Advancing Music Learning Ecosystems: The Yale School Music’s Michael Yaffe Discusses Equity and Access

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Yale School of Music

The Yale School of Music hosts a free, virtual symposium, "Equity and Access: Advancing Music Learning Ecosystems” on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, from 12:30 - 4:00 pm EDT. The symposium is designed to explore how music learning ecosystems can ensure an active music life for every child.  

Read our interview with Michael Yaffe, Associate Dean at the Yale School of Music, below. 

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Interview with Michael Yaffe

Q: The 2021 Symposium on Music in Schools presented by Yale School of Music takes place on June 23. Shed some light on what the heart of the symposium is. 

MY: The Symposium on Music in Schools has always focused on specific areas of music education where we believe Yale can help facilitate a national discussion. Due to the pandemic, we have a distinctive opportunity to broaden and deepen access to music education across the country. There will be new funding flowing into schools and communities through the American Relief Act, and our field has the opportunity to work together in each community to ensure access to an active music life for all students. 

Q: Who can attend the symposium and how much does it cost? Is it open to the public? 

MY: It is free and open to the public, and we encourage any individual who contributes to a music learning ecosystem to attend. This includes individuals in K-12 education, higher education, arts and cultural organizations, musicians, students and parents, educators, funders–anyone who is connected to a student's music education. 

Q: What are the main objectives that the Yale School of Music has for the symposium? 

MY: Our first objective is awareness. What is a music learning ecosystem and why is it key to equity and access? We want to set a baseline of knowledge that a healthy ecosystem is diverse and interconnected, that it provides music learning through all types of settings, genres, and teaching methods. An ecosystem model challenges organizations, schools, and individuals to collaborate to build a great music learning infrastructure throughout a community, with students at the center of the process. 

Our second objective is inspiring a sense of energy and urgency. With both the funding and the will, we can–and must–work together to expand and deepen music opportunities for students all across America. 

Q: 2021 marks the first year that the symposium will be hosted online. What excites you about this new opportunity? 

MY: Historically, the symposium has been a small gathering of invited experts who have helped us shape, develop, and disseminate the results of our work. For example, our 2017 symposium resulted in the Declaration on Equity in Music for City Students, released a year after the symposium met. By pivoting to an online format this year, we are thrilled to open the event to a public audience, providing a larger constituency with timely content and the opportunity to pause and think strategically about our roles in supporting music learning. 

Q: What is the Music in Schools Initiative? 

MY: The Music in Schools Initiative is the largest community engagement endeavor at the Yale School of Music. As a graduate professional school for performers and composers, YSM does not offer a degree in music education. Instead, we demonstrate our commitment to the next generation of music-makers through the Music in Schools Initiative, which has three main components: 

Our New Haven programs are centered in strategic partnership with the New Haven Public Schools. Our graduate students' partner with music educators in- and out-of-school to mentor more than 300 students in grades 3-12 from across the district. 

The Symposium on Music in Schools extends our commitment to equity to the national level: every other year, we delve into topics related to music education at its broadest sense. These symposia provide the basis of policy recommendations and nationally disseminated publications. 

Lastly, students from across Yale University can learn more about the relationship of music and society through a course with YSM’s Visiting Professor in Community Engagement. 

Q: The Music in Schools Initiative is supported by a gift from the Yale College Class of 1957. How did the partnership originate and evolve? 

MY: When the Yale College Class of 1957 decided to give Yale a significant class gift in honor of their 50th reunion, they came to the School of Music with an idea. Many of the class members had participated in high-quality city music programs as students, and had enjoyed music at Yale as undergraduates. They were disappointed to learn about the retrenchment of music in many school districts, and they hoped that the School of Music could help reverse that trend both in both New Haven and nationally. Their vision inspired the Music in Schools Initiative, and the class members remain our dear friends and biggest supporters. They meet with us twice a year to provide advice and counsel, and to encourage and celebrate our New Haven partnership. 

Q: Describe the importance of equity and opportunity in advancing music learning ecosystems. 

MY: At the core of the music learning ecosystem is the goal of equity and opportunity for all students. For decades, music education has existed inconsistently and inequitably across cities, suburban areas, towns, and rural communities. The ecosystem model requires community action and empowerment with students at the center. 

Q: Are there featured sessions or working groups you would like to highlight? 

MY: We are particularly excited about our panel, which will feature individuals across the music learning ecosystem, including leaders in music education, arts integration, public school, and funding. In addition, we are looking forward to a town hall and breakout sessions led by Mary Luehrsen, Executive Director of The NAMM Foundation, which will explore research and funding opportunities for music learning ecosystems. 

Q: Is there a keynote speaker/s? When will he/she be announced? 

MY: We are working to arrange a few special guests, and will release those details as soon as they are known–check the symposium website regularly for updates! 

Q: What is your hope for attendees post symposium? Any specific call to actions? 

MY: We hope all attendees leave the symposium determined to take action, creating, expanding, and deepening relationships in their community. We also encourage people to communicate with their school districts and states, advocating that the infusion of federal money be used to support equitable music opportunities. 

Q: Are you planning on hosting the symposium in person or as a hybrid in 2022 and beyond? 

MY: Since the symposium occurs biannually, it is hard to predict what 2023 might look like! I like the hybrid idea because it makes the event accessible and easy to attend. On the other hand, we love to serve New Haven’s famous pizza to our guests! 

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