserves this. Otherwise, he could have been pulled. He could have been excluded for music cause he needed to go do more reading or needed to practice math. And that wasn’t the decision that was made at his school site. It was decided that he would go to music. And then because of that, the whole school gets to celebrate who he is as a musician. And then we see him be more confident as a student where he wasn’t successful before.

Jamie Hipp

It sounds like a no brainer and just listening to everything you’re saying, I know that math, science, social studies and language arts teachers who are currently listening who might want to try to bring music in more to their classroom. They need some tips. Maybe getting started. How should they start down that trajectory of music ed, whether it’s music enhancement or music integration in their lessons? What’s a good starting point?

Rebecca Holmes

I think the best starting point is just to consider who they are as musicians. Sometimes music teachers seem like they are. They’re doing something that doesn’t belong to the rest of us. And that’s just simply not true. If we embrace the term musician to mean that somebody who listens to and enjoys music is also a musician in the same way that I’m a musician because I can play cello, then I think music becomes more accessible. So I think the first step is deciding that you are a musician, because the arts belong to all of us that you have access to music.

Jamie Hipp

So what you’re telling me is that singing in the shower or belting out show tunes in my car totally counts.

Rebecca Holmes

Yes, listening to music when we need to be energized, when we’re working out and we need to keep up with the tempo. All of those things make people musicians, people have a hard time accepting that. But one of the things that I like the point out is in my my performing group. If I’m playing cello, but there’s no one there to listen, is it a full music experience and the truth is that it’s not, like I need an audience member to share this opportunity with, and in that moment I believe we’re equals. So it’s first accepting that it belongs to you, whether or not you play an instrument professionally and whether or not you’re confident. But then also, just just knowing what you enjoy in terms of music and then from there, like make a playlist that you could share with the kids about your favorite song and why it’s your favorite song and that gives an entry point for a child to say, Oh, well, I’ve heard this song and I like it, too. You begin to have a dialogue. It’s just like if you imagine yourself as a record producer at that point making a playlist with students, you could listen to music and determine what it is that you enjoy about it. You have to give yourself permission to start somewhere, and I think that’s the best place to start. It can be intimidating, especially with older students because our favorite songs, for some reason that they’re very personal to us and sharing them with people that we don’t know very well. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but I think it’s worth. It’s worth beginning there and then then, recognizing that music is not just performing. But it is also being able to listen to what a composer intended when they wrote music or what an artist intended when they recorded a song in approaching music for more. If we’re referring to National Court art centers as a responding aspect, I can listen and I can feel, and I recently speaking the teachers. The closest association I can make between music and academics is in language arts that any time I could take the word text out of a standard and replace that with a musical recording, Then I can I can look at how that would change what I’m teaching and what I’m delivering. And music becomes a little bit more accessible that way, just from entering from what you already know. You don’t need a music degree to teach music, and you don’t need to sing well to do it. You know my music ed Professor Gwen Hodgkiss. She was amazing. And one of the things that she always told us was not to sing well in front of students. Oh, why that voice you use with the radio in the showers. What a student is most familiar with because they can sing that way, too. If I go in and sing the way I’m trained to sing or as an opera singer, then I present something a student can’t yet do. You know that because their voices are not developed and they don’t have that experience. So singing just the way you would sing if you were singing karaoke. Or singing along with the radio. You know, whenever he’s driving on the road, pretending like they’re in a music video and they hold their stand well, a certain way, that’s the voice. That’s the voice you should sing to students with.

Jamie Hipp

That is eye opening. And it’s so, it’s so clear that you’re such a vocal advocate and promoter of music education, obviously not only in your district, but I also know this to be true about you, us both in state and and nationwide. And so what are you seeing as some of the current policy trends, both maybe at the state level and nationwide in music education?

Rebecca Holmes

Interestingly, nationwide, there’s a lot of conversation around equity and access, really, and how do we do that in music, music teachers? And I’m gonna upset people by saying this, but I’m comfortable with it cause I know it’s true. Music teachers are not as open to equity and access to some of our other arts teachers. So we have to have these conversations and look at what we’ve done that has not changed for 30 and 40 years. And look at how we become better. And if it is that we need more funding, how do we argue for it in a way that is understandable and doesn’t put people on the defense equity access are right at the top of the conversation? Diversity is another conversation that is huge, so important in looking yes, and when we have conversations about diversity, those very quickly become uncomfortable. But we have to have those conversations. Have we offered music and art experiences to white, affluent children more often and more readily than we’ve offered it to African American students or other students of color. And the answer is yes. So what do we do to correct it? I know to some degree, because it to like a rabbit hole right now. But at Yale this summer when I was at, um, the Forum on Music Education. One of the conversations we had was just on culturally responsive teaching and how important that is, but also acknowledging that by by the college systems that are set up for music, we exclude students who haven’t been trained classically. And what do we do to change it so that a guitar player can come in? Or a student who plays by ear can also audition for scholarships? And then we began to change the outlook. Can we make this more accessible to students in a modern music environment and what changes need to be made? So that’s that’s a huge, huge topic right now at the college level and then the local levels also. And then finally, student centered teaching.

Jamie Hipp

Tell us more, because every classroom teacher who teaches the academic subjects and every arts teacher is listening very closely to this.

Rebecca Holmes

It can be as simple as just asking a student what they’re thinking and stepping away from being in control all the time as a teacher and being being more of a facilitator of a lesson, sitting at a table with kids and being a part of the conversation. For music teachers, students centered teaching is not what we learned most of us when we were in school. Teachers who were just now graduating college and preparing to teach music have had different experiences than than me. But before, if I were playing an instrument and my teacher needed to correct me, if it was, you know Rebecca, that should have been third finger f sharp, and you play the second finger f natural. That would be the conversation that’s not student centered teaching students and her teaching would be pausing in that moment to save Rebecca. I needed an F sharp right here. How would you make that happen? And then given me a chance to think through it and then giving me a chance to apply it to another situation.

Jamie Hipp

It’s almost placing blame responsibility, placing the responsibility in the ownership back on the student Senate,

Rebecca Holmes

… believing that they can do it and in an art some of the questions that we ask is artist sometimes are very simple. One. Just the question, why? If if I’m telling you that a piece of music meant this to me then following up that question, why? It values me as person and it lets you know what my thoughts were. Asking the question from their why, why would you say that? And just letting her child explore that it doesn’t It doesn’t have to change so much so that we don’t recognize teaching as it would have been 20 years ago or10 years ago but just giving students an opportunity to own it and be a part of it. I think the arts is probably one of the best entry points to begin to transition to that type of teaching, and probably especially with something like visual arts, dance and theatre. When you can see what a child is thinking when you’ve given them freedom to show you what something means in a different way than than reading or writing what you expect. You know, what does this color mean? What does this color look like to you in terms of a movement? Then we then we move towards students centered thinking. But we have to step back and we have to believe that our kids can do, and I think that’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. I know it’s been uncomfortable for me, but I also know that I’ve seen my students grow by leaps and bounds and achieve things that I never would have dreamed 17 years ago when I started teaching.

Jamie Hipp

Right, such important, vital conversations and work that you’re doing to make your teaching more student centered and finally from your collaborative work at the national level, uh, not only spending the summer at Yale with fellow amazing music educators, but also your work on national music curriculum. What do you believe is the future of music education in 2020 and beyond?

Rebecca Holmes

Music education? It’s It’s part of something much, much bigger. So it’s hard for me, and my experience is also to think of it just as music. So I’m gonna jump into an answer that that’s a little bit more of all of the arts. We have taken the arts from our students in many schools, and then we question why they’re not achieving in ELA and mathematics. It’s because we took the arts away from them and we’ve gone about these things where we think, Well, if I make a two hour long ELA class, then my students will get it. If I make a 90 minute long math class, they’ll get it. They just needed more time. They didn’t need more time. They needed more time to apply thought processes And the arts is where we use those thought processes every day in every kind of way imaginable because the art representative of our thoughts and if we give our students time to process those thoughts will see achievement grow in every other area. I know that if we Google that, we’ll find many, many different perspectives on it, and all of them will be in favor of that. I have yet to see any research based evidence to say that more time is what students need any other things and that that those should be priorities over the arts. I also believe on a personal level, just the environment that our country, culturally, where we are right now, we’re missing the arts and we’re seeing misunderstandings in the way people communicate, misunderstandings of one another and disrespect for different cultures and different thoughts. I think the art could be healing in giving people access to understanding one another better and recognizing that we have more similarities than we do differences between one another. And I think that’s the power that will see through the arts and through music education. If we can get people on the opposite sides of conversations to join us, I think we have the power to restore not only student deficits but to restore a lot of what we see culturally and, you know, on the media and just in the environment that we live in, where hate and fear has become so prevalent. The arts could be a great way to kind of dispel that.

Jamie Hipp

Thank you times a 1,000,000 for sharing your truth and for opening a dialogue into these crucial conversations today. Connect with Rebecca on Twitter at S J B P Music. That’s S J B P M U S I C. Teaching Trailblazers is a production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, and I’ve been your host Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jaime Patterson.

Show Links:

VH1 Save the Music

Rebecca’s Twitter