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Hitting the Right Notes

Community Music ProgramThrough Tufts' community music education and mentoring programs, local youth are gaining additional exposure to the world of music.


On the stage of Distler Performance Hall, where several acclaimed musicians have played since the Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center opened last spring, four young performers waited, instruments poised, for their cue.

Of course, seven-year-old girls can only wait for anything so long before dissolving into giggles, waving their recorders like twirling batons. It's a cold Saturday morning, and their parents are waiting nearby with coffee, smiling. Their instructor, Tufts graduate student Nedra Bickham, is smiling, too.

"The initial experience of getting it into your whole body sets the stage for being a wonderful musician in a holistic kind of way."

— Edith Auner

"They're so inquisitive and so eager to learn," says Bickham, who is studying German at Tufts and has a master's degree from the Longy School of Music in Cambridge. "They have been a real joy to work with."

Children's laughter is an uncommon occurrence on a college campus, but thanks to the department of music's community music program, led by director of outreach Edith Auner, it fills the Granoff Music Center every Saturday morning.

This fall, Tufts began offering a selection of introductory music classes to children from its host communities of Medford and Somerville and beyond. About 75 kids aged 3 to 13 signed up for classes ranging from African drumming to group piano. Their fall semester concluded on Jan. 26 with a concert that filled Distler with more than 200 proud parents and siblings.

"The people who took those classes were really interested in giving their children a good head start on music in such a joyful, child-friendly way," says Auner. "That's gotten me very interested in preserving that spirit as we expand our community offerings."

Yet the program is just one component of the department's efforts to bring music to the community by opening the doors to its facilities and its expertise.

A Commitment To Community

Auner, a pianist with a master's degree from New England Conservatory, has taught piano privately and in community music programs for 30 years. In 1996, she was asked to help start a pre-college music program at SUNY Stony Brook, where her husband Joseph, now chair of the music department at Tufts, then taught. When she started, there were just six children in one class; by the time she left to come to Tufts in 2006 with her husband, 120 students were involved.

While the desire to reach out to Tufts' neighboring communities through music had existed for some time, the facilities were inadequate until the Granoff Music Center opened in the spring of 2007.

Auner explains that the community music program grew out of the need to fill a void for introductory music classes that were not only high quality, but locally based and affordable. She reached out to area residents at Tufts' Community Day and other events to spread the word. Partial scholarships are made available to offset the cost for families who needed assistance.

When the program launched this past fall, approximately 75 students enrolled in classes including recorder, African drumming, composition, choral singing and musicianship, group piano, chamber music, music theory, and Dalcroze, a method of teaching music through movement and expression. This spring, new offerings include violin class, Javanese gamelan and jazz performance.

Community Music Program

A young girl sings along in Jill Gleim's music and movement class for 3 and 4 year olds.

"The initial experience of getting it into your whole body sets the stage for being a wonderful musician in a holistic kind of way," Auner says of methods such as Dalcroze.

Many of those classes are taught by Tufts graduates or graduate students. "I think that most people who work on graduate degrees in music plan to teach at some point in their life," says Auner. "They're very happy to have experience teaching but also happy to share what they do so well."

Jeffrey Rawitsch is a good example. A 2004 Tufts graduate in child development who is currently pursuing a master's degree from the department, he co-teaches the choral singing and musicianship class with 2006 Tufts grad Rebecca Sacks. His experience in the community music program complements his academic focus on children and the arts.

"Each week, we either introduce a new song or a new concept related to performance or music theory or vocal health," explains Rawitsch, who still sings with Tufts Chorale. "We play music games and do other activities to learn some of these skills."

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Profile written by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications

Photos by Melody Ko, University Photography, and Alonso Nichols for University Photography. Multimedia production by Office of Web Communications.

This story originally ran on Feb. 4, 2008.