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A Music Educator Making a Difference (Rodriguez Interview Part 1)

This week I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Ruben Rodriguez, an inspiring Yale graduate with an incredible backstory who is the Lead Teacher in the Music in Schools Initiative and a member of the Yale School of Music staff.

Could you please tell me a bit about your background?

My name is Ruben Rodrguez. I am from Columbia, South America. I studied at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogota where I majored in trombone. After I graduated, I went to France where I studied trombone at the CNSMD in Lyon, France, and the Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris.

Afterward I returned to Columbia to teach. I taught trombone at a variety of universities in Columbia, working with the Minister of Culture to teach educators and band conductors and the heads of music programs in various regions of Columbia to give them better tools to serve their communities.

There was a lot of violence at this time in Columbia in the early 2000s. Most of these regions had music programs but the intent of my additional support and education was to not only give the kids the right technique but a huge secondary intent was to give the kids something more to participate in than just gangs and narco-traffic and other crimes.

I began this similar program in the neighboring countries of Panama, Guatemala, and Argentina with the help of a sponsorship from Yamaha Corporation of Latin America. Then I decided to pursue my Masters which is how I came to apply to Yale. I moved to New Haven with my wife and three children after I was accepted.

I graduated with a Master of Music degree in trombone from the Yale School of Music (YSM) in 2011. While I was a student at YSM I began to participate in the Music in Schools program. I had a trombone student in New Haven. It has been my passion to teach students from a performer's perspective.

When I graduated, the YSM hired me to be the director of the Music in Schools Initiative.

The activities that I have developed at the Music in Schools Initiative include training New Haven educators to create programs for the New Haven public schools. We serve around 650 students every year, on a weekly basis. We have a team of about 55-60 YSM teacher artists, partnering with about 30 New Haven public school music teachers.

What exactly is the Music in Schools Initiative?

The Yale Class of 1957 for their 50th Reunion created the endowment that established the Music in Schools Initiative. The endowment had three specific elements for the Music in Schools initiative:

First, the MISI endowment provides for the MISI’s partnership with the New Haven public schools to support music educators and provide opportunities for students to participate in music.

Second, the MISI endowment provides for a visiting professor in music education. The current visiting professor is Sebastian Ruth who is a violinist and music educator and the founder and artistic director of Community MusicWorks based in Providence, RI.

Third, the endowment provides for the Symposium on Music in Schools which occurs every two years and gathers leaders in the field to address national policy around music education and discuss how higher education and music artists can partner to promote more music in the schools.

MISI has three specific programs in New Haven. One is the school mentorship program in New Haven schools where YSM teaching artists go to schools to collaborate with the public school educators to help support their programs.

Second is the after-school program which is composed of ensembles: band, orchestra, and choir. This is for students who want to participate in an extra music activity outside the school.

Third is the vacation program which occurs when the New Haven schools are on break. This includes sessions in the winter, spring, and summer. In the winter and spring, the MISI administers music festivals in collaboration with the schools’ music directors. In the summer, MISI puts on the Morse Summer Musical Academy.

We are currently preparing for the first in-person Morse Summer Musical Academy since the pandemic. It is an intense four-week program held at the Yale School of Music. Students learn music theory, take lessons, engage in general choir practice, study creative music-making, and more. The students also perform twice a week at Sprague Hall with their chamber music ensembles and perform at various locations around New Haven, including the Yale Art Gallery, Beinecke Library, and Yale’s Cross Campus.

The Music in Schools Initiative is a fascinating program that can’t simply be explained in one article. To read more about this program, look out for the second part of this interview coming soon.

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