Prep Percussionists Work With Elementary Students

Thursday, Mar 18, 2021
Juilliard Journal
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Red and blue illustration reminiscent of the interlocking K'Nex construction set showing the student participants and their instructor

Prep Division students work with third graders

By Susan Jackson

This year’s theme for the Pre-College Percussion Ensemble is connection. And it was in a quest to make connections in and outside Juilliard that a new partnership was born between percussionists from the Preparatory Division and the Washington Heights Inwood Music Community Charter School (WHIN).

Starting in December, six Prep percussion students (four from Pre-College, two from MAP) and Pre-College faculty member Pablo Rieppi (MM ’94, percussion) have been working on Thursday afternoons with third and fourth graders at WHIN, a program that is rooted in the El Sistema music system.

“The main learning tool of El Sistema is the music ensemble, so having these kids learn to work together is perfect in terms of our theme of connections” Rieppi said in a recent interview. He begins the half-hour weekly Zoom sessions with a quick chat about how everyone’s doing and a review of the practice routine he assigned them. Then, the WHIN students are partnered in Zoom breakout rooms with a Prep Division “practice buddy” while Rieppi or Grady Tesch (WHIN faculty) observe their work together.

For the last third of the class, everyone reconvenes on one Zoom screen to participate in what they call an “informance.” “We go around the room, and the WHIN students play and tell me what they’ve learned,” Rieppi said. Some of their favorite parts of the class, they said recently, were “getting to play” and “working with buddies.” Above all, they loved learning paradiddles, a basic drumming pattern. While the WHIN students are having fun, Rieppi said, they’re also learning about everything from holding sticks correctly to deliberate practice habits. At the same time, the Prep Division students, who are in grades 7 through 12, are learning how to mentor and teach. “And I think they’re appreciating their own lessons a lot more,” Rieppi said.

Recently, four of the Prep Division participants—Sophie (Pre-College, 12th grade), Gilberto (MAP, 9th grade), Ryan (Pre-College, 10th grade), and Eileen (Pre-College, 7th grade)—answered questions about the experience.

What have you learned through the practice buddy program?
Ryan: I’ve learned a lot about teaching, working with students, and gaining patience.
Eileen: The practice buddy program has taught me a lot about working with young students. Just one example was the importance of giving positive feedback and providing constructive suggestions.
Gilberto: The importance of being clear and direct while helping and teaching my practice buddy.
Sophie: The practice buddy program is unique, and I’ve learned more about the process people go through to learn something new, especially in music, and how everyone has a different perspective.

Did anything surprise you about it?
Eileen: How positive everyone was! The WHIN students always took constructive criticism happily and the [Prep Division students] were responsible and eager to help.
Sophie: I was surprised by some of the challenges a virtual rather than an in-person experience presents for percussionists—such as pointing out a specific note on the page or highlighting a certain motion.
Ryan: I was incredibly surprised by how kind all of the people are there as well as how the younger students are able to take in information at a fast pace.
Gilberto: How much better I am getting at helping and teaching my practice buddy. Sometimes when we go back to the main room, my practice buddy raises their hand and does a great job going over what we’ve learned, and it makes me feel proud.

Any other thoughts?
Gilberto: I’m having a great time working with the WHIN students.
Eileen: This is a unique program for students from both schools. For [Prep Division students], the opportunity to learn how to work with and mentor young aspiring musicians probably won’t come up often. For WHIN students, the opportunity to be surrounded by older peers who share the same interest can be inspiring and heartwarming. And it was so much fun practicing and working with everyone!
Ryan: I love being a part of the program and thoroughly look forward to each Thursday since the environment on the call is so inviting and conducive to all sorts of players. My only wishes are that it will continue in the future and that it can maybe be done in-person.