We are inspired by the creative solutions that our recent winners, recipients, and finalists have implemented as the world continues to change and evolve. Now, we’d like to share success stories of adaptation, connection, and engagement. While COVID made clear the inequalities that continue to plague our society, it illuminated a real sense of community and awakened resilience. It inspired innovative and thoughtful solutions to new and dynamic challenges we face. Nearly every organization was concerned with engaging their students while successfully transitioning to online learning. Every organization we reached out to rose to meet the needs of their communities, students, and their families.
A near-universal challenge was staying connected to our friends and families, but for many young people, their classmates and music were equally important. Al-Farabi, a 2020 recipient based in Berlin, Germany, created a game called the Corona Challenges, a series of tasks and quizzes musical that aimed to foster connection and keep everyone engaged and communicating. Peter Bleckmann, chairman of Al-Farabi, discovered that “One of my favorite tasks was to open the window, listen, and describe what we hear — really hear! It sounds mundane, yet we all, teachers included, realized how much we often miss. The difference between hearing and listening is exactly the line where true human communication, including music, starts.”
The Roots of Music, the 2020 winner of the award, is based in New Orleans and serves students aged 9 to 14 from low-income households. Roots pivoted their programming to provide students music education by shifting to weekly online lessons for each instrument and making lesson plans accessible to all Roots students. They also used video chat for individual lessons, and students are required to submit one practice video at the end of each week. Roots worked to provide paper lesson plans and sheet music for students who do not have regular or reliable access to the Internet or a computer and will continue to do so as needed.
INTEMPO, the winner of the Adolf Busch Award in 2019, is based in Stamford, Connecticut. Nearly all (94%) of their students come from non-native-English-speaking backgrounds, and 76% live below the poverty line. While they closed physical sites on March 13 and shifted to online instruction, Angie Durrell, INTEMPO’s Founder and Executive Director, sprung into action. Not all students have access to the required technology, so INTEMPO “secured a donation of Chromebooks, which we distributed along with equipment from our digital music production lab to all 13 students who do not own computers. This donation enabled all 73 students in our Music School 1 program to move forward with their music education and benefit from the stability that this regular activity brings to their lives.”
The Harmony Project, a 2019 finalist based in Los Angeles, also moved its 3,500 students to weekly online classes. The organization also uses the BAND app, a Facebook-type educational and communication platform. Each class has a BAND page where teachers post interactive assignments, video tutorials, and other resources for students and parents. Additionally, the BAND app allows students to individually send playing assignments for assessment, share videos with their peers, and stay connected. As Maya Barrera, Senior Advancement Director, said, “We have seen incredible attendance (between 60-80% depending on the program site) since launching virtual lessons and continue to make improvements based on feedback from students and parents.”
Rock to the Future, a 2018 recipient based in Philadelphia, launched free online music classes open to students in grades 3 to 12. Instruction is available in guitar, bass, and keyboard, music production, arrangement, music theory, song analysis, music and art, vocals, sampling, remixes, and even book clubs to support youth literacy. Livestreams air daily on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook and address topics such as hip-hop, well-being, creating at home, and music technology.
Providing Consistency and Continuing Education
With schools closed, many students lost the academic support and consistency they need to succeed. Students are often in difficult home conditions and do not receive academic support from their families. When the Roots of Music closed their facilities in mid-March, Peter explained how it impacted their students beyond music classes. “This shutdown not only removed an infrastructure that provided students with two, sometimes three meals a day (via government food programs), but also laid bare a technological disparity that exists between families and school districts in New Orleans.”
At INTEMPO, there was an increase in demand for tutoring and family advocacy services. Angie said, “We are now providing one-on-one tutoring in reading, mathematics, and other subjects to 26 children, up from the cohort of 11 children we were tutoring only in reading before the pandemic. Since early March, we have provided 407 hours (and counting) of music instruction and tutoring. Our tutors are in close contact with students’ public-school teachers, which enables them to align their efforts and address academic issues as they arise.”
The Harmony Project conducted wellness check-ins with each family in the initial weeks of the shutdown. Maya said, “Through these calls, we learned that many were experiencing job loss, food insecurity, anxiety, and homelessness, among other challenges. In those first three weeks, we provided resources as needed and developed new websites for each program hub, which we regularly updated with news and resources, especially specific to COVID-19.”
Many organizations leveraged their networks and relationships with others to help students and families. Roots of Music delivered meals to families from Second Harvest, a local food bank. At INTEMPO, 75% of parents lost their jobs, and others worked significantly reduced hours outside of their homes at considerable risk to themselves and their families. In response to families’ financial hardships, INTEMPO made their programs free. Their family advocacy team is in contact with every INTEMPO family and has helped five families obtain food and rent support.
Fairfield County’s Hispanic/Latino population— INTEMPO’s community—represents a disproportionate share of local Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. To help families protect themselves and others, INTEMPO distributed 150 face masks, which were donated by the Stamford Police Department. In the next month, INTEMPO will receive another donation of face masks, this time from Carnegie Hall, which has supported INTEMPO since 2017.
Play on, Philly!, 2019’s winner, gathered feedback from families about access to technology and to imagine new ways to provide our programming in a virtual environment. Their input, combined with the expertise of Teaching Artists and staff, culminated in a new online learning platform called POP Out of the Box. POP Out of the Box provides core classes, supplemental workshops, instrument family virtual hangouts, and virtual performances to year-round students. Students who attend schools that POP serves, POP summer camp students, and students at partner programs of the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth can also access POP Out of the Box. POP continues to focus on group-learning as it provides a sense of community during a time when many students are feeling the effects of isolation and are now out of school.
The ability to listen and connect is the starting point of Adolf Busch’s work. We are so proud of the work these organizations and many others have done to continue providing their services to students and families. Their recognition of problems and ability to execute creative solutions in a rapidly-changing environment gives us hope for the future.