Education On Our Minds

The Louisville Orchestra was excited when Strings Magazine reached out to Teddy Abrams asking him to share more about the Louisville Orchestra vision for its education and community outreach programs. The Louisville Orchestra was founded on bringing high-quality musical experiences to the city. Throughout the orchestra’s history, dedicated efforts to expand the access and impact of the education and community outreach programs have including robust school and teacher experiences, musician engagement, and high quality and engaging educational musical performances. We share some of our strategic projects and vision for the future with the full text of Teddy’s essay for Strings Magazine.

Education is a core part of the Louisville Orchestra’s mission, and it is central to our concept of a modern orchestra as a public service institution as well as a concertizing organization. Over the past seven years, we have worked hard to develop educational programs and projects that speak to the creative potential of young people, engaging their talents and imaginations and showcasing the connectivity of diverse musical styles. We’ve deliberately avoided reifying stereotypes of “classical” music by instituting our vision for a New American Canon as the basis for our education and engagement work; this vision calls for the LO to reflect and affirm the vibrancy of our community. It equalizes great music regardless of its origin or history, it emphasizes music by living composers and American artists, and it provides for a fundamentally participatory audience experience rather than a purely didactic one.

This last year has clarified the necessity of music in Louisville’s future: the isolation brought by COVID-19 quarantines and the societal fracturing due to racial injustice (felt acutely in Louisville because of Breonna Taylor’s killing) has accentuated the power of music in healing and unifying our city. We have a momentous opportunity to use music to address these challenges directly with our community’s youth.

Our educational platform is built around several programs: our signature MakingMUSIC  program includes school visits and series of concerts serving 91 elementary schools annually, an instrument-building project called the “Landfill Orchestra,” (which teaches recycling and ecology along with science and crafts), the Louisville Orchestra Rap School, and the Louisville Orchestra Conducting School (a conducting training program for 4th- and 5th-graders), a weekly musician residency with the renowned Heuser Hearing Institute, and regular masterclasses at regional high school music programs. Almost all of those programs continued during the pandemic, with adaptations like asynchronous masterclasses for individual students, virtual conducting classes, and an online library of content we developed based on specific requests by music teachers at our public schools.

In the future, we will be expanding our unique Rap School as a part of our equity and unity efforts. This program is a collaboration with local rapper, classical percussionist, professor, and recently-elected Metro Councilman Jecorey “1200” Arthur. Students in our Rap School create lyrics inspired by the life of Louisville’s own Muhammad Ali, and they perform their raps with the full Louisville Orchestra each season. By investing in this project we tie together many of our educational goals: participation, musical equity, and a connection to locality. We’re so honored by the students who have participated and proud to have been a part of their creative growth. Initiatives to offer music activities to pre-school and kindergarten children are underway as we develop partnerships and programs.

Finally, as part of our initiatives to expand access to orchestral music in Kentucky, we are developing educational programs that will reach areas in the state where relationships with Louisville are minimal or even negative. By building educational programs with communities beyond Louisville metro, we hope to foster a much more connected, positive statewide spirit. Music is a part of Kentucky’s heritage and a source of pride for Kentuckians of all backgrounds and demographics, and by celebrating our state’s musical output in our educational programming  — from the first-rate hip hop scene in Louisville to the folk traditions of Appalachia — we can offer pathways to understanding and communality that are deeply needed in 21st century America. The groundwork for this statewide educational programming was laid during the pandemic, and we hope to initiate these concepts over the coming two seasons.

-Teddy Abrams