Sharing My Love for Music through Teaching in Schools

by Martin Bakari, M.M. – Voice

Some of the most enriching experiences I have had at Juilliard have been through Educational Outreach’s Morse Fellowship. I was particularly drawn to this fellowship because it not only allows Juilliard students to teach in elementary, middle, and high schools in the city, but it also gives them the freedom to regularly plan and present their own lessons and units as lead teachers. As a Morse Fellow, I am currently teaching general music to 4th and 5th grade boys at the George Jackson Academy in the East Village, and the experience has provided me with great joy and fulfillment.

What I love most about being a singer is having the opportunity to share with others the art that has had such an incredible impact on my life. As a teacher, I am able to do the same thing in a different but equally impactful way. Each week, I get to share with my students musical artists and genres that have had a significant influence on me and the music world as a whole. As my students are still at a relatively young and impressionable age, I often have the pleasure of exposing them to important artists and pieces for the very first time and they receive them with refreshingly open minds.

In our opening unit, we discussed the phenomenon of sound and pondered the age-old question of “What constitutes music?” In our exploration of some of the non-traditional sounds that can be found in new music, I was able to introduce my students to works by some of my favorite modern composers in John Harbison, Leonard Bernstein, and John Cage, and the kids got to compose a piece of their own using random objects found in the classroom. In our blues unit we discussed the origin, form, major artists, and influence of the genre, and each student wrote and performed his own blues song about what was presently getting him down. A unit on the male singing voice allowed us to explore the bass, baritone, tenor, and countertenor voices in various genres including jazz, country, rock, opera, R&B, and musical theater, and gave us the opportunity to examine and enjoy performances by such greats as Luciano Pavarotti, Nat King Cole, Paul Robeson, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, and Paul McCartney.

In preparing and teaching these lessons, I have been able to learn even more about the musicians and genres that I love while introducing my students to some of the greatest artists and pieces in recorded history. I still remember the first time I watched a production of West Side Story, heard John Coltrane improvise, watched Michael Jackson perform, and listened to a Mahler symphony. These experiences left me forever changed. To have the opportunity to give these and similar experiences to young people is truly a gift and a privilege.