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Ted Wiprud, NY Philharmonic Arts Education Advanceman Blog #6: Abu Dhabi and Reflections from Home

To read the previous installments of Ted’s arts education travelogue click here for the first entry; here for the second; here for the third; here for the fourth; and here for the fifth.

I want to thank my friend Ted for these thoughtful, rich, and fascinating posts. I am grateful that he chose Dewey21C as a vehicle for sharing what it was like for the New York Philharmonic’s education program to tour overseas. And besides these posts being just plain interesting to read, I think they also give a great sense of the caliber of people we have as colleagues in this field.

Thank you Ted. Really swell job!!

 RK

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Nov. 1 2009

A solid month of travels and projects in three different countries leave so much for the Teaching Artists and me to process. And we will. We have many new relationships to continue and the promise of continuing work in all these places. But for now, a few parting thoughts.

People talk about the world getting smaller, but for me it gets bigger. Yes, we’ve found much that is the same about kids and about learning, but at this point I’m thinking more about the seemingly bottomless levels of difference among Japanese, Korean, and American cultures – and don’t even get me started on Arabian. The history of conflict and commerce among China, Japan, and Korea influences differences that seem subtle only to us. And that’s only one way to think about it. Then I imagine multiplying the layers and complexities by regions of each country – rural versus urban, dominant culture versus tribal cultures – and then by 140 countries. It’s really not a small world, after all.

OK, so what about Arabia? Case in point. Abu Dhabi presented so many puzzles I can hardly begin to reflect on it. And how much of the Arab world does this capital city of the tiny United Arab Emirates even begin to reveal? Part of what makes Abu Dhabi so puzzling is that what one sees is such a mix of cultures – expatriate actually more than Emirati – that have jostled together for only a few decades, in the midst of extreme wealth, rapid development, and punishing climate. Our Teaching Artists Ensemble played to receptive audiences in six private schools, mostly British and American, all co-educational, with familiar educational values. Many families from these schools followed through by attending the Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concert. But what kind of educational philosophy would we find in the state schools? What happens when you separate boys and girls from the start? And who goes to those schools? From what we saw, Emirati families are more likely to be more affluent and wield more gadgets than expats. Does the army of service workers, who get bussed in every morning to the big hotels, have children in the country, and are they in the state schools? So much more to explore on return visits.

One incident in Abu Dhabi stands out in memory. In a private school that’s all-Emirati, and co-educational, classes were seated on the floor for our interactive concert, as usual, with younger classes in front and older in back. In only the back two rows, girls were wearing head scarves, having reached the age of about 12. And following what seems to be a global law, hands shot up and kids participated everywhere except in the back rows of older kids. But one girl back there picked up on the gestural activity of tracing a melody in the air, and for the rest of the concert vigorously responded with her arms to music by Messiaen, Francaix, and Mozart. Was she so very different from the others? Teachers whom we asked afterward didn’t seem to think so. Was she expressing what others felt, but could not express? Or had our multiple-intelligences-informed approach succeeded in tapping the particular competencies of this girl? What did her peers think of her active participation, and would those opinions be pretty much like those in the United States, or would they be colored by culture and religion? Might the connection she found with music then carry over into her enjoyment of other music, or might it conflict with a prohibition on dancing? I fear the questions reveal more naivete than insight, but we have to start somewhere.

Perhaps the bafflement I felt at this girl’s extremely positive response to Western music, and to our presentation, is emblematic of where we are right now in this ongoing intercultural experiment. Bringing aesthetic education, student-centered learning, interactive performance and all the rest into very different cultures can be deceptively easy, and can hit roadblocks that take a long time to unravel. All indications are that we will be able to continue working in these countries and perhaps others as well, and we’ll seek to understand more. At the same time, I think our greatest value and expertise is not in anthropology or sociology but in performance and the style of teaching we’ve developed. Ultimately, I leave it to the experts in each country to decide what to make of what the New York Philharmonic has to offer, and to adapt whatever seems useful to local culture and need.

Theodore Wiprud

Director of Education, New York Philharmonic

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Theodore Wiprud has directed the Education Department of
the New York Philharmonic since October 2004. The Philharmonic’s
education programs include the historic Young People’s Concerts, the
new Very Young People’s Concerts, one of the largest in-school program
of any US orchestra, adult education programs, and many special
projects.

Mr. Wiprud has also created innovative programs as director of
education and community engagement at the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the
American Composers Orchestra; served as associate director of The
Commission Project, and assisted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s on its
education programs. He has worked as a teaching artist and resident
composer in a number of New York City schools. From 1990 to 1997, Mr.
Wiprud directed national grantmaking programs at Meet The Composer.
During the 1980’s, he taught and directed the music department at
Walnut Hill School, a pre-professional arts boarding school near
Boston.

Mr. Wiprud is also known as a composer and an
innovative concert producer, until recently programming a variety of
chamber series for the Brooklyn Philharmonic. His own music for
orchestra, chamber ensembles, and voice is published by Allemar Music.

Mr.
Wiprud earned his A.B. in Biochemistry at Harvard, and his M.Mus. in
Theory and Composition at Boston University, and studied at Cambridge
University as a Visiting Scholar.

September 2008

Ted at Chang Deok Gung.jpg

Comments

  1. So many comments! I was interested to see a diagram of the ear among them. As a matter of fact, the ear participates in the formation of the brain and nervous system in utero, and continues to form our lives and intelligence. We can use the ear in school through music, to influence readiness for learning, through techniques that have been in use in Europe since the fifties and are now finding their way here.
    Information is gathering fast about just how useful music is in preparing children for a life of learning. Their coordination, ability to focus, and the harmonization of their nervous systems can be accomplished in school. the quickest and cheapest way is to bring back singing. This is the tip of the iceberg, but actually singing is the kind of powerful feedback the brain needs for nourishment.
    This is a much longer story than I can address as a comment to the work of others, but there is tuff out there about neuroplasticity coming in every day now, that points to music as part of our intellectual and creative development. Music specially chosen and applied for is the quickest and most elegant way to educate. I am not speaking of music appreciation here, but full engagement.

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