Collaborating with Your Community Music Schools A Win for Music Education

Mike Lawson • • January 8, 2018

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Let’s imagine you’re the high school music teacher and have an incoming freshman that has been playing cello for three years but you do not offer string classes at your school.

Or the music education professor at a university that would like his wind pedagogy class to have an opportunity to work with younger students on brass embouchure but do not have access to a local program where your students can implement the practicum. Or let’s go even further; you’re the private instructor of a studio in which most of your students are private or home schooled and want them to participate in band or orchestra. There are many resources that a music community could take advantage of amongst the most common are local youth symphonies and community bands. What if that ensemble’s level is too advanced and requires a competitive audition?

All three scenarios are very common problems in the world of music education and can be temporarily solved by taking advantage of a community music program in your neighborhood.

The Public-School Teacher

Envision a world in which the public-school music educator had the resources to implement an ideal music curriculum, one that includes general music, band, orchestra, choir, jazz band, chamber music, theory, piano, composition, history, and even music technology. Even with the best of intentions there are circumstances beyond their control such as inadequate staffing, budget deficits, and insufficient allotments that may preclude the comprehensive curriculum that is desired.1Music educators learn to make the most out of every situation presented to them and just like Beethoven created an entire symphony with a four note motive, teachers maximize their effectiveness by prioritizing classes that are fundamental to the aesthetic goals of music instruction.

There are always students that need those extra music classes that will help them bloom into even finer musicians. Maybe you do not have various ensemble options such as orchestra, concert band, jazz band, or choir, and have students that are interested and or play instruments suited for that ensemble. Community school ensembles serve as a great supplement for these types of students looking to continue growth through these mediums. The ensembles might even be of higher level and will encourage their musical growth. Or the school might even offer several levels that will custom fit the skill set of your student’s musical abilities. What if you don’t have the option to offer a separate music theory class? Or teaching jazz improvisation is not your “forte”. In the perfect world, all of these choices would be offered at your school, but a quick look at your local community music schools could be a great way to enhance your student’s music education experience.

Partnership in Pedagogy and Practicum

The University Professor and Music Education Students 

Creating collaboration with a community school can help the college professor create a “real world” setting where his or her students can apply the concepts learned in class. This can create job opportunities for future music educators and help them practice and refine their teaching skills before they enter the public-school teaching realm. This too will indirectly create a feeder program by which a college can recruit quality students. The biggest win for this situation is creating a strong music community relationship amongst students, teachers and the university professor. Professor of graduate courses in music education at Indiana University Estelle R. Jorgensen believes that “music education serves to nurture and transform society as well as the individuals it comprises.” If all parties involved work together in ensemble, music can serve as a tool to create a miniature society important to its cultural development.

The Private Instructor The private teacher can encourage their students to enhance their music learning experience by taking advantage of ensembles that a community school might offer. Many students that study privately are known to either be home schooled, or private schooled which can limiting their individual growth as musicians due to the lack of ensemble playing offered through the public school music education system. Teaching children in the home is the oldest form of education. In its most informal and simplest form home schooling dates from the beginning of civilization. Many parents still opt for home schooling their children and look for ways to provide music education. Private lessons are always the easiest of choices. “In our society, schools are social agencies where students learn society’s standards and expectations.

Music education addresses the social purpose of education by using music to teach social roles and values that contribute to cultural identity… While music can be an individual experience, public school music often focuses on group interaction.” These students do not have the luxury of a public-school music education, which would otherwise provide ensemble playing through band, orchestra, or choir. The private teacher can direct these students to join and partake in classes offered through community schools.

Saturday Conservatory of Music

The Saturday Conservatory of music is a non-profit community school whose mission is “to provide affordable music education to low-income families in the Los Angeles area. In 1966, the music coordinator of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Carl Bruce with his music teacher wife, Ellen, and Robert Runge, professor of Music Education at California State University, Los Angeles, organized the Cal State L.A. Saturday Conservatory of Music. The mission of the program was to supplement music education to low income families in Los Angeles, while investing in the music education program at Cal State L.A by allowing education majors to have a place to practice and improve their teaching skills . In 2000, SCM separated with CSULA and relocated to Pasadena. Since 2015, the Conservatory has been operating on the campus of Jefferson Middle School in the City of San Gabriel.

This year marks the 50th year of the program’s existence and has created a beautiful cultural environment connecting students, teachers and the community over several generations. Many conservatory students have gone on to become professional musicians, others merged into the program at CSULA and became music educators, and others became responsible family members of society. The Saturday Conservatory of music can serve as a model and may possibly help other communities build similar programs that can help solve deficiencies in today’s music education.

The Students The program services over 300 students a year. These students come from public, private, charter and homeschooled sectors of education in the greater Los Angeles area. Students are encouraged to participate in their school’s music program and use conservatory as a supplement. All students registered at Saturday Conservatory are allowed to enroll in a theory class, group class lessons, and an ensemble. One of the popular trends seen in the program is the opportunity for students to take up secondary instruments. The program is sequential and students are able to directly apply the concepts they learn in their group lessons and theory classes onto an ensemble that is well suited for their level. Instrumentalists that do not play traditional orchestral instruments are encouraged to join the choir as an ensemble choice.

The Teachers Teachers are recruited from local college music programs. Many of the staff members are aspiring music educators; others are performance majors or college graduates with a music degree. Many teachers are also veteran credentialed public-school teachers, which help lead the curriculum and keep the program afloat.

The Neighborhood and Collaborations Saturday conservatory of music collaborates with the San Gabriel Unified School District. Students currently enrolled in the district receive a discounted tuition price. The program collaborates with local colleges and professors in order to properly staff the available teacher positions. Often times, music education students inquire about coming in to “practice” a short lesson for their pedagogy classes. It is important to note that several teachers in the San Gabriel Unified district are alumni and even taught at The Saturday Conservatory of Music before becoming credentialed music educators. Notable teachers are Esther Minwary, music teacher at Jefferson Middle School and Melissa Romero, music teacher at Gabrielino High School. Other notable veteran music teachers that are Conservatory alumni are Margaret Asato formerly with LAUSD, and Glen Kamida who is active in the Torrence district.


Partnership and collaboration between the public-school teachers, private instructors, college music educators and their local community music schools can create harmonious benefits for the music community. Providing a well-rounded music curriculum offering classes with a wide range of ensemble options and class offerings is easier said that done due to circumstances out of our control. But a simple search and partnership between music educators can offer limitless options and help spur growth both in music education and the relationship of the community. Take a chance at supplementing your student’s musical growth when the opportunity is presented and create a community that keeps giving for generations to come.

Claudio D. Alcàntar is an active freelance musician and educator in Southern California. He is the director of orchestras at the Saturday Conservatory of Music, teaches his own private studio, and holds clinics with schools in the greater Los Angeles area. Alcantar holds his B.M in saxophone performance and is in his final semester as a graduate assistant at California State University, Northridge where he is working on his M.M in conducting under the mentorship of Dr. Lawrence Stoffel.

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