When Teaching Became Joyful Again
Carnegie Hall’s Music Educators Workshop is transforming the lives of both teachers and students, writes Sarah Kirkup.
When Nate Sutton, a professional trombonist from Texas, first started teaching music in New York City, it wasn’t the positive experience he had hoped it would be. “It’s easy to feel isolated,” he says. “There are music teacher organizations out there, but they’re not easy to find, and a lot them are filled with broken, bitter teachers. I suppose that’s not surprising—we’re teaching in an urban environment, and it can be grueling.”
But three years ago, almost by accident, Sutton encountered the Weill Music Institute’s Music Educators Workshop—and he has never looked back. “It doesn’t focus on negativity,” he says. “No matter where people teach across New York City, we’re able to learn from each other and support each other. Being able to talk to someone else who does the same thing you do, and to learn from people who themselves are from a music education background, is invaluable.”
“I’ve never seen more motivated kids—there was such a sense of ownership.”
The Music Educators Workshop was launched during the 2013–2014 season as part of Carnegie Hall’s ongoing focus on students and teachers, producing a huge range of educational and social impact initiatives that extend far beyond the concert hall. Open to K-12 music teachers, up to 100 applicants can attend free monthly, interactive workshops with top music educators over the course of 10 months, and also attend concerts as guests of Carnegie Hall. In addition, in 2015, Carnegie Hall launched the Summer Music Educators Workshop, a four-day intensive session open to teachers from across the country which, in 2016, attracted 120 participants (this year, guest faculty includes conductor Marin Alsop and choreographer Twyla Tharp). All these activities take place in the Resnick Education Wing, which opened in 2014 and contains 24 ensemble and practice rooms. “The fact that Carnegie Hall has built an entire wing dedicated to music education shows how far-sighted its staff members are,” says Sutton. “They have our best interests at heart, because our best interests serve their best interests.”
Sutton has been a middle school teacher at a public school in Chinatown for eight years now, and credits the Music Educators Workshop for revolutionizing his teaching methods. “I’ve been able to make better lesson plans, think about creativity in a new way, and allow kids to work through their own natural creative desires without being afraid,” he says. Sutton has learned to take risks personally, too. “I’ve never felt called to be a composer,” he admits, “but during one workshop, composer Thomas Cabaniss made a marvelous case for exposing your students to composition. So last year I did a composing project with my eighth-grade band, and we ended up performing the piece in a concert. I’ve never seen more motivated kids—there was such a sense of ownership.”
For the 2016–2017 season, workshop participants had the additional option of specializing in one of three curriculum tracks; emboldened by his recent success, Sutton chose composition. “I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone,” he laughs. “I’m thinking about my craft in a new way because I’m being challenged to. The message of these workshops isn’t, ‘Here are some more survival skills, now go back in the trenches.’ We’re being given an opportunity to reimagine what we’re doing, absorb new ideas, and then take them back to our own classrooms.”
Sarah Kirkup’s original article originally appeared in Beyond the Stage: Stories from Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, published by Faircount Media Group.