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Musical Explorers Launches Free Digital Platform

Hundreds of teachers across the United States bring musical traditions from around the world into their classrooms through Musical Explorers. Created by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI), the program empowers K–2 students to build fundamental music skills through listening, singing, and moving to songs from various traditions. Musical Explorers has been taught in New York City classrooms for more than a decade. The program expanded nationally this year with a new digital platform that provides teachers with free online classroom resources that include lesson plans, artist-led videos, and digital concert experiences filmed live at Carnegie Hall.

This year, more than 150,000 students are learning songs from a wide range of musical genres, including bomba and plena; Haitian; Indian classical; Brazilian samba; South African Zulu; and Argentine, Georgian, and Greek folk. Interactive lesson plans and videos invite students to explore different cultural traditions, develop basic music skills, and reflect on their own communities.

WMI recently spoke with three music teachers from across the United States about how Musical Explorers and the new digital platform are enhancing their teaching practices and the lives of their students.

Margaret Jenks, Van Hise Elementary School, Madison, Wisconsin

Why is the Musical Explorers program valuable to you as an educator?

Musical Explorers brings a layerof authenticity to the teaching of music from around the world. The program gives my students a chance to meet an artist, hear their story, and interact with their music in a way that engages their imaginations and curiosity. My students want to learn more, explore other artists, and ask questions, which is exactly what I hope for in a music class. I want them to leave understanding that there are other ways of thinking about and making music, and that they share artistic impulses with people all over the world.

How has the program impacted your students?

When studying Georgian-American singer and guitarist Ilusha Tsinadze, many of my second-grade students found a musical story that resonated with them. Ilusha moved to the US as a child and struggled to learn English. Once he acclimated to American schools, he forgot some of his Georgian culture until he returned as an adult and fell in love with the language and music. One of his albums, Mother Tongue, sparked a lively discussion with my class. Does someone’s “mother tongue” matter? Why is it worth remembering the language and culture of your childhood when you are older?How do you hold onto your “mother tongue” when you are in a new place? These were deep and meaningful questions for my students. In our final reflection, one student wrote, “I most appreciated studying Ilusha. My mom has made me go to Chinese school and I didn’t want to go. I had never thought about what would be lost in me if I forgot my music, language, and people.” Another student wrote, “It embarrassed me when my mom and grandma kept speaking Spanish. Sometimes I’d pretend that I didn’t understand. Now I am so proud to have a ‘mother tongue,’ and I never want to forget the sound of my grandma singing.”

Gayle Winney, Howe Avenue Elementary School, Sacramento, California

Why is the Musical Explorers program valuable to you as an educator?

Musical Explorers allows my students to engage with and learn from a diverse selection of professional musicians in their own classroom.It gives them the opportunity to see a little bit of themselves and their cultures in the curriculum, further connecting them to the school and community at large. Musical Explorers also means access to music. Most of my students have never traveled, and I’m happy to be able to bring them a little bit of the world through the program. My philosophy is that knowledge leads to understanding, which in turn leads to acceptance. My hope is that the more my students know about other cultures, the more they will understand, welcome, and embrace others. The most rewarding aspect of my job is that my students and I can have fun while achieving these very important objectives.

How has the new digital platform enhanced your teaching experience?

The digital platform enables my students to meet musicians from around the world and experience a highly interactive culminating concert with a diverse group of experts, all without ever leaving our school’s campus. The platform is one of myriad ways Carnegie Hall shares free resources with the world. Through these resources, our students have access to opportunities most parents couldn’t afford, and our communities develop present and future concertgoers. Most important, our students derive the emotional development, academic skills, and discipline music education provides.

Camilia Schawel, Community Montessori School, Boulder, Colorado

How has the new Musical Explorers digital platform enhanced your teaching experience?

The digital platform is very simple to use, and I really appreciate the attention to detail and availability of the content. Carnegie Hall is dedicated to making the new platform easy for educators to access and find useful in their classrooms. The professional development videos and downloadable lesson plans are especially valuable for educators. I so appreciate the opportunity to hear how other educators teach the content, and to hear from the artists themselves about how they connect with the music.

How has the program impacted your students?

While studying South African Zulu music, we had the opportunity to connect what we learned in the classroom to a performance by a young local artist and composer who performs music from Zimbabwe with her family, which resonated with many students in a deep way. One student, whose family is from Ghana, told me she didn’t realize it was possible to perform her family’s music. Allowing students to see that it’s possible to share their own traditions and cultures through music is one of the most powerful aspects of the Musical Explorers program.