As a composer, I have always been interested in the intersection between the arts and social issues. As a person, I have always been passionate about the cause of justice for everyone. I believed that I had done a lot in my artistic and personal life to join my passions together and make a bit of a difference in the world. And I felt that here in Vermont was a good place to be for both artistic and social justice reasons. Then in 2018 I learned that Kiah Morris, a Black Vermont state representative from Bennington, had been harassed so badly online and in person by a number of people that she resigned from the legislature and feared for her family’s safety. Not only that, but Vermont’s attorney general, citing First Amendment reasons, declined to prosecute the main offender. Suddenly I realized that Vermont wasn’t in such a good place after all and I was hopelessly naive about what life was like for people of color in our state.
Since then I have done two things. First, my wife Jackie and I have embarked on a sustained course of self-education, including reading, joining the ACLU, the Vermont chapter of the NAACP, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Peace and Justice Center and others, as well as taking a life-changing Civil Rights program in Montgomery, Alabama last year. We feel this is a lifelong commitment, because racism is old, it’s tenacious, it’s flexible, and it’s in all of us, me included, despite my best efforts. The good news is that there are a lot of great resources out there. Four of the best books I’ve read are White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, Stamped From the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist, both by Ibram X. Kendi, and Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. All of them taught me a great deal and changed my perspective.
On the artistic side, in the past year in particular I have written a number of works that have reflected my increased commitment to racial justice, including my work for solo flute, Black Venus that pays tribute to dancer, singer, and civil rights activist Josephine Baker. I have also made a greater effort to familiarize myself with the work of more Black composers. In a blog post last summer I referenced the powerful 2015 choral/orchestral work, The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed by Joel Thompson. In addition, just one of many other composers I have enjoyed listening to is Valerie Coleman. Check out her Umoja as well as other works. I also recommend the music of our Monteverdi Board of Directors member Matthew Evan Taylor , professor of music at Middlebury College.
I cannot prescribe what others need to do, though it’s clear to me that unless we acknowledge our history honestly we are doomed to repeat it. All I can do is continue to do my work, both personal and artistic, and recognize that I have a lot to learn.
As a music teacher in special education programs across the country, and through working with my own private students, I get to see music touch the lives of many. I consider myself lucky to work with students of such diverse age groups and communities. The students that I have taught thus far require various levels of support, which challenges me to personalize and adapt their lessons. I have recently relocated to central Vermont, and am excited to work with all students through the Monteverdi Music School. The following vignettes are stories of musical successes that I have seen with special needs students, however their names have been changed to protect student privacy.
It was the first day of fall semester; a day full of new routines, new spaces, and new people. Starting at a new school is intimidating for most anyone, but for individuals with differing support needs, a first day of doing anything is a huge hurdle. Many people with autism thrive in environments built on the stability of routines, familiar faces, and clear directions- making new experiences can be challenging. As it was my first day teaching at a program for students with special needs, I understood (to some extent) what my students were feeling. I re-read the intake profile of my first student of the day, an experienced trumpet player with autism. Some intake profiles are not complete, but this one painted a very clear picture of my student. He had been playing the trumpet for almost eight years, taking two private lessons a week, and was a part of the rock band that I would be teaching later that day. I thought that it would be a pretty straight forward trumpet lesson, there was nothing in his profile that would suggest any physical disabilities, and he seemed to have great facility on the instrument. I met Andrew* in the lobby and faced a barrage of questions- a common trait of autism. I told my new student a little bit about myself and now, two years later, he still remembers the answers to every question he has asked me. As we set up our stands and instruments, I noticed that he was sitting very close to his music and was practically playing into his stand. I asked him if he had ever worn glasses and he responded “Only sunglasses!”. I asked him to sit further away from his stand, so that his sound would project a little more, and his note accuracy decreased dramatically. After our lesson, I had a chance to ask his mother about his eyesight. She said that he had never gotten an eye examination done, because there was never a problem. However, she was frustrated that no matter what his past teachers had tried, he still couldn’t consistently and accurately read music. I suggested that an eye exam might answer some of her questions. A few months later she pulled me aside before a lesson to inform me that Andrew was nearly blind in his left eye. He had progressive vision loss and would need surgery to retain the amount of sight still left. We both looked at each other in shock- Andrew was 18, had many caring adults in his life, but he simply could not address his loss of vision. Without our trumpet lessons, Andrew would have lost sight in his left eye completely by now. He had surgery in his left eye over the summer and got to wear an eyepatch for a few weeks, which he accessorized with a pirate hat.
Rock Band Class:
By halfway through the semester, teaching Rock Band at the special needs institute was like running a well-oiled machine. My co-teacher would set up the room with most of our students, as I went to the lobby to direct a few others to our classroom. We had two blind students in our class. One blind student had been at the institute for so long that he could make his way into the building, up the elevator, and to a storage closet to get what instruments he needed before coming to class. Our other blind student, Chris, would wait for me in the lobby to guide him to our room. He would hear my heels clicking as I ran down the stairs, and he would recognize that it was me. Once we got to our room, he would greet everyone based on the instruments he heard playing- when he heard trumpet he knew Andrew was there, and when he heard Elton John coming from the piano he knew Jacob was there. Once we had all ten of our band members set up, they would practically start themselves. Our drummer, who wasn’t one for talking, would start tunes and everyone would join in. Once in a while we would have to stop and review lyrics or chord changes, and talk about dynamics, but our students took autonomy in those conversations. Most of our students were of middle school age, and required a lot of support outside of the music room. The band had a large range of diagnoses on the Autism spectrum, as well as physical disabilities and social challenges. Quite a few students still needed support in tying shoes, putting on jackets, and making decisions, but once they were handed an instrument, they felt empowered to make artistic choices and work alongside their bandmates. Our rock band classes gave our students a chance to express themselves musically, and grow socially.
Anderson and Maria:
In my second year of working for the special needs institute, I began to work with two elementary aged siblings who had autism with very high support needs, and were recent immigrants from Brazil. Their parents primarily spoke Portuguese, and the children understood some English, but not well enough to translate. On the first day that I met the family, their mother and I spoke through Google Translator. In Anderson’s first percussion lesson, we practiced walking to our classroom and sitting down in our seats five times in a row. We then talked about what being ready to learn looked like- sitting up in our chairs, having our heads off the desk, and having a drum in front of us. By the third lesson, we only had to practice this sequence twice. Although only a little musical progress was made, Anderson could now begin the process of learning, and knew the expectations of music lessons, which was a huge success for him. After Anderson’s lessons, I would work with his little sister, Maria. Maria was five; she loved to sing songs and run around the classroom. Somehow, she knew how to solfege most children’s songs. She could pick out ‘Do’ on the piano, which was always middle C in her head. No one could explain this to me- she had never taken music lessons, had maybe two music classes in kindergarten, and didn’t even care for Little Einsteins. Our lessons looked very different from other piano lessons. We would start on the north wall of the classroom by singing a song that I had written on the board with corresponding images, like Mary Had a Little Lamb. Maria would then translate it into solfege. Next, we would run to the east wall of the classroom to make a visual version of the notes. Usually we would color shapes in the direction that the notes moved (mi re do could be a purple triangle above a pink heart above a blue circle) or use the Kodaly hand signs for the solfege. On the south wall of the classroom, we would practice the song on a paper piano, before finally arriving at the piano on the west wall. After all of the running and singing and coloring, we would practice sitting down at the piano, finding ‘Do’ (which she would only do by ear), and then finally play the song we had learned. Maria usually did very well with this method, despite being five and not understanding most of my directions due to the language barrier. I now work with both of these students over Zoom, and they are thriving on the routines we set up when we were in person. Anderson still practices sitting up and listening to directions, and Maria still does three musical activities before sitting down at the piano. Their mother and I communicate over email, so she can translate my messages at her own pace. Both children might still be finding their place in America and learning a completely new language, but during our lessons we use music to transcend these barriers and give them a sense of belonging.
Providing music lessons to students with special needs creates experiences that they would have otherwise missed out on. We know the value of music lessons for the neurotypical population, but often forget how valuable music lessons can be for the most vulnerable of our students. These students might learn in very different ways, but the results are clear; music can move students beyond language barriers, cultural differences, and even disabilities. I have worked with students who have communication delays, cognitive delays, emotional disabilities, physical disabilities, non-native English speakers, and gifted/talented students. I truly believe that anyone can make music with a supportive and creative teacher.
Please consider Monteverdi Music School this Tuesday!
Dear Friends of Monteverdi,
Wow - what a challenging year 2020 has been for us all! COVID-19 has hit the performing arts world hard! That's especially so for arts and music education organizations like Monteverdi which depend on people gathering together in small studio classes for practices and performances. While our faculty and students have persevered with virtual lessons and recitals, the impact to our budget has been severe, since a great deal of our revenue depends on teachers renting space in our building. We are thankful to teachers who have maintained their memberships with Monteverdi, and some who have continued to pay rent even while they cannot use the building for lessons.
Introducing New Faculty Erin Eberhardt, specialist in horn, percussion and kids with special needs, and Jesse Metzler, trombone and low brass instructor rounded out our faculty this fall! READ MORE
The stay-at-home order in March was a shock to all of us, and for Monteverdi teachers, a sudden shove onto the learning curve of how to teach via Zoom or FaceTime or other online platforms. The faculty came together to share technical knowledge and we started to get back on our feet in the late spring, though only in a virtual way.
Lisa Carlson, who has taken on the role of programming consultant, put together our faculty recital in a virtual format in May. The program was a lovely and diverse collection of performances by our highly professional teaching faculty. She also organized online student recitals starting in May, which have continued this fall. A holiday themed recital (virtual) is planned for a local assisted living facility. Lisa has also led the way in upgrading our website and starting a blog, with entries from Ron Thompson, Erik Nielsen and others. Check them out if you haven’t seen them. With these upgrades, Lisa started a campaign to reconceive our logo, including a community competition; work to develop design concepts is ongoing.
Financially, Monteverdi has survived thus far, with the help of a small Economic Recovery Grant from the State of Vermont. We have applied for additional recovery grant funds and have cut back expenses wherever possible. Donations from our supporters, however, are urgently needed to ensure that we can make it through this pandemic.
With your financial gift now, we can continue our efforts to keep music education, faculty and student connections and virtual performance opportunities moving forward, while we plan for the days, hopefully in 2021, when we can once again teach in person and enjoy live performances.
We are so grateful for your support. May you find peace, calm and connection in new and different ways this holiday season.
President, MMS Board of Directors
Help us to keep the arts and music education thriving
in Central Vermont!
Composer and saxophonist Matthew Evan Taylor (1980) has been hailed as “a promising new voice” (Lawrence Budmen, Miami Herald) and a “risk taker” (Neil De La Flor, Huffington Post) whose music is “insistent and defiant…envelopingly hypnotic” (Alan Young, Lucid Culture).
A southern kid who worshipped at the altar of Cannonball Adderly, Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley and Charles Mingus, Matthew’s music has been performed across the United States and Europe by such ensembles as the Cleveland Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, the Metropolis Ensemble, the Imani Winds, and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. As a performer, Matthew has worked with musicians Elliott Sharp, Marilyn Crispell, Tatsuya Nakatani, Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson; visual artists Will Kasso Condry, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung and Dannielle Tegeder; and dancers Katherine Kramer, Sara Shelton, Laurel Jenkins, and Lida Winfield.
Matthew has developed a dedicated following for his #project39 series on Instagram and Facebook. In December 2019, on his 39th birthday, Matthew pledged to improvise for at least 39 seconds for a year. This series has yielded the album Say Their Names, seven improvised reactions to the events of May 29 – June 5, the early days of the renewed Black Lives Matters protests. Self-released on Bandcamp on June 6th, the proceeds have gone directly to such racial justice organizations as Black Lives Matter Global Organization and the Equal Justice Initiative.
Matthew has also partnered with the Metropolis Ensemble and New Amsterdam Records to release his epic The Unheard Mixtapes. Another product of #project39, this 5-EP series represents a journey inward and Matthew’s struggle to cope with isolation in a time when it was never more important to join in solidarity with people. The first installment, The Unheard Mixtape 1: Follow to the End was released September 29, 2020, with each installment thereafter released monthly. All albums will be on Bandcamp, courtesy of New Amsterdam Records.
Matthew is currently based in Vermont. He is Assistant Professor of Music at Middlebury College.
Monteverdi Music School is graced with the addition of two new faculty members! Please join us in welcoming Erin Eberhardt and Jesse Metzler! We're very excited to round out our brass and percussion departments with these highly qualified and talented instructors!
Erin teaches horn, percussion, and piano, and also specializes in working with kids with special needs. You will find Erin's bio linked here.
Jesse Metzler teaches trombone and low brass. You can find Jesse's bio here.
A quick update on our logo process. We're still in communication about our new logo, but are officially on the "slow track" to ensure faculty and community engagement in a new logo that fully reflects our community.
And again - many thanks to all who have contributed to the process over the summer. Your ideas and proposals are so appreciated, and have gotten us on solid footing for defining our next steps.
Please stay tuned!
The winner of the new logo design entries in Monteverdi Music School's "New Image for Monteverdi" campaign was Birtu Lindert-Boyes of Marshfield, Vermont!
The staff and board of Monteverdi Music School found Birtu's design to be inspiring and energizing, and will be part of our thinking as we take next steps to confirm a final decision on our new logo. Here's Birtu's design:
There are many things we loved about the design that helped us move beyond the limited thoughts we had previously considered. We loved the use of the "o" for the favicon - something none of us had previously considered. We universally felt that Birtu's design gave us a reference point to consider in our next steps.
As first place winner, Birtu was given the choice between a gift certificate to Guitar Sam, Vermont Violins, or Buch Spieler Records. She has chosen Guitar Sam.
Our next step will be to consult with a professional design artist, and we are grateful for the design Birtu shared and the discussions it has sparked in refining our thoughts of what our logo will be! Stay tuned for updates!
Submitted by Erik Nielsen
At their best, the arts can be not just a reflection of their times, but can also provide an emotional call to action. This is certainly true for music, in many ways the most abstract of all the arts. For the truth of this, one need only look at the songs that helped spur many social movements over the past several centuries to realize that they owe as much to the melody as to the words for their broad appeal. This is again such a time, when in the United States in particular, many of us have been stirred to action following the latest in a long line of deaths of unarmed Black and Brown citizens at the hands of police. A great example of powerful art that speaks to its time is the work for male chorus and orchestra, The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed by Joel Thompson, an African-American composer based in Atlanta. The work was premiered by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club and the Sphinx Ensemble in 2015, five years before the latest murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and others. This is the ensemble featured in this video. Sphinx is an organization that promotes the training of African-American and Latinx classical musicians. It is my view as a member of the Monteverdi faculty that we need to promote and support musicians of color in our community. In addition, if we can collaborate with and support organizations like Sphinx we will be working toward the important goal of making concert music and our society more inclusive and equitable.
Erik Nielsen teaches music theory and composition at Monteverdi Music School . Check his full bio here.
We now have a frontrunner among potential logo submissions! AND we're in our final week of accepting submissions. We're hoping to assess our options at the end of THIS WEEK and choose a path forward from there.
We will continue to assess options that come in this week, but we're excited about the ideas presented in this submission from Birtu Lindert-Boyes:
And if you've already submitted one design, you may submit another! Each entry will be entered into our drawing for prizes from Vermont Violins, Buch Spieler and Guitar Sam.
We will not necessarily use a submitted design for our final logo choice, but we will enjoy every entry and potentially incorporate ideas into our final design. Thanks in advance for joining our logo design team!
Please see guidelines for entries, and options of prizes, here. Deadline July 31.
Monteverdi Music School has been a center for music lessons and music activity in Central Vermont for 26 years, and now establishing its outreach to the online community!