Shine the Spotlight on Community Engagement

College music programs act as liaisons and bring numerous stakeholders together to make a positive impact in the communities they serve.

College music programs sit in a unique position within the world of music education. As degree-granting institutions, we oversee a significant portion of workforce preparation for those entering the K-12 teaching profession. As incubators for fostering the musical growth and development of music majors transitioning from amateur to professional levels of musicianship, we collaborate with a host of community partners to facilitate activities, internships and performance opportunities. As liaisons between the academy, music industry and nonprofit entities, college music departments throughout our country have the capacity to bring numerous stakeholders together in efforts to make a positive impact in the communities we serve.

This article shines a light on the work that the music department at Tennessee State University does to engage with our community in various ways.

The Music Department and Community Academy

happy Black elementary student standing in front of school gatesLocated in Nashville, Tennessee State University, a Historically Black College & University (HBCU), sits in the heart of the place affectionately known as “Music City.” Being in one of the country’s most vibrant cities for live music has certainly helped us in terms of involvement with the greater Nashville community, and we do our best to be proactive in pursuing potential partnerships with organizations within our local area. One of the ways we do this — in addition to the work we do through our memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with outside entities — is through our community music program.

Our Community Academy of Music and Arts (CAMA) is a community-based, nonprofit program housed within our department that provides year-round arts education for underserved students in Nashville and surrounding areas. In addition to one-on-one lessons on a range of instruments with our esteemed faculty at low to no cost to students ages 3 to 18, we also host several summer day camps that include visual art, music performance, math and science applications of music-making, and fun activities and field trips to historic locations in town where students can learn more about the arts in Nashville. The combination of our efforts both within our department and through CAMA have helped us to “level-up” our community engagement in many ways, including expanded collaborations with several leaders in music education and the recording industry.

Community Engagement

happy students at Nashville Opera
photo from Nashville Opera

Our department offers degrees in music business, technology, performance and education. Each of our programs provide internship, performance and in-field clinical experiences for our music majors. Our music industry and performance majors benefit greatly from the long-standing partnerships we have with the Recording Academy, Windish Music and Nashville Opera. Our music education majors have had the opportunity to observe, intern and team-teach with teaching artists from our partners at W.O. Smith Music School, QuaverEd, Metro Nashville Public Schools and the Tennessee Music Education Association.

All our majors and minors, and even some of our graduate students, can take advantage of our partnerships with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Sweetwater Music, Country Music Association Foundation and the National Museum of African American Music. These include scholarships/grants, paid internships and performance opportunities.

In addition to our efforts within the department and through CAMA, we also offer the TSU Summer Band Camp each June. This week-long residential camp is offered to student musicians in middle school and high school and serves as one of our most successful strategies in recruitment and is attended by more than 200 participants annually. We also invite many of our alumni who are band directors to come and lead sectional rehearsals, reading band sessions, and share their experience and knowledge with other directors in attendance through several professional learning sessions. One of our esteemed alumni, Mr. Jimmy Day, was recently selected as the state of Colorado Teacher of the Year! The camp is subsidized by many of our local partners mentioned above, which helps to reduce costs significantly for student participants.

These efforts have aided our department greatly in recruiting a critical mass of student musicians of color and successfully preparing them for careers in music. The significant impact of these partnerships has helped our department expand immeasurably to meet the needs of our students.

Lights, Camera, Action!

TSU The Urban Hymnal CD coverMany of my colleagues at other institutions often ask how we are able to forge these connections within our community and maintain them for so long. For us, it starts with active engagement and proactive pursuits. Our faculty are constantly forming professional relationships by attending and presenting at conferences, participating in college recruitment fairs, visiting local K-12 schools regularly, serving on the boards of local nonprofits, and constantly publicizing the work we are doing through local news outlets and social media. And with our upcoming historic performances this academic year with our jazz band at the prestigious Midwest Clinic: An International Band and Orchestra Conference, Carnegie Hall performance for our top choir, and recent GRAMMY nomination for our marching band’s debut album entitled “Urban Hymnal,” I believe that it is through our outreach efforts and involvement in our community that we continue to accomplish all that we have.

I hope that some of what I have shared will spark some ideas as you continue your community engagement efforts!

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