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“We want to be the music teachers that not only our students need, but that the world needs.”

Senior Manager of Learning and Teaching Megan Robbins discusses music literacy at a September 2022 TPMS professional development session

A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes to create an enriching student experience at The People’s Music School. Teaching artists embark on several professional development sessions throughout the course of the year geared towards setting them and their students up for success. While the content of each PD session varies, all professional development for teaching artists at TPMS comes back to broadening the knowledge of educational resources for learning music and deepening the understanding of the TPMS approach

One of the most crucial elements of teaching artists’ professional development is understanding the vast collection of resources available to them to create an exciting and fulfilling experience for students. In ensuring that at least 50% of repertoire is by traditionally underrepresented composers, TPMS has curated a large database of international folk songs, a composer directory, and a comprehensive list of repertoire by artists of diverse identities. “We learn a lot about Western classical music in music school,” says Community Manager Ariel Garcia. “But if you picture all music that will ever be created as a pie, Western classical music is just a slice of that pie.” 

Teaching artists discuss resources and lesson planning during September professional development session

With a wide variety of pieces to choose from, teaching artists are encouraged to engage their students in the repertoire selection process. “Repertoire is a very powerful tool to encourage your students,” says Learning & Teaching Associate and teaching artist Felipe Tobar. “We all remember that first piece that really connected with you when you were first learning your instrument. We’re trying to create that same experience for your students.” 

One element that teaching artists weave into every student’s experience is music literacy. It’s a part of learning music that has roots in Rita Simó’s founding of The People’s Music School. “All TPMS students receive music theory instruction,” says Senior Manager of Learning and Teaching Megan Robbins. “It was something that was really important to our founder Rita Simó, and we make it an important part of what we do today.” Rita Simó believed students should learn skills needed to understand, play and create music on their own, and teaching artists instruct their classes, lessons, and ensembles in ways that incorporate music literacy.  

Late founder of The People’s Music School Rita Simó teaches young students about notes on a staff

But it’s not just the music on the page that’s important. The Social Emotional Learning component of music education fosters student growth in many areas of life, and teaching artists are equipped with the tools to encourage SEL. Practicing and performing with peers is one way in which students experience SEL. “Now that we’re returning to an in-person year, our students can really thrive in ensembles,” says Dean of Learning and Teaching Natalie Butler. “On the SEL side, and for our ‘Community’ value, ensembles are a great way to build community not only among our students but among our faculty.” Composition projects also allow students to engage with SEL by encouraging their creativity and providing them with the opportunity to showcase their work. “It’s a really exciting time for students, and we always get really incredible compositions,” says Megan. “It’s a great way to assess students and it also gives them something to show to the world and be proud of.” 

4-measure composition project by Level 1 Percussion student Stephen M. 

Teaching artists inspire excellence, one of TPMS’s core values, for every student at every level. “Excellence is not exclusive to any type of student at the People’s Music School,” says David Sands, Senior Manager of Artistic Engagement. “No matter where a student is on their music journey, we expect excellence from all of our students, and we look to our teaching artists to set that standard.” Teaching artists are encouraged to “advocate for [their] students and share stories about their success.”

SLAM Guitar Quartet opens for Jeff Tweedy’s performance at Pritzker Pavilion in July 2022 (Left to right: Eric Benitez, Alam Mendoza, teaching artist & coach Rossman Palfrey, Joshua Reyes)

“A lot of us may have experiences outside of music education, maybe backgrounds in performance or outside of the music world,” says Megan. “But we all care about the work and that’s what brings us here.”

And the impact goes beyond TPMS, as Ariel notes. “We want to be the music teachers that not only our students need, but that the world needs.”

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