TNCS Launches Strings Program under Yoshiaki Horiguchi!

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“Making music should be a communal thing and it should be accessible to everyone.” –Yoshiaki Horiguchi.

This year at The New Century School, Music Education, although always an essential component of the curriculum, has grown a new branch. Beginning instruction in cello and violin as well as an intermediate-level String Ensemble have just entered their third month, thanks to the arrival of strings teacher Yoshiaki Horiguchi.

Meet Yoshi

Born in Tokyo, Japan, “Yoshi,” as he likes to be known, moved to Washington, D.C. when he was 5 years old and attended Horace Mann Elementary School From there, he moved to Maryland’s Montgomery County, where he completed schooling. After graduating as a Linehan Artists Scholar from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and then taking a couple of years to play music on a freelance basis, Yoshi landed a full scholarship as an Aegon USA scholar at the Peabody Conservatory at the Johns Hopkins University to pursue graduate studies, where he is currently in his second year.

From an early age, Yoshi saw music as a means to make positive change. He humbly credits his musical opportunities to kindnesses that people along the way have paid him more than to his own gifts, which are indisputably extraordinary. He says he was drawn to strings in particular over another class of instruments because of one such experience: “In the 6th grade, my mom sent me to school with the tiny violin that I started on when I was 3 years old to enroll in school orchestra. I was also the tallest kid in my 6th grade orchestra class. When my band director saw this mismatch, she immediately switched me to bass.” Yoshi soon learned just how uplifting a force music could be:

Everyone has a specific connection to music that’s personal to him or her. For me, my particular connection to music is that it was my only way out of a life that I didn’t want to have. It allowed me to continue and finish high school. It allowed me to go to college on full scholarship to UMBC (which I’m extremely grateful for—I wouldn’t have been able to go to college without that). And it has given me a purpose in life and given me a purpose in why I make music, not so much for fame and glamor but to harness the power that music has to heal and to bring people together—like music was able to do for me growing up. I hope to continue to put that back into this world.

His work with TNCS, he says is partly to cultivate a music culture in Baltimore. There are not many strings programs in city schools, unfortunately, and Yoshi thinks that’s a real shame. In talking with school co-founder Jennifer Lawner, whom Yoshi met at a “fiddle camp” in Charleston, SC, they floated the idea of a strings program at TNCS, based on their common belief in “what music can do for not just a child or individual, but for an entire community.”

I think the most important thing [that music can do] is in its potential for a shared experience—it’s a reminder that whatever differences we may have, we’re all human, and we’re all able to have some central core of humanity. So when we make music together and then put our instruments down, music has laid the foundation with those shared experiences to debate constructively about whatever social or political issues are at hand from a humanitarian point of view. The power of music is in reminding us that we are all human.

Yoshi says this humanizing power of music derives from both an emotional and sensory connection and more. “On the emotional side, if a group is going to play a song together, whether it’s for a class or a concert, there’s an exhilaration, a joy . . . some sort of personal breaking through and sharing. Research says that what we remember most are experiences we had during periods of heightened emotion. Making music together, not necessarily doing it perfectly, but figuring things out together and looking at each other across the stage as that music is being made sears the experience into your brain.” Neurologic studies show that listening to and playing music increases dopamine activity in the caudate nucleus, and the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s reward center, correspondingly activates. Yoshi also finds connecting with the audience to be an important facet of playing and enjoys playing solo or in smaller groups to facilitate the interaction—to “tear down the wall between the audience and the stage,” as he puts it.

TNCS Strings Program

This 2016–2017 school year marks the first year of that program as part of the enormous value TNCS places on Music Education, and it’s off to a soaring start. The TNCS strings program is open to students from other area schools, as well, in an effort to broaden the reach and get more city students playing strings instruments.

His hope for the TNCS strings program is to add beginning cello and violin classes annually, such that the current-year beginning students will welcome and mentor the incoming protégés—very much in keeping with TNCS’s own philosophy about the synergy of the mixed-age classroom. This approach would not only feed the growing program with fresh crops of students, it would also allow second-year students to learn more deeply from the act of teaching and role-modeling. “When they’re able to practice on their own and teach at the same time, they’re in effect doubling the results of their efforts,”said Yoshi. After 2 years as first a beginner then a mentor, students would progress to Ensemble-level playing, and the Ensemble would grow correspondingly, if Yoshi’s plans are approved and implemented.

An ancillary hope is to take students to performances, depending on what concerts are being scheduled in terms of duration and content. He says Peabody Conservatory is eager to be more community oriented, partly because the state of classical music is that audiences are shrinking. Attending performances has become inaccessible and cost-prohibitive, whereas it should be widely available. Paradoxically, Yoshi says, musicians are playing with increasing technical skill and at ever younger ages, likely due to good-old YouTube, as well as the availability of very small instruments, which allows very young children to begin playing and achieve mastery that much sooner. Peabody, however, is developing community relationships and offering free performances—and is only a couple of blocks away from TNCS. Yoshi sees in this outreach stance an additional opportunity to possibly pair up TNCS students with Peabody teachers-in-training so that TNCS students can benefit from one-on-one instruction in addition to whole-class instruction.

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Yoshi plays his double bass.

Musician-Teacher: Merging Two Worlds

In his personal playing, Yoshi has been acclaimed by the Baltimore Sun for his ability to put on a “dazzling display of dexterity and panache.” As an active double bassist, he spans a broad spectrum of genres and has performed with the York Symphony, Baltimore Boom Bap Society, Opera Camerata of Washington, Classical Revolution Baltimore, and more. Recently, he was the principal bassist to record works by Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts. “Yoshi proudly hails from the studios of Ed Malaga, Jeff Koczela, Laura Ruas, Paul DeNola, and Paul Johnson.”

“In addition to being an active performer, Yoshi is a highly sought-after pedagogue.” Having served as the low-strings department chair and string ensemble director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s El Sistema–inspired ORCHKids program, faculty for Peabody’s Bass Works, and faculty for American Music System, his teaching credentials are robust. Yoshi’s International Society of Bassists pedagogy research submission is currently being used as a resource to influence bass teachers across the country. He is also certified in the Mark O’Connor string method and has studied the Suzuki string method, making him an all-around strings pedagogy expert. (Bio was quoted and paraphrased from Yoshi’s website: BassHoriguchi.com.)

But even all of this, as Yoshi explains, is not an exhaustive accounting. He keeps moving forward professionally and finding ways to bring strings to kids. He says that he aims to earn respectability as a classical player but also to continue growing as a teacher so that he has his feet firmly in both worlds and can act as a bridge between these worlds. He explained:

Diversifying your skill set opens your eyes and gives you a more worldly context—it allows you to see how you fit into the world. Teaching for underserved West Baltimore ORCHKids, for example, has given me a reason to get up in the mornings and has honestly made me want to practice more. It’s not that I don’t care about my music career, but I think I care less about that than I care about what I can do for the world. Now, pushing myself as a musician means discovering my potential to give back. Breaking through technical obstacles and overcoming hurdles allows me to teach from a place of empathy, of understanding that this is hard, and maybe even guiding students so they can apply these skills elsewhere.

Yoshi attributes his drive to “pay it forward” to having been so nurtured by his own early teachers, to whom he says wants to both show respect and give back. Finally, he wants to dispel the dual stigma that music teachers are nothing but strict and demanding and that classical music is stultifying and too rigid: “I hope that parents considering enrolling their child here will trust that this program is not at all like that. The kids are wonderful, and I’m learning from them everyday, so hopefully my teaching self will reflect this continual growth. Don’t let that image of what you think classical music may be prevent you from signing up, because you might miss out on something very special happening here.”

You can see just what he means during this year’s Winter Concert, where TNCS strings students will be performing. Additionally, TNCS administration hopes to offer a Strings Camp next summer. “Stay tuned”!

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Yoshi, instruments in hand, sits both on top of the world and very much in it.

 

TNCS Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month!

At The New Century School, Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15th through October 15th, is a big deal. This year, it took on even greater significance with now-veteran Profesor Manuel Caceres leading the charge. Although this month was honored at TNCS in many ways in the day-to-day classroom, two very special events bear specific mention here.

Las Hermosas Puertas

The first exciting event to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month was a door-decorating contest in which each homeroom was challenged to represent a Hispanic country. Doors (and/or walls) were judged according to creativity, accuracy (e.g., of geographical information), and degree of student participation. Winners (listed farther below so you can view the doors objectively first) were chosen in each division, but it’s clear that everyone did a fantastic job and really embraced the spirit of this fun, educational contest. (Winners get bragging rights until TNCS’s second annual Hispanic Heritage Night occurs next year.)

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Pre-Primary Awards

  • First place: Srà Salas’s Chile-inspired door
  • Second place: Srà Da Costa’s Panamanian wall
  • Third place: Lin Laoshi’s representation of Columbia (with a touch of China thrown in)

Primary Awards

  • First place: Mrs. Hackshaw’s Venezuela
  • Second place: Ms. Mosby’s Dominican Republic
  • Third place: Mrs. Lawson’s Guatemala

Lower Elementary Awards (K–2nd Grade)

First place: Mrs. Duprau’s Costa Rica
Second place: Sr. Caceres’s El Salvador
Third place: Ms. Stasch’s Peru

Upper Elementary Awards (2nd–6th Grades)

  • First place: Srà Cabrera’s Spain
  • Second place: Mr. McGonigal’s Mexico

Where possible, teachers chose countries to represent that were meaningful to them in some way, such as being a native of that country in many cases. They all did beautiful work, and the judges deliberated long and hard before making the final calls. Note to TNCS teaching staff: The bar is set very high for next year!

Inaugural Hispanic Heritage Night: What a Fiesta!

In what promises to be an annual happening, elementary and middle school families gathered in the TNCS auditorium on Wednesday evening to enjoy a performance of traditional Hispanic songs and dancing. Thanks in large part to Profesor Manuel and the other elementary teachers’ monumental efforts as well as the support of the entire TNCS community including founders, administration, staff, and families, this multicultural event was the hands-down highlight of the 2016–2017 school year so far.

Just see the obvious enjoyment of TNCS K–6th-graders as they take the stage.

First up, “On My Way to School” was presented by K/1st-grade students.

A medley of “Good Morning,” “My Numbers 1–10,” “My Alphabet,” and “Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” was also presented by K/1st-grade students.

“Lovely Sky,” was then presented by 2nd- through 6th-grade students.

The 1st- and 2nd-grade students next gave us a “Spanish Lullaby.”

Finally, “America,” was sung by 2nd- through 6th-grade students.

After the performance, families enjoyed a Hispanic-themed potluck set to merengue music, and, as always, the TNCS community really delivered: Salsa, guacamole, taquitos, tacos, empanadas, pastel del elote, plantains, and much, much more made up this memorable banquet.

TNCS parent Catalina Dansberger Duque eloquently captured the spirit of the evening in a thank-you email to the staff and administration, excerpts from which are quoted here with her permission. “Latino culture is so much more than the words, the food, or the music; it is rooted in family and love, and that is what we were surrounded by last night. A new family,” she said. She also described talking to other TNCS parents who also “felt the magic of the evening,” some seeing their own culture and traditions being passed down in songs, dance, clothing, and cuisine; others happily participating in what are now going to become annual TNCS traditions.

Ms. Duque went on to express her profound gratitude with this message that not only makes the perfect conclusion to this post, but also rings especially true in this moment in U.S. history:
For me and so many of the Spanish parents, having a bridge between worlds that can sometimes be really far apart makes life that much sweeter. School then becomes part of that world and more meaningful rather than something disconnected. The value is immeasurable. Thank you Porfessor Manuel for your vision, hard work, and heart. Thank you all for truly celebrating, sharing, and reflecting the thing that makes all of us stronger—DIVERSITY!

Meet Sakina Ligon: TNCS’s New Parent Council Head

The New Century School community had been moving toward establishing a Parent Council for a couple of years. Originally suggested during a TNCS Town Hall meeting, the Parent Council came together as a formal organization during the 2015–2016 school year. Since that time, the Parent Council has continued to develop its identity and hone its mission. A clear distinction is being made, for example, between Classroom Parents, who will act as communication conduits between teachers and parents, and Parent Council members who serve on a broader team in support of the school at large.

With the advent of the 2016–2017 school year, the Parent Council welcomed its new head, Sakina Ligon, who brings loads of both professional and personal experience to bear in her new position. Accepting the role, she said, allows her to get involved in a very direct way in her daughter’s first year at TNCS.

Brief Bio

Sakina Ligon is the Assistant Director of Student Life and an adjunct instructor with the Community College of Baltimore County. Having earned an M.S. in Higher Education Administration from Baruch College—The City University of New York, Ms. Ligon’s professional interests focus on student development and equitable access for all students.

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Sakina Ligon, Head of TNCS Parent Council (among many other things!)

In this capacity, she also serves as secretary for the National Council on Student Development and co-chair for the 2016 National Council on Student Development Conference, is a member of the Maryland Community College Association Directors Association, and serves as a mentor for Sister’s Circle™, a local non-profit dedicated to “[empowering] at-risk girls to define success for themselves, make intentional decisions about their futures, and become self-sufficient young women.”

Parent Council Goals and Initiatives

With Ms. Ligon now at the helm, the Parent Council has formalized its mission as well as specific goals for the 2016–2017 school year. They are committed to assisting the TNCS community with enriching the children’s experience by continuing to offer opportunities for their exploration, learning, and development. Their mission is:

  • To foster communication between all constituencies
  • To provide support to the teachers and administration
  • To assist with fundraising initiatives
  • To coordinate special school events to help enrich each student experience as well as subsidize the overall cost of the co-curricular experience

In support of these goals, so far this year the Parent Council has launched a LabelDaddy campaign that has not only at least temporarily retired the Lost & Found bin (because student belongings are clearly labeled—use promo code TNCS!), but also raises funds for the school, as well as the Harris Teeter fundraiser, Together in Education (TNCS can now earn a percentage of each purchase when TNCS families link their VIC cards and shop Harris Teeter brands using TNCS Code 3528).

Ms. Ligon says that an ancillary goal she hopes to pursue relates back to a TNCS Core Value—service. “We want to work on giving back not just to the school but also to the community in general,” she said. This involves both community events as well as service projects. Such initiatives the council will help the TNCS community tackle throughout this year are as follows.

  • Family Dance Night with the Charles Street Fiddlers on November 5th to support the second annual upper elementary trip to Echo Hill Outdoor School (read about last year’s here). See our Facebook event for more information: Family Dance Night.
  • Teacher Appreciation will take place during American Education Week (November 14th through 18th), with the theme that teachers are our real-life superheroes. Parent volunteers will be asked to help out on a teachers’ luncheon, and students will decorate the school and make goodie bags.
  • Project Linus: Provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers.” Our blanketeers will be TNCS 3rd- through 6th-graders, collaborating on the “No-Sew Fleece Blanket” shown below.tncs-parent-council-initiative
  • Random Acts of Kindness: This initiative will target service from TNCS’s younger students and involves decorating bags and filling them with items that might brighten someone’s day.
  • Rice: “Most cultures use rice, and they each have particular ways to prepare and eat it,” said Ms. Ligon. So, during Sprit Week in February, the last day of the week will be a cultural day and could serve as a potluck, highlighting rice. Details to come!

In these ways, the new Parent Council adopts a three-pronged approach to much-needed school initiatives: fundraising, community events, and service. In closing, Ms. Ligon very rightly reminds us to stay involved. “I hope everyone will embrace the Parent Council. I’m happy to help out wherever I can, but it’s more than me—it has to be a collective effort,” she said. That collective effort will provide all manner of assistance to the school and to our local community. Importantly, it will also model community-oriented behavior for our kids, helping them to develop into the citizens this world needs.

Guest Blog: Alicia Danyali on Mindset

Alicia DanyaliContinuing to bring you thoughtful commentary from a variety of sources, Immersed presents the second annual guest blog post from The New Century School‘s Head of School Alicia Danyali.

This summer, I came across a book that spoke to me personally and professionally.  In fact, I loved the messages it shared on every page so much, I found myself carrying the book around in my purse and sharing the title and its contents with anyone who would listen.  Although the subject matter was not a new idea to me nor was the information presented unfamiliar in any way, in reflection, the message was a reminder of how I want to live my life to its full potential and share these sentiments with everyone I come in contact with, and hope they “jump on my bandwagon.”

The book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (How We Can Learn To Fulfill Our Potential), by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. is not a new concept or theme among humans, but instead, a much needed reminder as we all tend to get “caught up” in the hectic, overstimulating world in which we live to take the necessary time to think through how our words shape potential and the messages we send, starting with ourselves.

As TNCS Head of School, and someone who has dedicated the majority of my working years to education, this paragraph from Mindset spoke to me more than any other:

As parents, teachers, and coaches, we are entrusted with people’s lives. They are our responsibility and our legacy. We now know that the growth mindset had a key role to play in helping us fulfill our mission and in helping them fulfill their potential.

Believing strongly in these ideas, I am continually finding ways to integrate them into the curriculum. Thus, during our next Professional Growth and Development Day on October 21st, the elementary and middle school teachers will have the wonderful opportunity to participate in a Mindset Workshop directed by Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish.  The growth mindset directly relates to TNCS’s Core Values and our mission of embracing and celebrating a healthy belief in self in the classroom and life.

I encourage the TNCS community to view Dr. Dweck’s TED Talk and peruse the Mindset Works website to gain a deeper perspective on this topic. Visit Cultivating a Growth Mindset at TNCS for an earlier Immersed post on Growth Mindset and Dr. Dweck.