Entrepreneurial Projects at the Yale School of Music: Exploring Through the Lens of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

My project-based class at the Yale School of Music explores how to generate innovative solutions to the problems facing classical music today. This year, our projects focused on how to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classical music field.  In my first post on this class, I introduced the wonderful mix of students in my class who were eager to take this journey. Let’s see what a diverse group of graduate students can accomplish when they explore their projects through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Throughout the semester, my students worked on their projects in collaborative groups of 4-5 students. Our projects tackled three issues:

  • How to provide access to high-quality music education for children from minority backgrounds;
  • How to develop middle-school music curricula that foster curiosity and the growth mindset in their students; and
  • How to make classical music concerts more engaging, relevant, and accessible for young audience members who do not usually attend such concerts.

The Project Process

In order to generate and develop their projects, we learned two processes of generating new solutions—creativity problem-solving and design thinking.

The first step in the process was for students to define the problem they wanted to solve.

Next, we broke into three project groups and began to brainstorm potential project ideas.

Our students then developed their projects, using a wide range of feedback:

  • The POINT analysis to highlight the benefits of the project idea, identify the challenges and obstacles to a realistic implementation of the project, and brainstorm new project solutions;
  • A Zoom session with five class advisors who listened to their project pitches and gave valuable inputs to improve the project ideas;
  • Creating prototypes of the projects; and
  • Testing their prototypes with target audience members to see how well their projects met the needs of their audiences and then updating their projects to incorporate these inputs.

After the development stage, each group was able to implement and actually run the projects to see how well their ideas worked.

In our final class, the students presented their projects and used the tools of persuasion and public speaking to make a compelling case to prospective investors as to why the investors should support the project.

Finally, I met with each group after their presentations to evaluate the results of their project and what they learned from the experience.

Each of the three groups successfully designed, developed, and implemented their projects.  They all met with obstacles along the way and figured out ways to overcome their challenges to present projects that met the objectives of creating something new that also helped to advance some aspect of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classical music field.

The Projects

  1. Expanding Access to High-Quality Music Education for Students from Minority Backgrounds
  • Project Development

This project started off with the idea of creating a bridge between existing music programs for children in lesser-served communities and students in geographic areas that did not have such music programs. The idea originated with one of our students who lived in a rural community that did not have a good music program. The members of this group were passionate about the importance of providing children from minority backgrounds with access to a high-quality music education.  Through their project, they sought to help such families who wanted their children to study music but felt overwhelmed and did not know where to find the resources.

  • Challenges

This group faced a number of challenges in putting their project together. The group members generated a lot of ideas but had trouble selecting an idea that they could implement in the course of one semester. They also lost a member of the group who had served as the group’s leader in running their meetings but who was not strong on following-through.

The meeting with the class advisors was a big help in clarifying the group’s ideas. The advisors loved the idea of a bridge project. However, this idea turned out to not be feasible. In addition, the advisors pointed out that even children from minority backgrounds living in urban areas have issues accessing high-quality music programs. Indeed, another student in this group who joined a great music program in Atlanta mentioned her own experience of having trouble finding out about this program until late in high-school and having to play catch-up once she joined the program.  In their audience interviews, they heard similar stories of students who had trouble accessing these programs.

  • Final Project: a Booklet and Webinar

The group decided to narrow the focus the project to families from underserved communities in the New Haven area.  To do so, they created a booklet of  music programs in the greater New Haven area and delivered a public webinar.  The booklet listed all extra-curricular music programs, including scholarship and financial aid resources.  It also provided guidance on how to prepare for auditions to the programs.  In their webinar, the students elaborated on these resources.  In addition, our two students from minority backgrounds personalized the presentation by sharing their personal experiences with accessing their music education.

  • Learning

This project was an excellent learning experience for our students. The project itself accomplished the goal of helping to advance diversity and inclusion in classical music by providing valuable resources to families from minority backgrounds who want to give their children a quality music education. It also leveled the playing field for these families to help create greater equity and fairness in the classical music field.

  1. Musically Inspiring Teachers
  • The Growth Mindset

One of the fundamental tenets of my class is the growth mindset. The growth mindset comes from the research of Dr. Carol Dweck. It is based on the belief that you can grow your talent and intelligence through hard work, smart strategies, taking risks, and learning from your mistakes and setbacks. This contrasts with the fixed mindsetthat you have only a fixed amount of talent and the only way to succeed is to be perfect. This belief causes a lot of stress and sets up unrealistic expectations. Dr. Dweck’s research demonstrates that those with a growth mindset attitude are ultimately more successful than those locked into the fixed mindset.

Not surprisingly, once my students learn about the growth mindset, they find it much easier to deal with the challenges in creating a career in the arts. The growth mindset has also inspired a number of successful class projects. Last year, one group of students in my class created an online growth mindset workshop for high-school band students. The  students in this year’s project group decided to share the growth mindset concepts with the music teachers.

  • Mission Statement

Their mission statement read as follows:

“Teachers (in school settings) ​​need to develop curricula that model essential skills like the growth mindset, creativity, collaboration, and communication through the teaching of music to foster curiosity and growth in their students so that they feel a sense of purpose and meaning in inspiring children to develop valuable life skills.”

Like the access project group, this group was passionate about the importance of music education to all children. They focused on music teachers because by influencing the teachers, this would radiate to more children learning about the growth mindset and thus have a greater impact than a one-off webinar to a group of students. In addition, they chose middle-school teachers since middle school is where many children lose their interest in studying music.

  • Prototype Curriculum

The group created a prototype curriculum in three areas:

    • Growth Mindset
    • Interdisciplinary Collaboration with other subjects
    • Fundraising

In their audience interviews, teachers reacted very positively to the prototype curriculum. This overcame the concern of one of the class advisors that master teachers might not be receptive to a curriculum from graduate music students. Moe Moreover, the group listened to the feedback from the teachers and streamlined the curriculum to eliminate the fundraising section which was more complicated and also not related to curriculum.

  • Final Project: A Curriculum and a Webinar

For their project, the delivered a webinar to middle-school music teachers which laid out their curriculum. The first part focused on the growth mindset and how to create a successful learning culture. The students presented Carol Dweck’s theories. They also shared stories from their own teaching experiences on how the growth mindset helps teachers to raise the level of expectations and encourage students to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. The group then shared how to incorporate the growth mindset through journaling, daily reflections and goal setting.

The second part of the webinar presented an interdisciplinary curriculum.  The curriculum combined music with English, math, history, and physics.  The group thus showed teachers how to make music more relevant to the students’ lives.

In the third part of the webinar, the group focused on three additional areas that could help middle-school music teachers:

    • Music and communication skills through dialect and different musical styles and genres;
    • Music and medicine to lessen mental health struggles and enhance better emotional control; and
    • Music and sports science through with practical exercises to prevent injuries from overuse in playing instruments.
  • Learning

This project was also a successful way to promote inclusivity and equity in music teaching. This curriculum can be implemented by all types of music teachers in any school setting. Moreover, the curriculum applies to all genres of music, not just classical music.  It also transcends cultural lines. Indeed, one student commented that combining music and history is a great way to add history that does not appear on the regular curriculum.

In addition, this curriculum promotes equity since by providing a resource that any school can use.

  1. Music Underground Concert

The final project group set out to create a concert that would demystify classical music and attract their non-music peers to a different type of concert.

  • Project Development

The original idea was to partner with a local wine shop, bar, or restaurant.  Students would then present a concert with diverse programming and lots of audience interaction, along with food and drink. However, with strict protocols from both the Yale University and the Yale School of Music on hosting events outside of the Yale campus, the group had to scale back on their idea. Instead, they designed a concert event on campus. Their mission became:

“… to create an environment that is truly engaging, relevant, accessible, and demystifying to young audience members who don’t usually attend classical music concerts.”

The group did an excellent job testing their prototype with non-music Yale students from all over the world. Many of these students listened to classical music to relax and as background for studying. However, these students did not often attend classical music concerts. For them, concerts were an occasion to socialize with friends. They also missed interacting with the musicians.

Our students then integrated these findings to design their concert program. The goal was to create a program of short, relaxing pieces from a diverse group of composers. In addition the event would intersperse commentary from the musicians with musical performances.

  • Challenges

The first challenge was finding the right on-campus venue where they could invite non-music peers. The Yale School of Music’s COVID protocols prohibited inviting guests from outside the School to music performances. Therefore, our students sought another on-campus location. Their first venue fell through. Their second venue seemed to check all the boxes. However, on the night of the event, our students arrived at the venue and found that the piano that they were promised was not available. They quickly ran across the street back to the School of Music and found a classroom where they finally were able to present their concert.

Another challenge was finding musicians to perform at the concert. However, since the concert was at the end of the semester amid a rise in COVID, several of the musicians dropped out at the last minute. This not only resulted in a change in the program but also meant that our students would perform as well as organize the event.

  • Final Project: Diverse, Informal Concert

As planned, the program featured a diverse program of short works by Reinhold Gliere, Arvo Part, Florence Price, Chen Yi, and George Philip Fuchs. The group members delivered commentaries before each piece. Following the performance, our students held a feedback session with the participants to learn what worked and what could be improved.

The audience members enjoyed the intimate scale and the non-traditional setting of the concert.  They also found that the commentaries about the music enhanced their enjoyment of the music program. In fact, even though the audience members were all music students, they learned a lot about new music. The audience members even commented that they would have liked even more explanations of the longest work on the program. All in all,  in the words of one of the group members, everyone enjoyed “the warm and fuzzy feeling” of a wonderful concert.

  • Learning

Our students had an ambitious goal of presenting a live event with COVID in the backdrop. They succeeded in presenting a diverse concert. They learned how to produce an event and how important it is to secure a venue. They also figured out how to pivot under difficult circumstances. And they learned the importance of having a back-up plan, particularly under the difficult circumstances of COVID.

Next time: Group dynamics in a diverse team!