AMS-Baltimore Camp Enjoys Second Amazing Year at TNCS!

At The New Century School, music education is extremely important:

Music instruction has always been an important component of TNCS’s dedication to educating the whole child. Music is a meaningful part of every TNCS student’s academic journey, and music happens throughout the day, including during cultural study. In addition, formal music classes are available both during and outside the school day to elementary and middle school students.

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

As the school has grown, so has the music department and the opportunities it offers. Last summer, TNCS strings instructor Yoshiaki (“Yoshi”) Horiguchi brought the first-ever American Music System (AMS) Camp to Baltimore, and a whole new avenue for music exploration opened up at TNCS. This year, AMC-Baltimore’s second year in existence, kept the music alive and branched out in some great new ways.

What is American Music Camp-Baltimore?

It all started in Charleston, SC—in fact, that’s where TNCS Co-Founders/Co-Executive Directors met Yoshi, then a camp instructor. According to the AMC website:

The purpose of American Music System . . .. is to create and support educational environments and activities that develop and nurture the musical and social skills needed for children to participate meaningfully in the rich culture of musical diversity in the Americas. Our top priority is quality education for all interested students through example, instruction, and mentoring. We strive to make these environments and activities affordable to families of all income levels.

amc-smallAmerican Music Camps have locations throughout the east coast, and AMC-Baltimore is the newest addition to the family (check out American Music System Summer Camp at TNCS! to learn more about its inaugural year last summer). While every American Music Camp has traditional American music at its core, each camp location has its own unique experience to offer. AMC-Baltimore, for example, is proud to include a bucket band and beat boxing in its curriculum, music-making specific to this region. Music that is common to all camp locations includes traditional music from the Appalachian Mountains to Bluegrass and Blues. Much of the music they learn has been passed down through many generations—some, like the Texas Waltzes you can view at the end, had never been transcribed until now but had lived on in the oral/aural tradition.

Students learn from world-class faculty who perform American Music in all parts of the country and get the opportunity to play in ensembles and learn how to improvise. This year’s camp instructor lineup included Emilie Catlett, Rob Flax, Yoshiaki Horiguchi (also Camp Director), and Melissa Tong. (Click their names to learn more about them or download their bios here.) Yoshi, Rob, and Melissa returned to AMC-Baltimore from last year’s camp, and Emilie joined afresh.

To qualify, students needed at least 6 months instruction on violin, viola, cello, bass, piano, or guitar. As many students study music through the Suzuki Method, AMC-Baltimore understands the importance of aligning with this method, offering the chance to hone skills and continue with daily practice while exploring music that is outside the Suzuki Method repertoire.

tncs-amc-baltimore-summer-campYoshi explained that each student received a lanyard at the start of camp that contained the student’s ID as well that student’s itinerary of classes.

 

Above all, students are encouraged to apply their hard work in an engaging and fun musical environment. AMC-Baltimore’s nickname—fiddle camp—says it all!

Making Music Magic

The thing about descriptions of AMC-Baltimore is that, although certainly a starting point, they can’t do this amazing camp justice. What happens during the week of strumming, drumming, picking, and singing is nothing short of magic. Students become receptive to and experience music in a way that formal instruction precludes. Parents report that their children start saying things like, “I didn’t know the notes, but if I closed my eyes, I could see the music.” Although trained from early ages to read music, they start picking up songs by ear. They are encouraged to jam, extrapolate, and improvise, and they are open to doing so because they see how much fun the instructors are having while modeling this approach to music-making. Oh! Music is fun!

So, if seeing (and hearing, in this case) is believing, here are some videos of in-class practice. Videos of the final performance students put on at the end of the week for families can be found below. (Also check out TNCS’s YouTube channel for even more!)

The above three videos show students separated by level (first is students with less experience; bottom two are advanced), but, “depending on the class,” says instructor Rob Flax, “some things are also all-group activities. There are really no rules, so whatever happens, happens. It’s a very carefree and exciting way to get creative.”

We’re Jammin’

A song called “Lobster Socks” grew out of one of these impromptu sessions (as well as Rob’s sartorial choices) but took on chords and a melody as more and more students caught the spirit. Said Rob: “We are looking to take music off the page and explore different stylistic ornamentation. Students learn how the different harmonies work and all the nuts and bolts that make up a song.”

(Rob’s verbal explanations were accompanied by musical demonstrations of what he was describing, which you can listen to here, to get the full experience.)

The way our jam sessions work is, we’re all sitting in a big circle, and anyone can start a song. As soon as I can figure out what the first note is, I can jump on in. Hopefully everybody jumps in. We tell the students, ‘if you’re not sure how this song goes, wait and listen. Maybe try and figure the notes out by ear as we go, or ask a teacher, or look at the chords on the board.’ Everybody find something to do—even if it’s slapping their cellos to a beat, like Yoshi does with his double bass. They can also do solos. A student just comes to the middle of the circle and improvises something that might be completely different from the melody of the song and just be as silly or creative as they want, then step back out and let the group take over again. The way we end a song is by sticking a foot in the air to signal that this is the last time!

There’s magic in that process. The jam sessions is where a great deal of discovery happens. I love to see, at the end of the day after all our other organized chaos, students finishing their day and still playing as they leave the room because they’re so excited. They’re still participating even after the show has ended, so to speak. That means we’re doing something right. That’s my favorite part.

Bucket Band

A perennial favorite among kids, bucket band rose to new levels, thanks to Rob’s instruction in Indian and Persian scales, among other types of music. Each student gets the chance to riff on a theme in “Rufus,” and the other videos show percussion instruction of increasing complexity. The drumstick “rabbit ears” you may see signify that the song is done.

Welcoming New Participants

This year, in addition to camp enrollees, AMC-Baltimore welcomed two students from OrchKids as well as a raffle winner from Patterson Park Public Charter School to join fiddle camp.

“OrchKids is a year-round, during and after school, music program designed to create social change and nurture promising futures for youth in Baltimore City neighborhoods,” according to their website, and Ayanna Wiggins and Isiah Dixon agree with that description. Yoshi was an OrchKids teacher for 8 years and had the “pleasure and privilege” of teaching both Ayanna and Isiah during his tenure there. He reached out to some of the site coordinators for suggestions of students who might be available to attend camp, and out of about 1,000 OrchKids among eight sites, Ayanna and Isiah were chosen to participate.

jnf6iAyanna, entering 10th grade in the 2018–2019 school year, has been playing violin for 7 1/2 years. She got into playing violin at Lockerman Bundy Elementary—the school where OrchKids debuted its program. “I like the sound of the violin—I just fell in love with it,” she explained. “And it was something to keep me productive.” She plans to apply to Harvard and Yale law schools in the next 2 years, but, “If being a lawyer doesn’t work out, I want to go to Julliard,” she said.

QJYm6Isiah, entering 8th grade, has been playing cello for 9 years. “In my 1st-grade year at Lockerman Bundy, I tried the cello and didn’t like it. Then I tried the clarinet and didn’t like that, so I went back to cello. Now I like it,” he said. He plans to pursue a music degree in college, supplemented by basketball.

Both OrchKids students enjoyed AMC-Baltimore very much, calling it “fantastic.” “With younger kids,” said Ayanna, “I get to be a mentor they can look up to. I can show them how enjoyable playing music is and motivate them.”

Final Performance

From “Boil ’em Cabbage Down” to “Elk River Blues,” the tunes delighted the audience and musicians alike. (But, sorry, no “Lobster Socks.”)

Mark your calendars for next year, folks, because AMC-Baltimore’s third year will bring even more of the music-making magic!

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TNCS’s Music Program Crescendoes!

Music education is essential at The New Century School. From classroom informal singing to formal vocal and instrumentation instruction to guest performances by professional musicians, TNCS exposes children daily to music in many forms.

As TNCS has grown and developed over the years, the music program has continued to evolve alongside. It’s time Immersed breaks it all down and shows readers what each piece looks like (sounds like?) and how the individual pieces fit together, well, harmoniously, all year long—including during summer and before, during, and after school.

TNCS’s Maestro: Martellies Warren

IMG_7074Music Director Martellies Warren has always been the linchpin of the TNCS music program. In addition to providing lessons in music history and on specific musicians, he also starts each academic year off with vocal instruction to prepare students for the two annual Winter and Spring Concerts (one each for primary students, one each for elementary and middle school students). These have grown in scope and intensity, with each somehow topping the last. Each show features a variety of songs in Mandarin Chinese and Spanish as well as a themed set of songs.

This year’s Spring Concert theme on May 18th was Dancing in the Streets, and the sound of Motown was prominent. “I’m always trying to make sure the concert is going to be as spectacular as it was the time before,” said Mr. Warren. “The students take great pride in it. From the time I introduce music at the beginning of the school year, I’m already thinking about what the children gravitate to. I played a little Motown, and they absolutely loved it.”

See the gallery below for photos of TNCS art teacher Jenny Miller’s beautiful set design, with album art help from her students. Check out TNCS’s Facebook page and YouTube channel for videos of individual performances.

For more on the limitless talent of Stellar Award–winning and Grammy-nominated Mr. Warren, see Music Is in the Air at TNCS! and TNCS Goes to the Grammys!.

Music Lessons at TNCS

But vocalization is not the only type of music class at TNCS. Instrument lessons are also offered in a variety of settings.

Have you visited the TNCS Music Education page? Click here.

Extracurricular String Lessons

In 2016, TNCS brought on acclaimed bassist Yoshiaki Horiguchi to teach beginning violin, viola, and cello lessons as well as leading more advanced string ensembles. These classes happen before and after school and are a great way for students to first learn the basics and subsequently use their skills to perform together.

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To read more about beloved Mr. Yoshi, visit TNCS Launches Strings Program Yoshiaki Horiguchi!.

Space is always made in the Winter and Spring Concerts for Mr. Yoshi’s students to play a few songs, and their technical proficiency is impressive. Check out TNCS’s Facebook page and YouTube channel for videos of a play set to music and an original composition (yes, original!) by one of the strings students.

Although Mr. Yoshi is classically trained, he is no stranger to music’s funkier sides, which brings a lot of fun to his TNCS classes. He has taught bucket drumming to various groups, for example, and, perhaps unknown to most until today’s Spring Concert, he is also an accomplished beat boxer. Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie, watch out. (Got a kid who wants to learn beat boxing? Scroll below to Music in Summer!)

Instrument Exploratory

In 2017, TNCS began offering an optional semester-long class each year to allow students in grades 2–8 to explore various instrument groups. Taught by Mr. Warren during music class, woodwind exploratory covers flute for 5 weeks, followed by clarinet for 5 weeks. Brass exploratory, which happened this year, covers trumpet for 5 weeks, followed by trombone for 5 weeks. The instrument groups covered alternate each year.

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Trombone is Mr. Warren’s preferred instrument (apart from his vocal cords), but he started with the saxophone:

As a boy, I was all ready to play the sax, and I thought it looked so cool. I got to the music store in Montgomery, AL, picked up the sax and tried to play it. I knew it was going to take some time, but I got so frustrated because I just could not get it to sound like the guys on TV. So I begged my mom to take me back to the store, and she told me I needed to pick something and stick with it, to give it some time. The salesman suggested the trombone, and I immediately loved it. This was in 7th grade, and I became section leader and first chair all through junior high and high school.

Trombone has been well liked in Instrument Exploratory as well, but trumpet has so far been most popular of all. Mr. Warren thinks this is because kids can readily produce sounds on the trumpet, whereas some struggled last year with the flute (with one very notable exception).

“Flute is not a very easy instrument to play,” explained Mr. Warren. “You have to direct that air just right to get it to produce a sound. But that’s the experience we’re after. We’re not expecting amazing instrumentalists right away, but we want them to at least pick up instruments and see how they feel and how they sound. Maybe they’ll fall in love with something.”

More than one love affair with an instrument has happened already, which makes Mr. Warren “ecstatic.”

“They are doing some really wonderful things with brass and taking off with it. At this age, children are trying to find themselves, and we want to make sure that we’re offering whatever we can to assist them, especially musically. Whatever we can introduce to them now, even though they may not pick up on it right away, we hope that this will help sustain a lifelong love of music. Some may even make careers out of it.

His approach to teaching instruments is to start out with the fundamentals and systematically build on those, bit by bit. First, Mr. Warren “sets the tone” by insisting on good etiquette—musicians must sit up straight with their feet on the floor, and they must not interrupt while a fellow musician is talking or playing. Step two is to get everyone in tune. From there, they practice various exercises, each becoming more complex than the last.

Recorder Instruction

Those students not opting in for Instrument Exploratory receive recorder lessons during music class from Javais Bazemore (“Mr. J.” to students). Mr. J. says, “Recorder is what I grew up on, but I’ll play anything with a pipe. For me, recorder is the first thing that you start with. If you can read recorder music, you can read other music. It opens your eyes up to see exactly how it works.”

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He also sings and plays piano and guitar, but recorder remains his main gig, and he played it in band throughout his school years and even into college at North Carolina State University. “Being in band built a lot of character for me, and we felt like a family. We had a strict instructor who insisted that we respect our instruments and show discipline,” he explained. “Here at TNCS, we just want to show students how to read music because you can start with that and go to anything else, really.”

Mr. J. is from Baltimore and came to TNCS through the suggestions of friends and his mother that he should work with children. He started in the TNCS aftercare program, loved it, and has since added various other roles, including teaching recorder. He demonstrated his musical ability to Mr. Warren, who deemed him a good fit.

IMG_0573“It’s really fun to see where the kids are now, from where they started. I can just play a note like a G, and they know how to play it back with no problem,” said Mr. J. “I gave them incentive at the beginning. I told them that if they showed me they can remember all the notes, I’d give them a 30-minute play break at the end of school.” He didn’t necessarily believe that would happen. “Little did I know, they outsmarted me and became really cohesive, teaching each other,” he laughed.

“This has been really great,” said Mr. J. “I love the kids. They’re just so smart. They’re like sponges—they want to soak up everything, and it’s really good to be around them.”

Band Ensemble

With a solid foundation in place from instrument exploratory or recorder lessons, these young musicians are ready to play together during the last couple of weeks of school. “Students can choose from trombone, trumpet, clarinet, flute, and recorder, said Mr. Warren. “We’ll come together and do somewhat of an ensemble, which should be really fun.” In fact, all students Grade 2 and up participate in band, which was composed of 18 recorder players, 5 clarinetists, 6 trumpet players, 3 trombonists, and 1 brave flautist.

As with Instrument Exploratory, exercises start simply and build in complexity.

Special Guest Performances

Music education doesn’t just take place in front of an audience. Sometimes, experiencing music as part of the audience opens students up to it in new and important ways. A new performance series begins at the end of May, featuring professional guest musicians. “Meet the Musicians” will start with a brief concert by each musician, followed up by a Q&A for students to learn about what it’s like to pursue a career in music.

Louna Dekker-Vargas will play the flute; Osi Atikphh, the tuba; and Mateen Milan, the bassoon, giving TNCS students a break from performing and allowing them to relax and enjoy the music.

Music in Summer

We all know that the saying “No more pencils, no more books” no longer applies to summer break, and playing music is no different. To keep skills sharp, children must continue practicing during the summer months.

TNCS has that covered, too. Back for the second year in a row, American Music Camp students learn from faculty who perform American Music (e.g., old-time music from the Appalachian Mountains to traditional Bluegrass) in all parts of the country. Students have the opportunity to play in ensembles and learn how to improvise—no improvisation experience needed.

Directed by Mr. Yoshi, AMC Baltimore includes a bucket band and beat boxing in its curriculum, bringing a facet of American music that is unique to this region. No matter what his or her experience level is, any student will fit right in. Each class is taught by world-class faculty and performers from Baltimore and throughout the country.

Read about last year’s absolutely amazing inaugural AMC camp: American Music System Summer Camp at TNCS!

But that’s not all. Debuting this year is an all-new musical theatre camp taught by none other than Mr. Warren. This came about, he explains, “because a lot of TNCS students are interested in what happens behind the scenes and are curious about what it’s like to be a working music professional. They’re always asking, ‘Mr. Warren what do you do? How do you feel on stage? What’s the preparation? Do you rehearse a lot? Do you do vocal exercises?’ So my hope for this summer is to give them a taste of what it takes to be a performer on stage, how to channel emotions into theatrical form.”

His plans for theatrical music camp include building sets and doing monologues in addition to musicality. “It should be really fun and, hopefully, maybe spark someone’s interest in theater. That’s my hope,” he says. Parents can attend a performance at the end of the camp week.


Register your child for a music (or any other) camp this summer here. Also plan to enroll your child in a music class for the 2018–2019 school year. Both in-school and extracurricular lessons are affordable and taught by TNCS’s wonderful music instructors.

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 Primary Classes Jazz It Up!

Mr. Warren and a sax-playing TNCS granddad!

Mr. Warren and a sax-playing TNCS granddad!

Of the myriad things that The New Century School does very well, two of them are undoubtedly emphasizing the Arts and providing abundant opportunities for family involvement in the child’s schoolday. These two features dovetailed beautifully this week when a TNCS granddad joined the primary classes for a musical event. Each month, primary teacher and music teacher Martellies Warren holds a singalong for the combined four primary classrooms; this time, they were accompanied by a professional saxophone player all the way from California!

Mr. Warren introduced their guest and explained that he would be telling them all about himself and his instrument, after which they would all have a chance to make some music together, and finally the primary students would have a chance to ask all the questions they were bubbling over with. Having played the sax since he was 10 years old, this TNCS granddad had lots to share, including his stint with a swing band, during which he realized that jazz was his thing. He described why the sax looks the way it does and how it makes sound.

He also explained how jazz differs from other music: “We write beautiful music, and we put chords to the music. Then we play a melody. The jazz musician has the privilege of composing  while he’s playing. He makes up his own melodies based on the songwriter’s intentions. That’s what jazz is all about.” He  demonstrated with a tune he knew the kids would recognize—“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

This prompted another round of questions and observations from the kids. “Why is the instrument sometimes loud?” asked one little girl. “In music we call that dynamics. Sometimes you play soft and sometimes you play loud.” Mr. Warren and guest obligingly demonstrated forte (loud) and piano (soft) playing for the audience. Another student asked to hear the musical scale, and Mr. Warren seized the opportunity to have the kids practice their solfège.

The special event closed with two songs from Frozen. Playing “Let It Go” and “Do You Want To Build a Snowman” for the very first time, TNCS’s sax-playing granddad has inspired a new generation to appreciate jazz!

Their entertainer left them with some important advice: “Anybody in this room who wants to become a musician should learn the piano first, no matter what instrument you want to play. Everything is based off piano chords, so you have a big advantage over other musicians if you know piano.”

Mr. Warren might just have a roomful of aspiring musicians during next month’s singalong!

Music Is in the Air at TNCS!

 

TNCS Music Director and Lead Montessori Teacher in one of the primary classrooms, Martellies Warren.

TNCS Music Director and Lead Montessori Teacher in one of the primary classrooms, Martellies Warren.

With the Spring Concert upon us, this seemed like the ideal time to profile The New Century School‘s talented and passionate music teacher Martellies Warren. Many of you know Mr. Warren as one of TNCS’s lead Montessori teachers in the primary classroom, and certainly all TNCS parents know him as the maestro behind those afterschool snatches of chorus, those sudden breaks into full-voiced song, and even those vibratto notes (held surprisingly long!) from the kids. But did you also know that Mr. Warren is a professional touring vocalist with gospel group Anthony Brown and Group Therapy?

This musician brings the chops! A native of Montgomery, AL, as a child Mr. Warren was always humming and singing jingles from commercials. “My mom noticed that I seemed to be musically inclined and so she bought me a little keyboard.” He immediately demonstrated an ability to pick out tunes on the keyboard, so the next step was piano lessons, beginning around age 10. By high school, he started formal singing lessons and won first place at his very first vocal competition. The late Dr. Nathan Carter who was Music Director and Chairman of the Music Board at Morgan State University here in Baltimore got wind of this rising star and traveled to Montgomery to recruit him for the music program. On a full vocal scholarship, Mr. Warren arrived in Baltimore in 1998 and began performing across the United States and in Europe with the Morgan State University Choir. He also began performing in musicals such as Porgy and Bess with the now-defunct Baltimore Opera Company and others.

After graduating with a classical music degree in voice as well as a degree in education, he decided to make Baltimore his home. “My love for music really blossomed at college, where it started with classical music.” he said. “Now I do classical, gospel, and jazz, and I use my classical training to sing those different types of styles.” In addition to playing the piano, he also picked up trombone along the way, his other main instrument. “I also used to be a band teacher, so I can feel my way around most instruments,” he said. When asked why he took a detour from his music studies into education, he explained, “Being an artist, you never know if you’re going to get a gig. It’s kind of a glass ceiling—I could see more, but I couldn’t get there. I wanted to make sure I had financial stability even while touring or making an album, so I got that education degree under my belt. It started as something to fall back on, but then I fell in love with teaching. So now I teach and sing!”

As it turns out, his dual loves mesh perfectly at TNCS, where he both teaches and teaches music, but the path to TNCS wasn’t perfectly smooth. He started teaching in Baltimore City schools and almost wearied of education altogether. He despaired at what was happening to The Arts in public schools. “Going to work everyday and trying to do the best you can to give the kids a quality [music] education,” he says, “and realizing that your hands are tied and there’s only so much you can do because of the lack of resources and materials and the lack of support for The Arts is heartbreaking. I almost walked away from teaching.”

After a brief hiatus lasting a few months, he answered an ad to substitute teach at the very traditional Julia Brown Montessori School (credited with bringing Montessori teaching to Maryland). There, he ended up getting certified in the Montessori method, teaching for 7 years, and also serving as administrator before realizing that his heart is in the classroom with the kids. In 2012, he arrived at TNCS. He likes TNCS’s somewhat less traditional Montessori approach that allows him the room to bring in the music. In his own primary classroom, he incorporates a lot of it, whether singing songs together as a class or with classical music playing in the background, which he says helps keep the atmosphere calm and the kids focused. He appreciates that music is not “last on the totem pole, first to go” at TNCS. Instead, it’s considered essential, as all of “the specials” are fundamental to the TNCS approach to educating the “whole child.” “I’m passionate about being a music educator,” he says. “To have someone devalue that or not see it as essential is heartbreaking. Allowing children to have art and music alongside the academics brings back the sparkle in their eyes. It makes them happy.”

A primary class having a music lesson with Mr. Warren seated at the piano (not visible from this angle).

Primary students practice recognizing the notes of the music scale and demonstrating them with hand gestures.

Primary students practice recognizing the notes of the music scale and demonstrating them with hand gestures.

“The wonderful thing about coming to The New Century School is that I wasn’t held to a curriculum. They said, ‘We trust you. We trust your expertise. Let us know what you would like to bring to the school.’ So that’s what I did. I brought my love for performances, my love for the skillset—the educational portion. I try to give the kids a really good mix of everything.”

No performance-goer could deny that the bi-annual concerts at TNCS have scaled new heights under his tutelage. The Spring Concert underway currently was inspired by his love for the performing arts. “I have always had an affinity for the theater,” he said. In addition to playing the lead in Porgy and Bess, he has performed in The Wiz, Into the Woods, and others. “I decided to start the year by teaching about composers—Bach, Mozart—listening to music, and breaking down that aspect. So the first half of the school year was very structured. The children were interested, but they couldn’t wait to get back into the performance aspect! We saved the second half to let loose, have a little fun, and explore some different things.”

“I thought, why not try Broadway?” he said. “I want to do something different each year, to continue to evolve. The kids have really taken to showtunes, so even though Broadway is a huge undertaking, I think the children are doing a wonderful job.” They first delved into the history of Broadway and that particular area of New York City as well as the concept of what it would take for a school-aged child to perform on Broadway. “They were shocked to learn that children perform on Broadway. The number one question I got was, ‘How do they go to school?'” he said. “Everything you have to do, including homework, they have to do, too, plus rehearse and perform in daily shows.” This gave him the ideal opportunity to discuss the discipline required to pursue a career in the arts. Drawing on his own childhood, he explained that kids who want to be performers might have to trade playtime for practice and rehearsal. “They were really blown away by that.”

Making this connection to their own lives has only deepened their enthusiasm for putting on this show. The assortment of songs comes from several Broadway shows, including Mary Poppins; The Wiz; The Wizard of Oz; Annie, Get Your Gun; and Matilda. “Matilda is the standout this year; the kids really love that one so we’re doing three songs from that.” He has even included a top-hat number from On Broadway in the line-up. “I revised the lyrics to make it more kid-friendly,” he said, laughing.

What performers inspire him personally? “Classically, I’ve always been a huge fan of Luciano Pavarotti,” he says. Other favorites include the great jazz trumpeter Winton Marsalis, the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, and the inimitable Frank Sinatra. His own voice is classified as tenor. Once a lyric tenor, he says all of his years teaching have deepened his voice and he now considers himself more of a “dramatic” tenor. As for his own music, although he compares the timbre of his voice to Pavarotti’s, his preferred genre is gospel, where he is something of a superstar.

In addition to performing with some of gospel’s biggest names, such as Dove Award–winning Maurette Brown-Clark, mega-producer Donald Lawrence, Tonex, the incomparable Lecresia Campbell, and many more, he is also a founding member of the Pi Eta chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia national music fraternity. And then there are his awards. Anthony Brown and Group Therapy took away three Stellar Awards this year, which Mr. Warren describes as “gospel’s equivalent to the Grammys.” They won Best Video of the Year (for “Testimony,” which you can view here), Best Male Contemporary Singer of the Year, and Best Group of the Year. Stellar indeed! Anthony Brown and Group Therapy also had the distinction of being the opening act on Season 7 of BET’s “Sunday Best,” which will air July 13th.

Television appearances, music videos, concerts, award ceremonies . . . how does he manage to do all that and still accomplish all that he does at TNCS? “It’s a juggling act,” he laughs, “to make sure my music career doesn’t conflict with my teaching. But my children get as much of me as possible.” He is also quick to point out that he keeps the two careers separate in other ways. “I try to be mindful of everyone’s religious beliefs. My music is Christian-based, but I like to share what I’m doing with TNCS parents just to keep them in the loop. I always try to make it clear that this is not a part of TNCS, this is me. We have so many different ethnicities and religions and beliefs at the school, and we come together and we make a huge melting pot community. That’s the awesome part of The New Century School.”

Certainly, the multicultural atmosphere TNCS strives for is something parents value tremendously. But TNCS’s incredible, amazing, loving, talented, dedicated staff might also be what makes the school so “awesome.” Thank you for all you do, Mr. Warren!