Art Talk: Gold Coast Jazz Society and Mari Mennel-Bell, founder of JazzSLAM

Gold Coast Jazz Society

Founded in 1992 to bring more jazz to the “Gold Coast” area of South Florida, the Gold Coast Jazz Society presents a seven-concert jazz series in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts each year from November through May.

Gold Coast Jazz Society has a rich history of community outreach and over the years has expanded its outreach and education programs. For those who cannot attend mainstage concerts, free outreach concerts are provided throughout the area allowing access to cultural arts programs to economically disadvantaged residents. The Jeanette M. Russell Jazz Scholarship Program has provided over $450,000 in scholarship support to qualified and aspiring young jazz students to study jazz in college or to attend summer jazz camps over the past fourteen years.

In 2010, the Society began presenting the jazz education program, JazzSLAM, at no cost, to area public schools. This program, which includes a live jazz quartet, helps students improve their reading, math and test taking skills through jazz.  In addition, Gold Coast Jazz has presented several other jazz education presentations in local elementary schools.  Gold Coast Jazz also provides the free First Friday Jazz Jam program, where local students can jam, before a live audience, with a professional jazz quartet led by local jazz musician and educator Nicole Yarling.

 JazzSLAM (Jazz Supports Language Arts and Math)

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Designed by musician and educator, Mari Mennel-Bell, JazzSLAM is a free in-school jazz education program targeted to 4th and 5th grade students and includes a one-hour, live and interactive jazz presentation with a professional jazz quartet. The program integrates the music of jazz with elements of Language Arts, Math, and Social Studies to help students with critical thinking skills and strategies for test taking.  The program is designed to support teachers’ efforts to raise students’ test scores, motivate students to learn how to express themselves within the confines of a given form, and supports teaching with the Aural, Visual & Tactile benefits of music.  Students learn how musical forms relate to concepts such as essay writing forms, how musical rhythmic patterns relate to mathematical concepts such as percentages and how the ethnic origins of jazz relate to the geography and social studies.

We chatted with Mari Mennel-Bell to learn more about her long career in Florida and what inspired her to create JazzSLAM.

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): How long have you lived and worked in Florida? 

Mari: I grew up from age 11 on in Palm Beach County. There’s something so different about being in elementary school in Florida- it was just so fun! I attended college in New York and stayed in NY after graduating. In 1998, when our kids were in elementary and middle school, my husband and I decided to relocate to Broward County and we have lived and worked here ever since.

DCA: What inspired you to create JazzSLAM?

Mari:  I started JazzSLAM almost immediately after moving to Broward County. I had been doing a jazz program while working in the Hudson Valley, but one of the things that really gave me direction was seeing my sons just sitting at desks doing busy work. They were totally disengaged; they just did not want to be in school. I saw so many connections between academics and music and was inspired to really start developing the program. So, I went back to my roots. When I was in graduate school at New York University, I worked for the Children’s Television Workshop on a program which was using music to teach reading. After I graduated, I worked in a Title I school in the South Bronx that was doing the same thing- using music to teach students that were way behind in reading. I wanted to develop a program in Broward County that taught academics through jazz. I am so grateful to the Gold Coast Jazz Society for their funding and organizational support and the teachers in Broward County, who have, over the years provided wonderful feedback and suggestions that have helped me continue to develop the program.

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Mari: Without a doubt, working with the students is the best part. Just seeing them make connections and seeing light bulbs go off in their heads is so cool. It’s always surprising, too, which students are the first to make connections. Oftentimes, it is a student with special needs that will allow the connections to become physically apparent by standing up and dancing or clapping to the music. I love to use this as an opportunity to put students that are handicapped or have special needs– students who are usually being bullied– in a leadership role. It is just super cool to be able to do this.

Teaching academics through the arts is such a powerful way to reach students. Students come in and don’t know what they’re coming to and aren’t sure they are going to like it and then we get rolling, and the fact that there’s so much music involved, it just captivates them and captures their attention in a way that straight academics don’t.

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DCA: What are some examples of how JazzSLAM integrates musical concepts with academics to enrich learning?

Mari: Our programs focus on language arts, math, and social studies concepts. For example, we use AABA song form as a parallel learning device for narrative essays. Students learn how narrative essays tell a story. Fairy tales are a perfect example: the first paragraph introduces “who, what, when, where, why”, the second develops the story, the third adds a problem, and the fourth resolves the problem. The lyrics and structure of AABA song form do the same thing.

The song “I Got Rhythm” is a great example of this. I describe it to the students as a “gratitude laundry list of good feelings that you can have”. The A sections introduce free things to be grateful for. The B section presents a problem: we are all going to have troubled times in our lives. The last A section resolves this by revisiting our gratitude list, which we can pull out when we are down in the dumps and remember all of the things that are good in life.

The day before the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, JazzSLAM gave a presentation at Silver Lakes Elementary. The school went to a “Code Red” lockdown, which turned out to be a staged, practice drill, however, the students were very frightened and lacked focus when they came in for our presentation. I used the “I Got Rhythm” lyrics to show them how to write a gratitude list to help themselves in times of stress.

After the presentation, Ms. Cline, a fourth-grade teacher, wrote, “Students learned that music can provide you with focus. That you can calm yourself with music.” Music offers logic and predictable patterns that bring us great solace in an increasingly complex world.

DCA: And how about using music to teach math?

Mari: One of the students’ favorite things is when we do a “rhythm orchestra”. Along with our drummer, Orlando Machado, I divide the room into five groups. Each group is responsible for one of five divisions of the beat: whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, and sixteenth note. Orlando demonstrates the divisions and I stand in front of the class.  Each group is given different directions and kinesthetic movements for each division of the beat, eventually all clapping together to hear how the half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes & 16th notes fit into the whole note pizza. Then, the students are asked to analyze the divisions of the beat while I show them a pie chart, i.e. “How many half notes are in the whole note pizza pie?”,  “Which fraction is each half note called?”,  “What percentage would each half note be?” Other concepts like finding the common denominator to add fractions are covered. It is purely academic and the kids are having so much fun that they don’t even realize that they are learning valuable math concepts! I think every kid in America should have the opportunity to learn this way.

DCA: How has the program grown over the years?

Mari: The first year, we probably did four or five schools with fifty students each. When we started getting grants for the program, we were able to expand. I initially thought that I could do the program for 300 students at a time, but that turned out to be overwhelming, so we limited it to groups of up to 150 to ensure that each student receives equal opportunity to participate. At one point, JazzSLAM was serving 30 schools a year. Now, we are serving about 20 schools a year and I am also focused on growing our eLearning programs.

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DCA: Tell us more about your eLearning programs.

Mari: An educator saw me do a web learning presentation for Broward County (through Broward County Board of Education TV) and encouraged me to develop a way to present JazzSLAM nationally. Now, through the Center for Innovative Learning and Collaboration (cilc.org), we offer three eLearning programs nationwide, all of which are available for free to Title I schools. It has been really cool to hear from educators in tiny towns without supermarkets across the nation that they are using and loving JazzSLAM in their classrooms. It is one of my main goals for the future of JazzSLAM to continue to develop these programs so that JazzSLAM can reach even more students nationwide.

DCA: Which counties have participating schools? How many children participate each year?

Mari: The program mainly serves Broward County, though we have on occasion travelled to North Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. In the past 16 years, the program has served around 60,000 students in South Florida.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that JazzSLAM makes to your community?

Mari: It exposes students to the incredible musical heritage of our nation, which is jazz, while allowing more interactive academic experiences. Oftentimes jazz organizations have difficulty getting into school systems, but because our program is academically focused, that has opened doors.

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DCA: What do you think the future holds for JazzSLAM?

Mari: I want to know that when I leave the planet that JazzSLAM won’t leave the planet with me. I think the future for us is in continuing to give live presentations and develop the eLearning programs, so that we can reach students throughout the state of Florida and the nation. I would also love to partner with a college or university to train future teachers in the JazzSLAM methodology. I’d love to find a doctoral student who would want to research the significance of JazzSLAM concepts and using music to teach academics.  I always want JazzSLAM to be part of Gold Coast Jazz Society and for GCJS to continue serving Broward County, but I also want the program to be able to spread. When you see how much the kids love to do it and how grateful the teachers are for this whole new approach to academics, it’s like a no brainer. I have to figure out a way to get this to more teachers– to everybody!

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Mari: Certainly here in South Florida, we see that arts and culture are a huge draw for snowbirds and tourists. When I was growing up in Palm Beach County, there was close to nothing to go to. There were no opportunities to hear live music other than if you went to a private party or a club or community center. There is certainly a much more vibrant arts community in South Florida than when I was a kid. The more we have for visitors and year-round residents to do, the happier everybody is with Florida!

The DCA thanks Pam Dearden, executive director of Gold Coast Jazz Society, and Mari Mennel-Bell for their participation in this post. To learn more about JazzSLAM, visit: http://jazzslam.com/. To learn more about Gold Coast Jazz Society, visit: http://www.goldcoastjazz.org.

Artist Brian R. Owens Brings Windover Woman to Life

Today we’re featuring a story about a Florida artist, Brian R. Owens.

On November 13th, a newly revised exhibit opened at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science in Cocoa, FL, about one of the first groups of people in North America. The accidental discovery of a ceremonial burial ground in 1982 resulted in the unearthing of one of the largest and most well-preserved skeletal sites on the continent. The excavation reshaped our understanding of “archaic hunter-gatherers” and how they lived 7000 to 8000 years ago, about 3000 years before the “Great Pyramid”. They are called “Windover People”. Research is constantly ongoing as new technologies emerge to analyze the remains of 168 people. Over 10,000 bones and artifacts are preserved at Florida State University. The Museum commissioned Brian R. Owens to sculpt an artistic interpretation of one particular female based on her skull. It’s the centerpiece of the new exhibit. They call her the “Windover Woman”.

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Computer-generated image based on the bones of the Windover Woman

CBF: What did you have to work from?

Lots of detailed measurements of her skull but not the skull itself. I also had some computer-generated images that were made years ago on the basis of the skull. The remains included DNA but it’s so damaged that it is of little use. At least for now. Archeologists generally agree that she was descended from Asians.

CBF: How is an artistic interpretation different from a forensic sculpture? Continue reading

Art Talk: The Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra

by Tim Storhoff

All artists have a different creative process as their work moves from conception to fruition. Composers, particularly those writing for orchestra, face a unique set of challenges in bringing their creations to life. Even established composers have trouble hearing their pieces performed, bringing Pulitzer Prize winning composer Kevin Puts to write, “Every composition student is told never to write a long piece for orchestra because it will never be played. This is good advice.” While orchestras experiment with ways to reach new audiences, they still primarily perform selections from the classical music canon that has developed over the last 100+ years and mostly features dead, white, male European composers.

Throughout Florida, our universities are training the next generation of composers who all hope to hear their works move from the written page or computer screen to the concert hall. In Tallahassee, some of these composers have rallied musicians with a passion for contemporary music to guarantee that new pieces will be heard. In anticipation of the Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra’s debut concert on Monday, November 25, I chatted with composer/conductor and orchestra co-founder Jamie Whitmarsh about the group and their upcoming performance.

Tallahassee Composer's OrchestraDCA: Jamie, this seems like a great project that will benefit not just the Tallahassee music community but promising young composers more broadly. Where did the idea for the Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra come from?
JW: The TCO began last spring when Joshua Burel and I were hanging out and talking about composition related topics. Somehow it evolved to where we were both quite optimistic about assembling a group from the ground up to perform new music. Additionally, from the beginning we were both in agreement about programming Daniel Nelson’s Clarinet Concerto. So we knew fairly early on that this wouldn’t necessarily just be a concert of music by Tallahassee composers, since Nelson currently lives in Europe.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs really believes in the importance of supporting individual artists, since they create the works that fill our galleries and performance halls. Previous recipients of our Individual Artist Fellowship for music composition have used their awards to support the performance of their work, but putting an ensemble together is not easy. What challenges have you faced while forming the TCO?
JW: There is always a chance that something like this could have problems getting off the ground. Assembling a 50+ piece orchestra from scratch is no small task! I think there were a couple of advantages we had going into this. One advantage that helped us recruit was that Josh and I had performed with or worked in some capacity with many of the performers in the group. Additionally, we are very much in the trenches with these performers. For instance, Josh is the concertmaster and I am performing the solo part on Joseph Craven’s Concerto for Tenor Pan in C. So there is definitely an attitude between Josh and myself that we don’t want to ask our performers to do anything we wouldn’t do.

DCA: Florida has produced a number of successful composers, and this concert will be featuring pieces by yourself and Joshua Burel who are currently local. Are there any Florida composers you’ve come to admire or who have influenced your work? 
JW: Since I’m from Oklahoma, I’m not as familiar with the composition culture in the lower half of Florida as I might be in a few years. I have certainly enjoyed working with Ladislav Kubik and the rest of the composition faculty at FSU. Clifton Callender’s Metamorphoses is a great piece. Working with Dr. Zwiilch is great as well; being able to form that relationship over time has been beneficial.

The Tallahassee Composers Orchestra rehearsing the Concerto for Tenor Pan in C. Photo by Bryan McNamara.

Jamie Whitmarsh leads the Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra in rehearsing the Concerto for Tenor Pan in C. Photo by Bryan McNamara.

DCA: What can you tell me about the pieces that will be performed on Monday night?
JW: The concert opens with Crooked Sketch by Joshua Burel. It runs around 3 and a half minutes, and is designed to be a flashy concert opener. Following that will be my piece For Many Chairs (my crow some funny). If you were to pronounce the title several different ways, the nature of the piece might reveal itself a bit. The piece that will close the first half is Joseph Craven’s Concerto for Tenor Pan in C. For this performance, Joseph will be flying in to conduct the orchestra, as I am performing the solo part. The second half will begin with Joshua Burel’s work Incomplete (six), a fifteen minute work exploring the nature of Man’s incompleteness without God. Closing the concert will be Daniel Nelson’s Clarinet Concerto, with the solo part being performed by Lisa Kachouee. This piece is fantastic and will surely be a crowd pleaser!

DCA: After the group’s debut on Monday night, where do you see the Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra going in the future?
JW: It is hard to say right now where the TCO may go in the future. Certainly the vibe in rehearsals is that this is something that should continue, and the performers all seem quite enthused. What form any potential future projects take is still anyone’s guess. Since we draw heavily from the student population at FSU, there is certainly a concern about overtaxing the performers or distracting them from their studies. At the same time, if this were established to be something that occurs annually, then performers could know that ahead of time and set aside room in their schedules. In the future, we’d like to see TCO concerts split the program between two works from Tallahassee based composers and two works from composers outside the area. We certainly believe a group like this is valuable and hope it will continue to premiere new works and expose listeners to more of the great composers working today.

The Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra debut concert will be in the Opperman Music Hall on Florida State University’s campus at 8:00 PM on Monday, November 25. The concert is free and open to the public.

Art Talk: Alison Schaeffler-Murphy and Poetry Out Loud

by Tim Storhoff

Alison Schaeffler-Murphy

Alison Schaeffler-Murphy

Alison Schaeffler-Murphy is the new Poetry Out Loud coordinator for state of Florida. Alison previously worked as an intern here at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs before joining the staff full-time this September. In addition to coordinating Poetry Out Loud, Alison is a program manager for our Individual Artist Fellowships, works with Citizens for Florida Arts, and helps coordinate many of our art exhibitions. Alison recently completed two graduate degrees at Florida State University in art history and arts administration. Prior to this, Alison owned Tints and Reflections Studios where she designed and fabricated one-of-a-kind fused and leaded art glass creations, which have been exhibited at regional and national glass expos, indoor and outdoor art shows, and in a variety of galleries and museums. She has also spent time directing art festivals, judging art shows, and serving as a board member for various arts associations.

Right now Alison is busy reaching out to language arts teachers across the state and distributing Poetry Out Loud information packets to schools, but she was able to take some time to answer a few of my questions about her background in the arts and how programs like Poetry Out Loud contribute to our state.

DCA: What are some of the earliest arts experiences you can remember? 

Alison: Looking back I can see that creative expression has always been important to me.  During my elementary school years, I enjoyed being in school plays and lived for those extraordinary visits to art and music classes. I fondly remember tinkering at my grandparents’ piano, and I eventually became a flute player. Although I was sure in high school that I was destined to be a writer, my primary creative focus has since been with the visual arts. Correspondingly, while earning my MA in Art History I revisited my early interest in being a writer and now relish researching and writing about artists and their work.

DCA: What made you decide on a career in the arts?

Alison: I credit my sister with bringing me back around to studying the arts. For a very short time I seriously considered being a nutritional doctor, but one day my sister noted how perplexed she was that I wasn’t studying art. Kim noted that she only knew me to be completely at peace when I was involved in creative self-expression. Her statement gave me a sudden illumination of self-knowledge, and that’s when I decided to become an art teacher. While earning my bachelor’s degree in art education at Florida State, I took a class in stained glass and I’ve been creating glass art ever since.

EventImg-PoetryOutLoudDCA: You are the new Poetry Out Loud coordinator. Are you a fan of poetry? Do you have any favorite poems or poets?

Alison: In addition to writing poetry in high school, I read quite a bit and favored Robert Frost’s poems. Over the years I’ve continued to write poems. In fact, I’ve created a glass art series I call my “Haiku Series,” that incorporates self-authored haiku poems that evolve alongside the glass art piece itself.

Although I haven’t seriously studied poetry in a very long time, as the Poetry Out Loud State Program Coordinator, I’m falling in love with poetry all over again. I’m enjoying revisiting some past beloved poets like Basho, Frost, Hesse, Thoreau, and Whitman as well as discovering new contemporary favorites like Lisa Zaran.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.” What do you think when you hear that phrase? How do you think programs like Poetry Out Loud contribute to our state?

Alison: I love the DCA’s “Culture Builds Florida” slogan because it highlights how importantly the arts influence not only Florida’s economic growth but also their power to build a sense of community between people. In addition to the positive effects that the arts have on individuals’ intellectual, spiritual, and physical well-being, the arts foster cultural, environmental, and global awareness.

The Poetry Out Loud program is important to this end because poetry has the expressive ability to paint images with words that can bring awareness to individual and collective concerns. Students who participate learn important public speaking skills while increasing their self confidence, creativity, and empathy. It’s also valuable to see our Florida teachers and students working together toward the common goal of sending one of our many talented high school students to Washington, DC to compete in the National Finals.

Alison while in France studying Parisian arts and culture as an International Exchange Student. Photo submitted and used by permission of Alison Schaeffler-Murphy.

Alison while in France studying Parisian arts and culture as an International Exchange Student. Photo submitted by and used with permission of Alison Schaeffler-Murphy.

For more information on Poetry Out Loud, take a look at the blog entry from last year’s state finals and visit the Division of Cultural Affairs Poetry Out Loud page. If you are a teacher who would like to participate in Poetry Out Loud, contact Alison Schaeffler-Murphy for more information.

Art Talk: Division Intern Katherine Laursen

by Tim Storhoff

Division intern Katherine Laursen. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

Division intern Katherine Laursen. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

Katherine Laursen joined the team at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs at the end of August as an intern for the 2013-2014 school year. Born and raised in Dunedin, Florida, Katherine graduated with honors from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Music Education in 2005 and a Masters of Music Education in 2011. She taught in the Pinellas County Schools for six years: first as the Assistant Director of Band and Chorus at Largo High School for three years and then as the Director of Chorus and Strings at Dunedin Highland Middle School. Katherine has been a member of the Festival Singers of Florida since its formation in 2008 and has previously been a member of groups including the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, the Zielinski Singers, Opera Tampa, and Tapped In, a professional tap company. In addition to all of that, she is also actively involved in the Scottish dance community, is a staff singer and Chorister Assistant at St. John’s Episcopal Church, and has another internship at the Tallahassee Ballet. Currently, she is working on her MA in Arts Administration at the Florida State University. I recently asked Katherine about her artistic background and her thoughts on the importance of the arts in Florida.

DCA: What are some of the earliest arts experiences you can remember?

Katherine: My earliest memory has to be from when I was around 4 years old. I remember dancing around in my bathing suit and Sunday school tights to Kiss Me, Kate, my favorite musical at the time. I grew up in a house filled with music. My great-uncle worked for MGM, so we would watch every movie musical he worked on. My parents realized they couldn’t wait any longer, so they enrolled me in ballet at Patricia Ann Dance Studio in Dunedin, FL. They couldn’t have known then what a great home it would become for me.

DCA: What made you decide on a career in the arts?

Katherine: Growing up whenever I was dancing, singing, playing, writing or making something, I knew who I was. I would spend hours at the dance studio only to come home to practice my flute. I wrote poem after poem in my journals. In the summers, my parents sent me to the Dunedin Fine Arts Center for classes, Writer’s Camp or the Florida Dance Festival multi-week intensives. When I got older, I added theater and voice to my experience. It was only in my senior year of high school that I chose voice as my main area of study. I continued to study dance and flute and my teaching experiences led me to add guitar, color-guard and viola to my arsenal. With the arts, you are never done learning and growing. I can’t imagine my life without the arts, so it makes perfect sense that my goal is to provide access to the arts to everyone who wants it.

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Katherine dancing with other members of Tapped In, Inc. during an event in Tampa in 2011. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

DCA: While your arts background is largely in music, you’ll be working with arts more broadly here at the Division of Cultural Affairs.  What are some of your artistic interests outside of musical performance?

Katherine: My connections to the arts originally came from dance. I always make my way back to ballet because I feel the most connected to who I am there. Ballet has been in my life since my first memories, so I believe it’s connected to every part of who I am now. When I go back to dance class, even as an adult, the world disappears and everything is focused on the beauty of the art. Because of this connection, I am able to carry that passion and focus into all other aspects of art in my life. I discovered my love for music in dance class. I discovered my love of design and color through costumes and lighting. Dance is beautiful, but it is enhanced and complimented by all of the arts and that relationship goes both ways.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.”  What do you think when you hear that phrase?  Why do you believe arts and culture matter to our state?

Katherine: I know that I cannot separate the arts from their impact on my life. In that same way, I don’t think that you can separate the culture of Florida from its impact on building our state economically and otherwise. There is so much to be said for loving where you live. As a Florida native, I have grown up watching my state find its identity. When people feel a part of the place they live, they are more likely to contribute to making it better. Incorporating the diverse culture of our state is a challenge, but how lucky are we as Floridians to have such a plethora of arts and culture to embrace?

Art Talk: Guiding Success with Richard Cuff

Richard Cuff with Ashlyn after she is fitted for her violin. Image used with permission of Richard Cuff.

Richard Cuff with Ashlyn after she was fitted for her violin. Image used with permission of Richard Cuff.

by Tim Storhoff

Guiding Success is a kindergarten to college pathway initiative, and The J.H. Walker String Ensemble is the only voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) orchestra program in the State of Florida. I spoke with Richard Cuff, who started these programs, about his work using music to unlock the potential of pre-kindergarten students that will allow them to have success through college and beyond.

What inspired the creation of Guiding Success?

Guiding Success unfolded over a number of years as a result of several failed attempts to find the perfect cultural fit.  The program was originally called No Strings Attached and the inspiration for this program initially came from my daughter, Korah.  Now a sixteen-year old, soon-to-be-junior at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Korah began reading on her own at eighteen months old.  By the time she was two years old she would walk around the house pretending to play the violin. She initially started studying violin at four years old. As a gift for her fifth birthday we gave her a violin as we threw her a surprise birthday party at the home of her violin teacher. This was her first private lesson. On the way home from her first lesson she was very excited and she asked if I would buy a violin for all of her friends in her kindergarten class as she called out each of their names. At first I said to her that there was no way that I would do that; but even while one side of brain was saying no, the other side of my brain was calculating the cost and mapping out the structure of the program.  By the time my daughter was ten years old our program had begun to take shape and was first featured in this news clip.

Four years later I was hired to serve as consultant to the Jacksonville Symphony Association and take on the role as manager of the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra (JSYO).  As orchestra manager, having the opportunity to see for myself from the inside out, I understood why there was very little minority participation in the JSYO.  I eventually designed, developed and launched two programs to increase minority participation in the JSYO.  The first program, Jump Start Strings is still being managed by the Jacksonville Symphony in six different elementary schools and the second program, Guiding Success, I continued to work on after my contract ended with the symphony ended.  In 2011 we partnered with All About Kids, Inc. to create the All About Kids VPK Music Academy. That summer we began with four students and today we have 35 students in the program with the expectation to increase that number to 74 by the end of this summer.

Ivan shows his form during a class on proper bowing technique.

Ivan shows his form during a class on proper bowing technique. Image used with permission of Richard Cuff.

This is the only Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) orchestra program in the state. Why is it so important to get these children involved at the pre-school level?  

Most professionals agree that the best time to get a child involved in music education is around five years old. Very few professionals start earlier than that because of the challenges that come with a young child’s behavior. This poses a special challenge for minority children because by the time they are exposed to music at a later age in public school (if at all) they have also been exposed to the surrounding culture of rap and R&B that often makes listening to classical music unappealing. However, by beginning as early as three-years old we are able to capture the child’s mind while it is still shaping the child’s likes and dislike. Another major benefit is that at this young age the children do not become easily bored with repetition; in fact, they enjoy going over the same songs and basic lessons again and again. By the time they are four years old these children have habitually developed the discipline to begin learning the techniques that will help them master the skills to play the violin at a third grade level even before they are out of the K-5 kindergarten level.

How will that help guide them to success through college?

Each child, at the beginning of the program, learns the Rules of Music and the Musicians Pledge and repeats them on a daily basis.  These rules and the pledge sum up how this process helps guide them to success through college: 

Rules of Music – “Feet on the floor, hands to yourself, eyes on the teacher, ears open, and mouth closed so that you may breathe and relax.”
The Musician’s Pledge – “Because I am a well-behaved musician, I listen and follow directions, use self-control, respect people, instruments, and materials, and always do my best.”  

Initially it takes the parents and music mentors to remind them of the importance of the rules and the pledge, but eventually they become ingrained into the child’s mind and become the foundational tracks onto which everything else is built.

This is certainly not a solo act and it’s not every day that you see a program like this. Who are some of your partners and key people on your team?  What is your secret for success? 

If there is a secret for success it would be that we began in the early learning environment by partnering with All About Kids Preschool owned by Joann Walker, a retired Duval County Public School teacher.  She has been providing quality childcare for twenty five years and was will to underwrite the cost of the program in the first two years.  Ms. Walker already had a great relationship with the Department of Children and Families, the Duval County Early Learning Coalition, and the United Way’s Success By Six program.  This created the perfect environment in which we could build our program.  The next step was to get the buy-in of the parents and get them to understand that our program would treat the parent as the child’s first teacher and greatest mentor, holding them accountable for the child’s success.  Within the first few months we began to see evidence that the program was destined for success.

What method are you using to help the children learn so quickly; are you using any special type of music curriculum?

The moment Ms. Walker and I agreed to start this program I called on my good friend Andy Bruck, a violinist with the Jacksonville Symphony. Andy started playing violin as a child for over 45 years ago and fully understood the challenges we faced. He was also instrumental in helping me to launch the Jump Start Strings Program. He researched best practices, incorporated proven techniques, and even develop a special music notation system that helped accelerate the rate at which the children could learn to read music. We have a proven method that works and we now call it The Bruck Early Learning Music Method.

Guiding Success is now a couple of years old. Can you speak to some of the successes or impact the program has already had? 

The program is impacting the children in several ways. You only need to sit through one group practice session to know that the confidence level of the children is off the charts.  They have also developed a love for learning and sharing what they have learned with each other. One of our greatest success stories is Cedric Livingston (we call him Ceddy Bear). When he came into the program, because of being in an unstable protected custody environment, he was a shy introvert and would not talk much nor participate in class activities. After about three weeks I noticed he was beginning to clap his hands ever so slightly. Today Cedric is one of our best students. His out-going personality and brilliant smile would not give you a clue that this talkative, fun-loving, six-year old was once a shy three-year old introvert. All of our students are excelling in class as kindergarteners; our two oldest students (2nd grader and sixth-grader) are excelling as well.  After only four months in our program, then 5th grader Sarah auditioned on violin for Lavilla School of the Arts and was accepted, and this year, 2nd grader Daija will be auditioning for the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra.  There are now 35 students (a few of them adults) that are taking either daily or weekly music lessons. In the summer of 2011 we started with four students.

In addition to musical training, the program also provides other useful resources to the students and their families. How is something like a college savings account reinforced by the musical aspect of the program?

We teach our students and their parents that practice does not make perfect because, “You were perfect when you walked in the door.” Practice makes improvement. It is improvement in every area of life for which we strive. Our mission is to encourage literacy through entrepreneurship and the arts. This literacy component includes financial literacy as well as literacy for health and wellness. A college savings saving account allows us the help the parent and the child develop the habit of saving while at the same time developing the mindset to incorporate other wealth-building principles including investing and home ownership.

On the set at Fox 30 Action News during the morning show. This was the first public television performance for the students. Photo used by permission of Richard Cuff.

On the set at Fox 30 Action News during the morning show. This was the first public television performance for the students. Photo used by permission of Richard Cuff.

How do you see Guiding Success moving forward in the future?

I see Guiding Success becoming a statewide initiative and a national model. The program will become voucher-based and serve as wraparound funding to supplement VPK dollars on the State level and Head Start dollars on the Federal level. Each of our centers will feed into local public and private K-5 programs. Ultimately, I see Guiding Success being responsible for the State of Florida truly being known as a State of the Arts.  

The Division of Cultural Affairs truly believes that “Culture Builds Florida.” How will this program benefit Florida economically and otherwise as you work on expanding it to be statewide? 

This program will benefit Florida economically because as more people are encouraged to invest private dollars into early childhood education initiatives more of our young people will choose to stay in school rather than drop out, blighted buildings will be turned into rehearsal halls, parental involvement will become the norm rather than the exception and recidivism will become a thing of the past as the path to prison is circumvented by giving our children a clear path to college. It is well-known that for every dollar invested in early childhood education the state will see a return of $7 dollars. But that ROI is not only a monetary return it is also a return in social capital. Through Guiding Success we are building better citizens and equipping future leaders who now have a gift that can never be taken away and can only flourish in this positive environment.  

To learn more about Guiding Success and the J.H. Walker String Ensemble or to contact Richard about bringing this program to your community, visit guidingsuccess.org.

Art Talk: Accessibility with Division Staff Member Maureen McKloski

By Tim Storhoff

Maureen McKloskiMaureen McKloski joined the Division’s staff in July of 2012. Prior to her work at the Division, she was the visual arts coordinator for Pyramid Studios, an art center serving developmentally disabled adults. She is a painter and restorer of fine art and antiques. Maureen earned Bachelor of Fine Art degrees in Art Education and Ceramics. As the Division’s Accessibility Coordinator, I wanted to ask her about the importance of accessibility in the arts.

Along with managing grant programs, overseeing arts in education and underserved communities, you are the Division’s accessibility coordinator. Accessibility is clearly important to all aspects of life, but what makes accessibility especially important to the arts?

Accessibility is a word that simply envelops and provides inclusion for all.  People with disabilities are as diverse as any people. They have diverse experiences, expectations, and preferences. They use diverse interaction techniques, adaptive strategies, and assistive technology configurations. People have different disabilities: auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual — and some have multiple disabilities. Even within one category, there is extreme variation; for example, “visual disability” includes people who have been totally blind since birth, people who have distortion in their central vision from age-related degeneration, and people who temporarily have blurry vision from an injury or disease.

As we all age, we find ourselves utilizing more provided accessibility services, whether we fully recognize and label them as disabilities or not. We find that these considerations, when seamlessly integrated, are helpful to every user. Accessibility is especially important in the arts because it encompasses and directly affects everyone – whether they are an audience member, a listener, a patron or an artist.

The therapeutic aspects of art, whether we are actively or passively engaged, have the potential to greatly impact our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.  It also can have an economic impact on the individuals that create or perform art – opening up an opportunity for individuals to earn income, as well as benefit of increased revenue for arts communities that hold accessible and inclusive events.

The Division believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida” and stressing the economic value the arts have for our state. How do you see accessibility relating to Culture Builds Florida? 

The arts are integral to the lives of our citizens. We appreciate them for their intrinsic benefits — their beauty and vision and how they inspire, soothe, provoke, and connect us. The arts ennoble us as people. They provide bridges between cultures. They embody the accumulated wisdom, intellect, and imagination of humankind. Government and private-sector support are essential to promote full access to and participation in exhibitions, performances, arts education, and other cultural events regardless of family income.  The arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities and our nation. They improve the quality of life in our cities and towns. They enhance community development; spur urban renewal; attract new businesses; draw tourism dollars; and create an environment that attracts skilled, educated workers which build an innovative workforce.

Do you know what all of the Disability Access Symbols mean? Learn about them and download them for your own use at https://www.graphicartistsguild.org/resources/disability-access-symbols/

Do you know what all of the Disability Access Symbols mean? Learn about them and download them for your own use at https://www.graphicartistsguild.org/resources/disability-access-symbols/

If you could name just one or two low-cost things that arts organizations and businesses can do to improve their accessibility, what would they be?

Many organizations are already accessible in a number of ways.  One of the first things that an organization can do is to include appropriate accessibility symbols in all of their marketing materials – from brochures to email blasts. Another low-cost practice would be to provide large print versions of all printed material. Generally information is typed out in word format before included in a distributed format. If an organization changed the font and the font size, they could easily provide information in this format. Another low-cost practice would be to walk through their facility with a three-foot ruler or stick to make sure that all routes are easily accessible to wheelchairs and make sure that nothing blocks doorways or access to any of the facilities amenities.

Where should arts organizations and businesses go for more information about accessibility in the arts?

We have provided information to our grantees regarding their 504 plan, people first language, accessibility symbols, and more.  We are providing this information on our website, and the informative links there are continually updated. We are also providing a series of six webinars in 2013 for our constituents catered to their desire to learn more about and provide services to those individuals with disabilities in partnership with VSA. For more information on the upcoming webinars, subscribe to our e-mail list and like us on Facebook.