City Music Summit Offers a Platform for Education Outreach
November 19, 2015
All photos by Tea for Two Photography
Led by a trio of female vocalists, Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” took on a soulful and slowed-down arrangement on the stage of New York City’s Gramercy Theater. The vibe picked up as the band segued to Celia Cruz’s “Quimbara,” punctuated with salsa moves and rhythms.
The audience was also treated to renditions of tunes by John Coltrane, Alabama Shakes, Marvin Gaye, Charlie Parker, and MGMT. While the six bands’ musical selections may have covered a wide range of styles, they had a lot in common: energy, passion, and perhaps most remarkably, youth.
The Berklee City Music Summit Master Class, held on November 9 and hosted by Berklee College of Music and City Music alumni Bryan Abreu and Mj Rodriguez, was a chance for City Music Network high school students to not only shine but also to receive feedback from industry professionals—all against the backdrop of a venue typically graced by established and up-and-coming musicians.
“Look at how many young people will be able to say they had a New York premiere at such a young age,” said Krystal Banfield, dean for City Music.
Mentoring the Next Generation
Vocalist Claudia Ramirez, a junior at Boys & Girls Harbor in Harlem who recently attended her second round of the Berklee Five-Week Summer Performance Program, is one of those young people. “I’m really grateful to have had the chance. I was just so happy up on stage, I was feeling everything and feeding off the energy of my band mates and the audience,” she said. “I met some amazing people and I got to experience something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.”
The featured bands were selected based on audition videos they submitted earlier in the year, and each was paired with a musician coach who worked with them earlier that day. After the coaching sessions, the students got a crash course in stage performance courtesy of House of Blues Music Forward Foundation’s Bringin’ Down the House Bootcamp. The day culminated in the Gramercy performances—featuring the band’s own selections and music from the City Music PULSE® library—and on-the-spot critiques by clinicians Syreeta Thompson and Mark Gross.
Of Berklee alumnus and drummer Bobby Sanabria ’79, who served as the Boys & Girls Harbor coach, Ramirez said, “He gave me tips about things I’d known but didn’t know how to pursue on stage: movement, singing, what to do when I’m not singing and musicians are soloing.”
Saxophonist Mindi Abair ’91 served as the coach for the Phoenix Conservatory of Music, whose band rocked out to MGMT and Alabama Shakes. Abair is no stranger to rock: she’s toured with Aerosmith and the Backstreet Boys, among others.
“I saw what I told them sink in piece by piece and I saw the changes immediately,” Abair said. “They really upped their game. They came a long way in just a few hours. They are so talented and so ready. If that’s the level of kids coming up [in the music industry], the future is bright.”
Positioning City Music as a Thought-Leader
The night at the Gramercy was only one element of a packed, three-day summit at Teachers College at Columbia University. Berklee's fifth annual summit, this year's theme was One Sound, Many Voices: American Popular Music and Creative Youth Development. The summit provides the opportunity for attendees (network members, music educators, arts advocates, and like-minded organizations) to engage in professional development, share best practices, network, create opportunities for collaboration, and leave with the tools needed to further the City Music movement—positively impacting youth development, primarily through popular music, noted Lee Whitmore, Berklee’s vice president for education outreach and social entrepreneurship. “Berklee City Music wants to position itself as a thought-leader in the field of music education and youth development through the use of contemporary music.”
“This year's event represented the broadest range of speakers and attendees yet,” Whitmore added. “A diverse representation from our out-of-school-time partners, major public school systems, and like-minded community organizations joined Berklee City Music Network members to truly represent the movers and shakers from communities across North America.”
Presentations covered a range of topics, including the development of original music programming; stage performance; partnerships for collaborative learning; technology in the classroom; and streaming audio in music education. Panels featured the master class coaches, music industry executives, and students. Many of the speakers were Berklee alumni, and some were graduates of the City Music program.
“We were able to assemble an amazing group of thought leaders in youth development and music education from across North America, which allowed us to further the City Music movement by focusing on attendees’ desires for professional development skills supporting youth engagement, teacher best practices, and fundraising support,” Whitmore said.
Abair gave a presentation based on her book, How to Play Madison Square Garden: A Guide to Stage Performance. “What makes me different from other performers?” she encouraged students to ask themselves. “If I think about the bands that I love that I find successful, they’re all trailblazers. They’re not following trends, they’re creating trends.”
She admitted she was nervous during her gig as the featured saxophonist for American Idol, but got through by employing some go-to techniques such as faking it, finding her happy place, and focusing for three minutes before the show.
As she spoke, students furiously scribbled notes, taking in every bit of advice.
For Tuffus Zimbabwe ‘05, a Berklee College of Music and City Music alumnus, the summit was a full-circle experience. The Roxbury native, who plays keyboard for Saturday Night Live’s band, served as a coach and performed drums on a panel for fellow City Music alumna and Berklee faculty Chantel Hampton. “To see kids who are doing the same thing and to be able to come back [and coach them] feels like a privilege,” said Zimbabwe.
Bass player and funkmaster Alissia Benveniste ’14; saxophonist, clarinet player, and flutist Jody Espina ’83; and gospel saxophone player Kirk Whalum also served as coaches for the master class.