by Joyclyn Wilson

This year my school embarked on an epic partnership with the Memphis Music Initiative that did not disappoint. As a teacher, it can be a daunting task to be asked to add one more thing to your already full plate and I admit I was a little skeptical of how a partnership with MMI would mesh with the goals of my classroom and school.  But by the end of this school year I can honestly say, I couldn’t see myself being without my Music Engagement Teaching Fellow. MMI is a intensive in-school program whose goal is to empower youth though music in their community.  MMI empowered my students though music this year by providing human capital, a kaleidoscope of experiences and enhanced resources.

Working in a choral music classroom can be very rewarding but can also present some challenges if you lack adequate help.  For example, when we would perform in regional and some national competitions there was a need for an accompanist and it was often hard to find professionals with the time to accommodate us. We often had to rely on tracks that were sometimes awkward for performances or not supported by most venues. But, with the help of MMI, I was introduced to a delightful piano instrumentalist, Mrs. Betty Gallardo, who rehearsed with myself and the students, provided much needed feedback and traveled with us to our various performances. With her help, I was also able to teach more music effectively to the students in a large group and individual setting. She became an ally in the classroom and a colleague in my journey not only to mold my students into great performers but also ease their understanding of critical musical concepts.

Also through this partnership with MMI, my students received access to a wealth of musical experience. The students were able to do a Master Class with famed grand audition finalist of the New York Metropolitan Opera, baritone, Reginald Smith Jr. He was in town to perform in “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Germantown Performing Arts Center and was willing to share his journey to professional opera singing and his knowledge of the importance of professionalism and preparedness for working musicians. As he shared his insights, a lot of my students that viewed music class as an “easy A” now were seriously considering music as a career choice.  After hearing him sing the young men in the class became more confident in their ability to sing and started pushing each other to do more than the bare minimum musically.  His tales of traveling to Europe and performing on grand stages opened their eyes to new possibilities that they previously thought were out of their reach as well as furthering our school’s goal of more students being on fire about going to college. The juniors and seniors are now eager to work on classical song pieces and are adamant about more music related college tours and music audition opportunities.

Not only has this partnership been a great benefit to me as a teacher and my students’ future education goals, but also it has provided access to a wealth of resources in our community.  We were able to take more local and regional field trips that enhanced their future development. For example, the students attended a show hosted by the Stax Performing Arts Group about Memphis music. This show invoked pride in Memphis music with my students that encouraged them to present their own Memphis Music Tribute to our school this spring. As a teacher I was also given access to much needed professional development that presented me with opportunities for my students to be enhanced through organizations like Hatiloo Theater, The Orpheum, Opera Memphis, and many more.   As a result of these connections, I had two students that were accepted into the STAX summer performance program and they put on an amazing show at the Levitt Shell this summer. I had another student who was accepted into the MMI music internship program, where she gained a wealth of knowledge and real world experience working in the music industry. These two open doors are just a piece of the connections that MMI is able to forge between the youth and the community through our school.

The Memphis Music Initiative is an amazing school partnership that facilitates change and musical growth for Memphis’ youth.  It is clear that my school’s affiliation with MMI provided keys to doors that might have otherwise been closed to my students. They aided me with staff that I need to accomplish my classroom goals, music industry professional experience that  invigorated my music program with hope, and a wealth of resources that will help propel my students to bright futures. As the old saying goes, it does take a village to raise a child, and MMI is a cooperative force that truly enhances the village with the vitality it needs to bring about future success for the youth.

Joyclyn Wilson is a sixth through twelfth grade music instructor at Memphis Business Academy Schools. She loves inspiring her students to be the next world leaders to transform their community.