Music Education Symposium: Inclusive Strategies for Diverse Learners

Eric Bolton
May 2, 2011
Students from the Berkshire Hills Music Academy perform at the Music Education Symposium.
Patrice Rushen performs with Berkshire Hills students.
Music Education Department chair Cecil Adderely
Teacher Diane Marshall highlights different methods for teaching music to special learners.
Darla Hanley, dean of the Professional Education Division
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Teaching how to teach music is the hallmark of Berklee's Music Education Department. The annual Music Education Symposium is a forum for exploring new approaches in the field as well as a source of inspiration for music educators through clinics, performances, and discussions.

This year's symposium, Put Us in Music: Inclusive Strategies for Diverse Learners, held on April 15, addressed teaching music to students with special needs, and the challenges and joys that come with it. At the heart was the question: Is it best to form our programs around our special learners or should we find ways to include special learners into pre-existing educational structures?

The day began with a performance by the Berkshire Hills Music Academy Performance Troupe, hailing from the South Hadley, Massachusetts post-secondary school for students with special needs. From a Peruvian piece to an original composition, the performance spanned myriad styles, and concluded with Grammy Award–winner and Berklee ambassador of artistry in education, Patrice Rushen, joining the group for a rendition of Bill Withers's "Use Me."

A clinic followed with Diane Marshall, a teacher at the Cerebral Palsy Association of Middlesex County in Edison, New Jersey who showcased a variety of methods for teaching music to special learners. Her mantra was simple: ask yourself what the student can do, and focus on their abilities instead of their disabilities.

A panel discussion on the legal aspects of teaching students with special needs featured Chi Kim, Berklee alumnus and associate professor of music therapy, who is blind; T. C. Mattocks, a former superintendent and current professor at Bridgewater State University; Denise Garlick, a state representative from the 13th Norfolk District in Massachusetts; music education chair Cecil Adderley; and Rushen.

The symposium concluded with a series of roundtable discussions that allowed faculty members and students from Berklee, Lesley University, and Berkshire Hills to discuss various issues concerning teaching special education, followed by larger group discussions led by Rushen.