Boston Public School students took center stage at the Berklee Performance Center last weekend to show off the musical skills they honed over the school year with the help of the music college.
Students from 12 of the city’s elementary, middle and high schools performed jazz, blues, rock, and pop tunes for parents and teachers at Berklee College of Music’s annual concert celebrating its City Music Faculty Outreach Program.
“It was just a fantastic concert,” said Krystal Banfield, dean of the Berklee City Music program, who counted about 750 people in attendance.
The outreach program the students participated in works with schools' music departments to offer classes, workshops for teachers, private lessons, directed ensembles, and performance opportunities for students.
The program is designed to help students explore their musical side while encouraging those already interested in pursuing music to stay in school and consider college.
Banfield described the programs as a way “to help to demystify college, introduce music, and in some cases help to provide a more rich music education experience.”
It’s not just about finding a path to a music college, but developing a passion that helps keep students in school and looking toward the future.
“If a child can find that passion and really find it early on, they have a great chance. They can see it as a opportunity,” Banfield said.
The schools participating in the program and concert this year were: Blackstone, Mattahunt, William H. Ohrenberger, and Sumner elementary schools; Timilty, McCormack, and Young Achievers middle schools; Murphy and Orchard Gardens K – 8; English High School, Boston Arts Academy, and Roland Hayes School of Music.
At the Fenway neighborhood’s Boston Arts Academy Berklee’s program has become an integral part of the school’s music program, said its music director Greg Holt.
“I could not do what I do here at the Arts Academy without them,” said Holt, describing how Berklee faculty have helped to raise the bar for students in terms of musicianship and enthusiasm.
“There’s a certain credibility that a teacher has when they’re not only teaching, but doing it, and doing it a very high level. It’s exciting that they all perform with their students,” Holt said of the Berklee faculty members that have been working with students.
The Berklee faculty also work closely with the academy’s teachers to learn how they can work together benefit and guide the school’s programs, said Holt.
Holt, too, said he sees the benefits of the program for students serious about pursuing a music career and those who just need to find a passion.
“Having a strong arts or sports program or whatever it is gives a student a reason to come to school,” he said. “Students finally start equating school with success rather than just disappointment as they may have in past. It helps to bolster those students who might have dropped out otherwise.”
Berklee raises about $400,000 through grants and donors to fund the program that this year brought 22 teachers and almost 900 students together for more than 4,000 hours in the classroom.
While shrinking public school budgets have put a strain on music and arts departments, Berklee’s City Music is not moving in to replace music departments. Instead, the program is designed to allow teachers to work with the department’s faculty to supplement their programs, said Banfield.
“We feel that the community work we do as a program and as college is vital to all of us. Everyone has to take responsibility,” she said.
It’s partnerships like this that Holt hopes will keep school music programs alive and prosperous.
“I hope to see more institutions coming to the table to help public education. Principals are thoughtful, caring people, but they have so many resources they can use.”