The Breakthrough Curriculum’s cutting-edge approach teaches artists a new flexibility and mindset to expand and build new audiences and musicians. Launched in fall 2017 and already receiving national attention, the program infuses its citizen artistry component with collaboration, entrepreneurial thinking, and leadership skills.
As students progress through the curriculum, they develop and implement a community-based, mentored project. Initiatives have included performances at several branches of the Enoch Pratt Library, city schools including Mary Ann Winterling, Druid Heights Community Development Corporation, the Walters Art Museum, Black Cherry Puppet Theater, and Penn Station.
It was at one such student-led performance in October that Grasmick’s support for the Breakthrough Curriculum was catalyzed, she says. For their community outreach project, seven students planned, rehearsed, and executed an interactive performance in collaboration with community nonprofits Touchpoint and K.E.Y.S. Empowers. The performance location the students chose — Mondawmin Mall, located in the neighborhood so hard hit in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray — was as intentional as their chosen focus for the concert: expressing emotions through music.
After meeting with community leaders in West Baltimore and through their own group planning and research, the musicians discovered that children were not being exposed to different types of music, particularly live performances.
“Emotions are such an important part of music,” explains voice and musicology master’s student Henry Hubbard. “We wanted to create a program about the role of emotions in music and how the children can listen for them.”
They chose nine pieces rich in emotion — including the lush cello solo, “Swan,” from Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saens — and, using emojis printed on the program, encouraged their young audience to circle what emotions they were hearing in the music. The group also led the enthusiastic audience in a rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and post-performance, the children played the instruments and spoke with each Peabody artist.
“How you feel about your own music when you are practicing the same two bars over and over again is very different from when you can see your work reflected in a child’s face,” Hubbard reflects. “The Breakthrough Curriculum reaffirms what I believe — no matter what musicians’ goals are for music, they need to use it for a social good. Music suffers if it is kept in an elite, conservatory setting.”
Grasmick concurs: “I was excited about this because it was so tailored to the community. Many of the young people who watched have talents, and [these performances] can influence them in important ways. That’s why I love the Breakthrough Curriculum. I want our students and the communities they’re serving to know what the possibilities are for the arts and for artists.”