Musical Explorers: Tomorrow's Cultural Ambassadors
Musical Explorers, an inventive program for New York City students in grades K–2 created by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI), develops basic singing and listening skills in the classroom as children learn about different musical styles and songs reflective of cultures in their own communities. The program culminates in concerts held at the end of each semester in Zankel Hall, where students interact with artists who are part of the curriculum and represent the five boroughs of New York City. Expanding Musical Explorers beyond New York City for the first time, WMI has partnered with the Savannah Music Festival (SMF) in Georgia and The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, California, with each organization reworking the program’s curriculum for use in its own community. SMF’s own adaptation encompasses music from the Georgia coast and the South Carolina Lowcountry, introducing students to bluegrass, jazz, the ring shout tradition, opera, blues, gospel, and spirituals. By the end of the first year, nearly 10,000 students from 50 schools in three counties will have participated free of charge. Jenny Woodruff, education director at the Savannah Music Festival, recently shared her experience with the partnership.
Why was Savannah Music Festival interested in Musical Explorers?
Jenny Woodruff: Like many communities, Savannah area schools have been forced to cut funding for arts programs at the elementary school level. SMF has always had local music education outreach, but we were interested in expanding our existing programs to help fill that void. Like Carnegie Hall and WMI, we believe that the key to sustainable music education outreach is pairing dynamic concerts with quality year-round classroom materials and training for teachers. Musical Explorers hits all of those targets.
How has the partnership and program impacted students, teachers, and artists in your community?
JW: There is an overwhelming sense of excitement among families all across the city and surrounding area. If I meet a five-, six-, or seven year-old student in Savannah, the chances are pretty good that he or she is a Musical Explorer and can sing all the songs with me. Our partnership with Carnegie Hall is a constant source of pride for parents and teachers. I have no doubt that Musical Explorers will become a Savannah institution.
For teachers and administrators, Musical Explorers is opening new possibilities for arts education. More teachers are learning how to integrate music and the arts into their classrooms, and school administrators are taking steps to make music a priority for all of their students.
Our Musical Explorers artists are getting exposure to a whole new audience. They’re superstars now, recognized in drugstores, supermarkets, and on the street.
Many of them are also renewing their commitment to music education and outreach, even outside of Musical Explorers. For the McIntosh County Shouters, most of whom are in their 60s or 70s, Musical Explorers has given them the opportunity to teach thousands of children about a centuries-old tradition in danger of disappearing.
What was your first impression of the Musical Explorers concerts?
JW: It was immediately clear that the program belonged to the kids. Students came to the concerts with original choreography and art projects they wanted to show off, and one student even passed me a note to give to an artist backstage!
Each concert was a different experience, but seeing and hearing 1,000 kids singing together never failed to move me. It happened at different times at each concert, but it was always magical.
What are you most looking forward to at the semester-ending concerts this spring?
JW: I’m looking forward to being surprised. I never would have thought that an old bluegrass song about love and loss (“In the Pines”) would be an audience favorite, but it was by the end of last semester! In the spring we have an opera singer, a blues artist, and a gospel singer. What will the kids bring to the show? I can’t wait to find out.