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1st Academy Fellows Graduate

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On June 11 in the Rohatyn Room at Carnegie Hall, The Academy—A program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and The Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education—celebrated the end of its 2007-08 season with a proper send-off for the first group of fellows to graduate from the two-year fellowship, marking the end of the second pilot season of this newly designed program. Staff members from these three organizations, along with teachers and principals from the schools the fellows worked in, were in attendance to congratulate the Academy’s first graduates. Among the speakers at the morning reception was pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe, who had been nominated by her peers to represent the graduating class and share her experiences with the program, and who agreed to let us reprint her speech in our pages.

Elizabeth Joy Roe with her "star student," Melanie

Elizabeth Joy Roe with her "star student," Melanie, at her fifth-grade graduation at P.S. 131Q (the Abigail Adams School) in Queens.

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Good morning. I am truly honored to be addressing such a distinguished audience full of colleagues, mentors, friends, leaders; people whom I respect, admire, and love. Today marks an end and a new beginning, and it is a day of celebration: for the inaugural graduating class of The Academy—A Program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and The Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education, and everyone who has been involved in this unique fellowship. I am humbly speaking on behalf of the second-year fellows of the Academy, of which I’m a very proud member.

What has the Academy meant to us? I can personally say that my experiences here have led me to greater awareness, clarity of purpose, and renewed inspiration. From the moment I received a phone call in fall 2006 from Rachel Sokolow with the invitation to join a brand-new program of unusual scope, I knew that a remarkable opportunity had serendipitously fallen onto my path.

Looking back at my initial impressions of the Academy, I recall entering the Kaplan Space at Carnegie Hall on a cold morning in January 2007 with a mixture of anticipation and uncertainty about what I had signed up for. My initial uncertainty metamorphosed into fascination upon hearing compelling speeches given by the directors of the program. I also found the orientation activities refreshingly insightful, especially the “ways of seeing” aesthetic exercises. How wonderful and almost radically simple it was to consider art without labels and hyper-intellectual theories, and just to open our eyes and tap into our intuition. The wonderment, simplicity, and intuitiveness of my perspectives that day didn’t end there; I eventually encountered these qualities even more powerfully in the perspectives of my young students.

Another thing that was apparent from the very start was the uniqueness of the people in this program, from the marvelous staff members to my proactive, perceptive, outspoken, energetic colleagues. I thought to myself, these are exactly the kinds of people I’d like to be around—and it’s fortunate I felt that way, because I’ve ended up spending a significant part of my life with these individuals! To be sure, the pilot phase of the program was a time of growing pains, trial and error, bumps and triumphs, but in just a few short months it was heartening to feel our bonds strengthen as a collective, especially as a performance ensemble.

After this promising start, a new crop of fellows joined the original members, amplifying our army of educational crusaders and enterprising musicians. Throughout the past nine months we’ve bonded at our two Skidmore College residencies, where we delved guerrilla-style into the school community as well as the local karaoke bar (now, thatwas one sensational show!); on- and offstage at performances at Carnegie Hall and Juilliard; at Faces and Names, our appointed post-concert hangout; in meetings for independent projects; and in countless moments during rehearsals, forums, and the seemingly endless treks to Carroll Music Studios. Yes, there have been times we’ve voiced concerns over scheduling, various policies, rehearsals, programming, commuting, etc., but the truth is, we’ve done so primarily because we care deeply about the development and success of this program, and a multitude of issues matter to us at this pivotal juncture in our professional and personal lives.

Speaking of personal lives, we’ve all had to deal with our share of ups and downs, from health problems to grueling travel schedules to relationship complications to steep living costs to troubling world affairs. In the midst of all this, the Academy has provided us with a reassuring structure as well as a genuine sense of community and belonging. And of course, I’ve always felt utterly grateful to be a part of this program because it has given me the privilege of working with children who have had a transformative impact on me, and I have been humbled through my exposure to teachers, administrators, and artists who devote their lives to such noble work.

Being thrust into the classroom was perhaps the greatest revelation for all of us. Although we embarked upon our school residency with an extensive arsenal of educational tools, tips, and methodology, we quickly realized that nothing could fully prepare us for the chaos, the lulls, the surprises, the arduousness, and the exhilaration of the public school teaching experience. Having attended public school all the way until college, it was utterly poignant for me to return to the classroom, this time in a teaching role. In this environment, familiar yet somehow foreign, I reaped valuable life lessons: I learned to be more patient, more spontaneous, more resilient, more alert, more resourceful, more fearless, and more present. I learned to recognize how golden the “teachable moment” can be and that an effective teacher doesn’t always stick to plan: sometimes you have to improvise according to whatever cues the kids give you, much like a skilled jazz player. I literally played it by ear on many occasions! There is no scientific formula to teaching—and thus teaching, like playing music, is an activity that constantly keeps us in touch with our essential humanity, our flaws and our potential. Without a doubt, working with young people has brought me—and many of us here—fulfillment of the highest degree. There are no words to describe how moved I was to see my students perform on Zankel Hall’s stage last month.

I hope we all remember the Academy’s ultimate mission—everything that Clive Gillinson and Joseph Polisi have exhorted—and it is up to us to keep this message burning bright. Now, I will invoke Obama’s oft-quoted motto, “Yes, we can,” because it certainly applies to what we all can aim for, in and out of this program. Yes, we can strive to be both performers of the highest level and galvanizing educators. Yes, we can contribute positively to society as involved citizens and artistic ambassadors. Yes, we can empower others through our art. Yes, we can shatter misperceptions of classical musicians as egoistic and out-of-touch with reality, we can inspire the field to become more engaged in the world, and we can transcend the divide between elitism and populism in our culture. Yes, we can be passionate about our music, our ideals, and our vision. It’s time to bring in the light and to not resort to cynicism! Yes, we can learn from our students’ spirit of adventure by exploring possibilities, taking chances, and embracing every moment. Yes, we can make our lives and the lives of others extraordinary.

In closing, I need to express my sincerest gratitude to the following people: first and foremost, the superlative Academy staff of incredible women—Amy Rhodes, Rachel Sokolow, Betsie Becker, Aimee Milhizer, and L.E. Howell; the visionaries behind the Academy, and my role models—Clive Gillinson and Joseph Polisi; the brilliant Ara Guzelimian and Anna Weber; everyone at the Weill Music Institute, Carnegie Hall, and Juilliard; Sharon Dunn, Barbara Murray, and members of the Department of Education; teachers, principals, participating schools, the students; the teaching artists who have enthusiastically shared their expertise; members of the press for showing interest in our performances and teaching endeavors; the donors whose financial contributions make all of this possible; and last, but certainly not least, my esteemed colleagues of Group 1.5 for inspiring and challenging me, and most importantly, making me laugh. Cheers to the Class of 2008 and best wishes to the remaining fellows—may you carry on our legacy! Thank you.