Reaching Your Target Audience and Communicating Strategically

A big, kind of “behind the scenes” part of musicians’ work in education has to do with publicity and messaging. It’s not news that social media is a big part of most everyone’s lives, and almost everybody who has any kind of online presence has fewer and fewer time to pay attention to anything in depth!

Articulating what we do as teaching artists or music educators is more crucial than ever. Almost everybody who plays music also teaches! In order to tell your story, you will have to be strategic about how you communicate to the public. You’ll need to begin to consider the following things:

  • How do you articulate what you do and why?
  • What online “channels” are most appropriate for what evidence?
  • Does the story you tell align with your intentions and your outcomes?
  • And how do you ensure that you’re able to reach your target audience?

This post won’t (directly) answer any of those things for you, because entire books and careers can be dedicated towards exploring those questions. However, what this post WILL do is show you how your MIE Guided Internship is helping you practice and prepare for a lifetime of communicating your work.

Every MIE Guided Intern gets some practice with strategic communication. Here’s a breakdown:

Blog Posts
The blog posts are intended for consumption by the general public. The Internet is a publicly-accessible place (does anyone even call it the “World Wide Web” anymore?) and so first and foremost, your blog posts have to be simple and clear. They should give your audience a bird’s eye view on your internship or topic, but have enough detail/realism to keep things interesting. (Nobody likes to read things that are too bland or vague.) Children’s full names should be omitted for privacy reasons, and anything that’s potentially embarrassing should be avoided or re-worded. Interns write a minimum of 3 blog posts throughout their internship, and the posts should be structured to lead from one to the next.

Internship Proposal
The internship proposal is modeled after the kinds of proposal forms one may encounter when applying for real world grants. While not “public” (like blog posts), the intern should consider that anything put down in writing could be read by a large amount of people. Most foundations have reading committees that critique proposals with a fine-tooth comb, then score the proposals in relation to a rubric and one another, before making a final decision. Rarely is a proposal funded based on the decision of a single person. Writing a successful proposal means being able to:

  • Articulate your goals, story, agenda in ways that are authentic to you/your project, but understandable/relatable to others;
  • Be clear and concise, often within specific word or character limits set forth by the grantor;
  • Provide evidence or data that demonstrates how/why your project should be chosen;
  • Set realistic, attainable goals for yourself, within the specified time period;
  • Show the funder or grantor that you understand their needs and that your program will help them accomplish their goals, objectives, or metrics.

Digital Portfolio
The digital portfolio is the intern’s opportunity to “dig deep” and provide real evidence for what was achieved in the internship. It’s challenging, because in most cases, the intern will be juggling two sets of goals/work samples—their students’ vs. their own—while putting everything under a single umbrella. Most interns will find a way to incorporate elements of their blog posts and internship proposals into the digital portfolio, which usually provides a nice starting point. Yes, the digital portfolio is like creating a website, but unlike a website, it focuses specifically on you as an educator. It’s also semi-private, meaning that it’s not totally open to the public (unless you request that it be made to be).

The digital portfolio gives interns a chance to show their trajectory:

  • How did the internship progress, as compared to their planning?
  • What strides were made?
  • What unexpected challenges came up, and how were they resolved?

Something that an intern just quickly referred to in a blog post might warrant a longer vignette in a digital portfolio. Or, a long reflection in the portfolio might trigger the intern to write a short blog post on the same topic, to see if any commenters at the blog have input.

When the MIE program first started, portfolios were in hard-copy, which made it cumbersome for interns to include videos, recordings, and even photos of them teaching. But since we have progressed into the Internet Age, interns who provide rich artifacts really help to bring their internships to life. Not only is it more interesting to read a reflection that goes along with a video, but it gives the interns the practice they need to make a good video. (Things to think about: Video length? Camera angle/frame? What you say/context? Etc…)

More and more, grantors and funders are asking to see digital portfolios as evidence that the monies they gave really went to good use. And, even if a “digital portfolio” isn’t requested, a final report is. The final report nearly always refers back to the proposal in some way.

All of these elements of the guided internship are meant to help you, as interns, practice and learn strategic communication skills. As you progress through the MIE Concentration, you will improve these skills. And, the more you invest yourself in your internships, the more you’ll want to tell people what you’re doing, how and why. It’ll no longer be “good enough” to just do the work. You’ll want recognition (which is a good thing), and you should reach for it, because doing so will help you obtain the funding and community support you need to continue to do it. The more people you affect through your love for music, education, and all of the intersections in between, the more you will be doing to improve things like quality of life, access to the arts, etc.

And, that brings me back to the subject line of this post, “Reaching Your Target Audience.” Only you will know exactly who your target audience is—but I can bet that, through consistent and strategic communication skills, you’ll eventually find and reach them!

Looking ahead, once your internship is complete

Towards the end of every semester, I often get messages from interns asking “now what?” Usually, the context for these messages is that the intern enjoyed the internship and wants to continue the activity—either at the site, or on their own—and would like some direction on how to proceed.

For those interns that are graduating, or are thinking ahead to life after graduation, a frequent question is, “How will I get paid (or be paid) for the kind of teaching work I want to do?”

If the intern is starting a private studio, then usually I suggest they start a website and link to their digital portfolio (or draw content from it). Most interns’ digital portfolios include some sort of Rationale Statement that introduces themselves as a teacher and how their approach to teaching is specific to them. Usually, these digital portfolios also have good quality media that shows them teaching, interacting with students, and reflecting on their work. These kinds of artifacts are just as important as videos or recordings of them playing, because it will give prospective students (and/or the students’ parents) some perspective on that person’s teaching style.

But for interns who are developing residency-type programs, workshops, or community programs, the path to self-sustenance may not be as clear. Those types of programs will need to be funded by grants, corporate sponsorships, or private donors—and often, a mix of sources!

In that case, I suggest learning about fund development. A good place to start is with some basic books—also available as iBooks or Kindle books—used by organizations like AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) or CFRE International (Certified Fund-Raising Executive). Not only do these books provide a great overview of the types of fund-development strategies that are out there, but they outline basic (but important) elements of non-profit organizations that aren’t necessarily obvious unless you’ve read or studied about them. In fact, even though practically all trained musicians will work for dozens of non-profits throughout their lives/careers, it could take years to learn what makes a non-profit “tick” from a business/organizational standpoint.

The following books are a good place to get started:

  • Fundraising Basics: A Complete Guide. By Barbara L. Ciconte, Jeanne Jacob [Amazon]
  • Fundraising Fundamentals: A Guide to Annual Giving for Professionals and Volunteers. By James M. Greenfield [Amazon]
  • Strategic Communications for Nonprofits: A Step-by-Step Guide to Working with the Media. By Kathy Bonk, Henry Griggs, Emily Tynes, Phil Sparks [Amazon]

This isn’t an end-all, be-all list, but a point of departure! I’ll be posting more on the topic of Fund Development later.

Don’t Forget About General Music!

“My son’s school no longer has a marching band.”

That’s the kind of dreary, depressing sentiment, oft-expressed on the news today. When we hear about music programs getting cut from schools, it’s always the instrumental ones, usually at the middle or high school level. [1][2][3] Maybe that’s no particular surprise; after all, high school band programs are typically paired with athletic programs (e.g. basketball pep bands; football marching bands), and are therefore the most visible. Then, a huge instrument corporation might come to “save” the day with instrument donations—but perhaps, all of a sudden, you have a “program” with lots of instruments but no educators or curriculum!

Even more distressing is the decline of programs at the elementary school level, which typically means the loss of general music classes that teach fundamental musical skills that all secondary school band, orchestra, and choir programs depend on.

To understand this, one has to look at college-level teaching artist preparation programs. Though 95% of music performance majors will eventually teach in some capacity, few actually take any classes in education, or do any kind of teaching, before graduation. Even fewer college students who teach while in school will teach general music, Solfege, or recorder. Many will seek the opportunity to teach private lessons on their primary instrument, followed by group lessons/sectionals/ensemble rehearsals in their instrument family, then perhaps general music or something interdisciplinary.

At NEC, we’re lucky—approximately 25% of the student body will take at least one Music-in-Education course during their degree, and dozens participate in one of NEC’s many education-minded opportunities, be it through MIE, the Community Performances and Partnerships Program, a Teaching Assistantship, the Prep/CE programs, or another opportunity. Also, many NEC MIE students seek general music and/or interdisciplinary teaching opportunities.

Because relatively fewer students have training/expertise in teaching general music, it stands to reason that fewer graduates seek opportunities to teach/create general music type programs. Of course, this is not to say that college graduates are solely to blame for the lack of general music programs; of course there are zillions of reasons (mostly from the hands of politicians, school boards, and funding cuts) that dictate which/where music programs are cut!

But that being said, the shortage of general music offerings makes it even more important for musicians to seek opportunities to teach general music and to improve their abilities to teach fundamental skills.

In fact, fundamental musical skills programs are some of the most desirable, attractive programs out there to funders and parents alike!

A good fundamental skills program will:

  • Allow access to children, regardless of previous musical background or experience. (In other words, no prior knowledge needed! No auditions, private lessons, or instruments necessary!)
  • Teach all children the same skills, on equal footing. (E.g. everyone in the program will get to play recorder and sing. Kids won’t be segregated into those that “can” or “can’t.”)
  • Be inclusive. Believe that all children can achieve in music, and equally stress the importance/development of traits like quality, work ethic, motivation, and focus. (The program should not discriminate against those with learning challenges or physical challenges, and should be aware of the different ways that children learn and develop.)
  • Provide equal opportunities for children to perform, create, be recognized for their efforts, and progress through some kind of continuum. (Again, that everyone performs/creates, not just the selection of a few.)

Most programs that follow these kinds of rules will also have some kind of funding that makes it possible for students of all financial backgrounds to participate. Usually that means that the program will be offered for a very low cost, and that the organization presenting it will subsidize, or completely cover, the cost of basic instruments, supplies, etc. (See El Sistema USA’s “Guiding Principles” for more great guidelines!)

Another feature many programs share is that they are housed in a community center, like a residential development, a Boys & Girls Club, a YMCA, or somewhere else that’s school-agnostic and allows a mix of kids from a variety of schools to participate. This inter-school element is a very special value, because it really drives children’s development through music’s inherent interpersonal and social-emotional qualities.

To a large degree, these kinds of general music programs are take on a fairly “new,” popular perspective—that music education can be a social equalizer or provide some kind of social change. That music making will make possible opportunities for students to learn and grow where other activities might not have the same kind of success. Programs like El Sistema USA, MusicLaunch Boston, and Hawaii Youth Symphony’s Music in the Clubhouse are all examples of these kinds of general music programs. (Disclaimer: I have helped to develop these programs, and similar ones.)

There’s a rigor that comes from high quality general music instruction. Why? Because it takes a lot to learn the very fundamentals of music. As a general music instructor, nothing can be taken for granted. You’ll teach concepts like reading, notation, proportion/ratio, pulse, pattern recognition, contour, and form—just to name a few—in the service of getting children ready to understand melody, harmony, rhythm, and music appreciation. And that’s not including all of the musical vocabulary words (yes, even things like “melody” and “rhythm”) that so many people take for granted.

Teaching general music is about teaching the higher-order concepts, breaking down musical concepts without any jargon, and helping students develop skills that they could apply throughout their lives!



Eureka! Starting an Organization

Well, Eureka certainly is starting with a bang.

I discussed this organization briefly with Larry and Randy, but I’ll recap a little:

Eureka! Orchestra – essentially a traveling act to different schools/groups of young people to get them excited about music by playing for them and having interactive games AND – here’s the kicker – allowing them to actually PLAY the instruments they just heard and are now so eager to try in the soon-to-follow instrument petting zoo!

We have our inaugural concert as an orchestra a week from this Saturday on May 16 at Saint John’s Church in Jamaica Plain at 2:00 pm.  We’re performing Mahler 4 with soloist Yelena Dudochkin and devilish violinist Léo Marillier as concertmaster.  Kristo Kondakci will be conducting.  Other works on the program include Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, featuring guitarist Robert Bekkers.

As described on the GoFundMe page:

The theme is Heroism and Transcendence, as each work explores these ideas through a different lens, from the most intimate and personal to the most grand.

The Beethoven depicts the struggle between an individual and the collective, where the individual is ultimately sacrificed at the hands of the collective.

The Rodrigo portrays the history of Spain in its glory as well as in its tragedy.

The Mahler is about tradition & innocence vs. the seductiveness of banality, culminating in a song about a child’s reaction to being in heaven.

Our GoFundMe page with more information can be found here:

If you or someone you know would like to donate, please pass the word along!  We can use all the help we can get!

But wait, it gets better.

We’ve also been invited to do a three-day seminar at the Girl Scouts camp in Northern Massachusetts later this May as part of the educational and artistic development of the troop.  We’re beyond excited as this is an amazing opportunity to get to work with young people, and in the beautiful rolling hills of the New Hampshire border of all places!


On June 21, we’ll be playing at the Make Music Boston Festival in Ramsay Park, Roxbury in efforts to bring cultural enrichment to the area.  The performances will combine dance, music, art, and more!

Overall, the organization is getting off to a good start.  We have people interested from all communities, momentum is building, and summer has begun, so everyone is much happier in general!

Larry and I have had brief philosophical discussions throughout the semester, and these have helped shape the path of the organization.  We want to go beyond accessibility and into the realm of ART – where children can be their creative selves in a compassionate environment and discover the world at their pace.

After all, it’s that what everyone wants?

Come as you are, play what you want, join in the fun!  Eureka!

The Beginning: Freelance Teaching in Boston

To make things clear off the bat – this internship was originally going to take place at the EKS Music School in Quincy where I am faculty.   Because I have yet to teach any brass students at the school, I will be focusing on the teaching adventures with my own private students and the strange way that I acquired them:

Strange, because I never thought I would be the kind of person to “buy into” this kind of thing.  It seemed too convenient, too easy, yet after only two months of making a (minimal) online account, I acquired my first piano student.  Fast forward three months and many MIE 501 readings later, and I have acquired some very interesting and life-changing perspectives regarding music and music-in-education.  But that’s for later – for now, we must set the scene of the beginning of true freelance teaching in the Boston area.

I had freelanced my first year in Boston as a horn player and a collaborative pianist specializing in the Suzuki Method, but never had I had any students.  Late summer going into my second year of my master’s, my friend told me that he had acquired a piano student via this website.  Intrigued, I began an account and filled in all the appropriate information.  I had never really written down or contemplated my own unique, logical teaching philosophy before, and when I saw this requirement on the website, I simply wrote what I had always thought:

Through all these experiences, I can safely say that my theory of teaching and learning music is that it’s all about connections. To learn music is to learn a completely new way of looking at the world. It is an inward journey of strength and discovery as much as it is an outwards one, learning to successfully and compassionately communicate with fellow musicians and anyone else who might cross your path. I have collaborated with individuals in both the instrumental and vocal realms – trumpet, trombone, tuba, (French) horn, clarinet, flute, violin, viola, bass, sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, baritones, and have taught piano, horn, and beginning/intermediate wind instruments in both private and group settings. I love music, and even more, I love teaching music!

For areas that I taught, I put (using their categories) Accompaniment, Accordion, Audition Prep, Classical Piano, Ear Training, French Horn, Music Performance, Music Theory, and Piano.  Fair enough, I thought.  I had played accordion all through high school and undergrad, busking on the streets of my beloved college town, but never had I thought that I would teach the instrument (little did I know).

The account sat there for awhile, being added to with various pictures and videos, when all of sudden, I received a notification from TakeLessons saying that someone from Milton has signed up for piano lessons.  TakeLessons in a way is more reliable than the old-fashioned show-up-and-pay-as-you-go method.  People must pre-pay for lessons, specifically five to start out with, and then can only withdraw from lessons if they seriously dislike their teacher.  The teacher is paid either way, whether or not the student shows up, by direct deposit.  The only catch is (and I know you’ve been waiting) is that for the first fifteen lessons, trust must be established, and that trust comes in the form of 25% of your lesson going to the website that so conveniently hooked you up.  You set your own rate of pay, however, and after fifteen lessons, you can earn 90% of what you charge.  It’s just a switch of convenience – either have the student, that either you or a friend has recommended to you, hopefully pay you after the lesson has taken place (and not give you a check that bounces or not show up and you’re out that time unless you have a no-show plan), or have the money from the student who chose you amongst a list of individuals on a conveniently accessible website go straight into your bank account with a slight cut for the middle man.  Personally, I’m enjoying the latter option very much as it is very convenient and everything you could ever need to access regarding the financial state of these lessons is stored in an online account.

So, I had my new student.  Awesome!  How did that happen?  Why did she choose me?  I’ve honestly thought quite a bit about this, comparing myself to the other profiles of piano teachers in my zip code.  One thing I am sure sticks out, and this is not in any way facetious:  I’m a friendly looking, 20-something female who doesn’t have any particular instrument in the picture with her to alienate those who aren’t looking for that particular kind of lesson.  I would look up people who were listed as horn teachers, and when they had a trumpet in the photo with them, I would be taken aback and shake my head.  What are these people thinking?  You can’t claim to teach violin and have a harp in the picture.  Silly, silly.  So, common sense aside, what else set me apart?  For the piano side of things, I teach all piano, not just classical piano.  Most people (and I used to be one of them) seemed to be in the classical rut.  I wanted to teach only classical because that’s the best rep and you can collaborate and blah blah blah. . . Look, some people just want to play an awesome song they heard once, and to me, that’s so much more genuine than sticking to a canon because of archaic constraints of “classical music” and the days when ladies were “bred well” because of their literal “parlor tricks.”  Nah.  Done with that.  If that’s your thing, though, of course I’ll teach you the parlor tricks.  Hell, I’ll teach you ALL the tricks.  But if you just happen to really like that Yann Tiersen song or that one song by that techno band that for some reason decided to compose a beautiful piano piece, that desire is so beautifully genuine, and I will more than help you learn it.

It turns out that this student was one of the “Classical Piano” students, which is great, because that’s my forte (pun completely intended).  And, because she’s fourteen years old and her mother enrolled her in piano lessons, she is one of those modern incarnations of the well-bred individual.  In modern society, girls of the middle class are still taking music lessons not to be married off as acceptable stock, but ALL children are as a part of this new over-satiated-with-activities generation.  I am so incredibly grateful that I was able to be the multi-faceted artistic individual that I was throughout my childhood and young adulthood in a specialized sense.  I loved creative writing, I loved language, and I loved music.  Done.  Sports, nah.  Acting, not so much.  Visual arts, yeah maybe.  I took ballet.  I took vocal lessons.  I took violin lessons then switched over to viola because duh C-strings are awesome.  But these things were all eventually sloughed off of my extracurricular epidermis.  I wasn’t shoved into French club, Greek school, baseball practice, basketball practice, CCD class (aka “Catholic Church Detention” because we were clever) – my mother rode that line of respecting me and my right to choose as an individual while guiding me because I was not yet an adult, but when I decided on something, boy, did she crack down.  (We could open the whole can of worms on parenting and discipline, but the energy required into writing that would manifest in the form of an entire article – not now, but perhaps stay tuned!)

To elucidate, I am not one to belittle the act of taking music lessons, much less exploring the world around you; but exactly that, exploring the world around you, doesn’t always come in the structured form of a lesson.  Exploration and curiosity are things to be bred, for sure, but to satiate our kids so that they have no room to breathe, no room to feel like they can explore, no opportunities for them to discover how they learn, how they can explore, is more of a disservice than a leg-up on life.  Trying to reschedule with this particular student is a nightmare.  This time, inconveniently placed for the traveling music teacher at the peak of rush hour, is the only time she can receive lessons.  And to what end?  To show that she practices?  That there is that spark of intrinsic, volitional learning?  Why take music lessons at all if you’re not one to take time to develop a craft and through this craft realize these subtle truths?  of your nature?  of life internal and external?  of these connections that hang, suspended in this vast network of life, just out of reach until some sort of realization hoists you up, and at last you realize the awe-some depth of existence, and that everything connects to everything else, and at this same moment you paradoxically admit to knowing nothing?  (That escalated quickly. . .)  But in all seriousness, why continue skimming all these surfaces hoping to find hidden treasure just bobbing at the top?

One can probably tell by now that I am a teacher who lives in the fractal paradox (don’t worry, I don’t usually tell people that).  By that I mean the lesson is a constant ebbing and flowing of specialization, via technique, music theory, and broad application, playing through a piece to see where we are, discussing general musical ideas.  This in addition to personalized Socratic methodology, in which I guide the students to the answer based off what they know and their way of learning and discovering.  This has been a heavy-hitter for a first of three articles, so I shall divulge more information regarding my teaching methodology throughout the next couple of articles.

MIENC joined Twitter!

twitter-logoNow you can follow the exciting field of Music-In-Education on Twitter! Hook up with us via our MIE National Consortium account, @MIENC. Also be sure to check out some of our friends’ tweets too … like @MarkSlavkin (Music Center of Los Angeles County) and @GuildArtsEd (Jesse Cohen, Metropolitan Opera Guild). C’mon, you know you’ve always wanted bite-size (140 character) encapsulations of MIE. Now here’s proof it can be done.

Introduction to ‘The Percussive Parent’

Hello MIE Blog community! I am doing an internship this semester (along with fellow intern Joanna Mattrey) as a participant and documentation specialist for a class titled “The Percussive Parent”. The class is held at the Gentle Dragon Preschool in Medford, Massachusetts under the direction of Warren Senders, a current MIE instructor at NEC. Twelve adults and their children are enrolled in the course which meets every Wednesday afternoon for ten weeks. The class involves, among many things, counting and number games, handclapping activities, instrument-making, the use of found objects converted into instruments, producing music with drums and percussion, simple movement activities, along with methods and techniques for parents to incorporate what they have learned into the time they spend with their children outside of class. Warren’s goal is that, by the end of the ten week period, “group members will be able to direct multigenerational rhythm groups on their own, using traditional, self-made and spontaneously created instruments.” He explains that the course is not for children and their parents, but rather for parents and their children so that the children can learn (if they want to) from their active parents while the parents learn musical methods for teaching their children.

For my guided internship this semester, I plan on using Warren Senders’ class “The Percussive Parent” as a way of investigating the ways in which children learn from and imitate their parents, the experience and growth of a child in a creative musical environment, and also how to develop and organize a community course directed towards a specific audience in a free-thinking learning environment. Through this, I will be able to document and experience the organization hands-on while also playing a role in the teaching and learning process of building instruments, experiencing and applying rhythmic games and tools, and utilizing mundane or found objects to create a musical learning experience.

This internship will serve as an application of previous work that I have done with Warren Senders. In addition to completing his two MIE courses (Cross Cultural Approaches to MIE and Improvisation in General Music), I completed an internship as a documentation specialist for his Cross Cultural Approaches to MIE course last semester. In this course, and through my internship, we investigated, among many things, different cultural methods of education, specifics and speculation on the nature of memory, instrument building, intrinsic knowledge, music in education, and more. This internship will follow on the heels of the previous as a hands-on application of techniques and topics discussed with Warren Senders throughout his courses.

An interesting hypothesis that Warren shared before the start of the course, was that “our kids will be much more likely to make music together if they see us making music together. We will be modeling music-making behavior for our kids…and, of course, making music ourselves.” It is an exciting and fascinating premise, that by being an active learner as a parent and teacher, our children and students will most frequently follow our example through imitation and/or a desire to be like their adult role model. I will continue to investigate and document such patterns throughout the course of the class, and share insights with you as we go along. Joanna and I will also be collaborating on information and musings in order to give you a wider ranging perspective on the progress made throughout the ten weeks of the course.