Interview with Christie-Jo Adams [Eden Kim]

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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: K: Great. So, first, to start can you please introduce yourself and just give a general overview of what you do, in Richmond.
A: So I’m Christie-Jo Adams, the Fine Arts Instructional Specialist and what that entails is um… I am… I work with teachers with instruction in areas of music, art, theater, dance, um, you know band, chorus, strings all those things fall into music, and then visual arts K-12, theater, um, 6 through 12, and dance, 6 through 12. And so, teachers that need assistance or help with instruction, um, instructional delivery, strategies, anything dealing with the classroom, and with kids learning, I help teachers with lesson planning, and all that good stuff. Not just that but I also am in charge of district events like all-city or getting students prepared for districts and things of that nature, so, it encompasses a lot [Yeah], but it’s a great job, it’s a dream job, in that I get to see kids grow, um from their pre-kindergarten years um through twelfth grade, learning music or art forms, um and just to see that because I’m the lucky one who gets to see that, um it’s pretty amazing.
K: Yeah, you definitely do a lot! So I kind of wanna unpack that like, you work with teachers, you help them, but you also work with students, ok, definitely. Um, ok, so, alright I guess let’s start with the Youth Orchestra Program, cause I know you’re the conductor of that, I saw that on the Richmond Symphony website, um so can you just explain what that is, and your role in that.
A: Um, so actually the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra I think you’ve already talked with Aimee Halbruner, maybe? [I have not.] You have not, okay, um, the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra has been around for many many years I wish I could give you the start date but I’m not sure, and I entered as a nine year old playing violin, many many years ago [Okay!] um, as a product of Richmond public schools is where I got my start in violin. Um, and my teacher thought I was… you know going down the right path and that they, um, you know kind of pushed me towards working with the Richmond Symphony and join the Youth Orchestra, which was the Sinfonietta group, which was their youngest group, um and it was no audition. Um and I was nine years old and that point I could get in at age nine to like nineteen. And so I played in that orchestra, and I then moved up to the other orchestras, still staying in my school orchestra, and learning from the classroom teachers, um, all the way through. And I think that helped to get, you know me into college and that sorta stuff but, the Youth Orchestra’s made up of… um, some of everybody I mean from all counties, all districts, um, and that’s how it’s always been there were two groups when I was in it, the Sinfonietta group, and one called YCO, youth concert orchestra. The Sinfonietta group was the entry-level, Youth concert was the audition group, the higher level. And we played concerts together, um most of us knew each other because we were in regionals together, all-state together and all that kind of fun stuff. But, you know you leave after you graduate, and I just have always missed it. And so when the opportunity came around, and an opening for conductor, well I said I’ve gotta go back to that orchestra that started me, you know? And sure enough it’s been a full circle moment of, I was a student sitting in that first chair with my little legs dangling, back to now I’m the conductor of that ensemble. And so it’s something I’m very passionate about because I know that that helped catapult me to be better, um because there all levels of students there, so it kind of keeps you on your toes haha, and that’s how it is now we’ve got about I’d say probably about fifty kids in there now we range anywhere between 40 and 75 in a year um, and it’s made up of anybody who loves to play a string instrument, who’s played at least a year, um, and that they’re in their school orchestra if they have one. If they don’t have one you know they get, a signature from their principal saying we don’t have one it’s okay for them to be in it but our whole purpose is to support what’s happening in the schools. So it’s not to override that teacher and say, “You don’t need to be in your school orchestra, be over here,” it’s, “You have to be in your school orchestra, and we want you to join this, and we’re gonna help support you and help you grow, so that you can be better in your school orchestra.

Segment Synopsis: Ms. Adams explains what she does as the Fine Arts Instructional Specialist in Richmond Public Schools and as one of the conductors of the Richmond Symphony’s Youth Orchestra program.

Keywords: arts; orchestra; symphony

Subjects: music; students

GPS: Her office in City Hall
Map Coordinates: 37.541, -77.433
00:04:28 - Student Demographics

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Partial Transcript: K: That’s amazing. Um, can you describe like the students that you work with, so, which schools are they coming from, and then- [In the Sinfonietta?] Yeah.
A: Oh goodness. Um… so we have a couple of students from Richmond public schools, um, I’d like more, um, and that’s one of my big goals, is to get – one of my personal goals, not necessarily my job goal because I have to think about the whole district, not just a few – um, one of my personal goals is to get more Richmond public schools students involved and that’s one reason why we moved it to MLK [Yes] to make it more convenient um for students that may have difficulty with transportation, um you know any of those kinds of things just to break down some of those barriers for those students. Um, but we feed from other students from Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, I know we have some from as far up I believe as Stafford County um… I wish I could give you all the names, but I know that we have parents that are driving in an hour [Wow] um, every Tuesday. Um, it’s a great place for kids to be, you know kids can be anywhere. But, that’s a nice safe, nurturing place, where kids can learn and grow um, so, we’re really excited that we can offer that to kids [Yeah]. And families, you know?
K: And, I think you said that um, it’s the Sinfonietta, for anyone ages 9 to 19 but, do you have like a more, like most of the kids in a certain grade, or a certain…?
A: Actually I don’t, and that’s one thing I like about the symphony um, they are placed in these ensembles strictly based on skill. There’s an audition, that’s very defined and very um… I don’t know the word, but, I mean it’s something that’s been in place for awhile… very consistent. And so it’s strictly based on skill. Um, it’s not a blind audition, meaning we’re not behind any type of covering and so we do see the students and you know their posture and those kinds of things which are part of being a musician. But um we don’t advance kids because of their age. So I do have students this year from 9 to 18 [Okay]. Which is, actually I have an 8 year old this year, 8 to 18. Um but we have 9 year olds in our top group. We have, you know 18 year olds scattered throughout, we have 9 year olds scattered throughout, because it is strictly based on skill.
K: Yeah, I would imagine that gives the orchestras a very interesting dynamic [It does] because, yeah like I also play violin, so I’ve been playing in my school orchestra since I was in fourth grade [Okay]. Fourth grade, I was in the fourth grade orchestra. Fifth grade, fifth grade orchestra [With other fifth graders] Exactly. Like sixth grade, I was like a second violin. Then, eighth grade, since I’m at the top of middle school, I’m a first violin, and same thing through high school and all that, um…
A: But you should come see it, because it is very interesting we have some 6 foot 2 inch tall students sharing a stand with a 5 foot 4 inch 9 year old. Very true. And they’re playing beautiful music together. Um, and that’s why we like to say it’s the universal language because… you know in a room with other musicians you’re all speaking the same language so, doesn’t matter how tall or what grade you’re in, but, you know, we’re making music together [Yeah]. And so I love when I see those music stands of the 6 foot tall, maybe gentlemen and the 5 foot 4 nine year old and you know you go… And they’re on the same level musically, you know? So I’m always intrigued when I see that.
K: So that actually reminds me of a point I was talking with, do you know Ms. Kendra Whindleton [Yes] she’s the band director at 4 of the RPS, uh Richmond public schools, um, and… she was haha such a lovely character-
A: So you met her?
K: Yeah, I interviewed her too, and she was saying like she has, her students scattered all throughout the board, but it’s kind of like, she has the fourth graders together, fifth graders together- they’re all on different pages. Um, so I think it’s interesting that now I’m hearing about an orchestra that it’s – it doesn’t matter what age they are, it’s just the skill.
A: So that’s the one area I think in education I think that’s been kind of, um, the same. Because we can’t, um, we can’t grow as orchestras if we allow different levels to be in there. Um you know the way that music is made – it’s graded as you know grades 1-6. But if we have um, a beginner, 10 beginners in our highest ensemble, that’s – it’s gonna hinder progress. Um, yes that beginner will probably grow faster, but you won’t have 100% of the ensemble playing the level that they should. And so we have to gradually kind of tier, tier it, and simply very good about tiering it so we can get those students there honestly, and without frustration. Um which I think is a great plan, um rather than just say okay anybody who’s ever played before, y’all are in the same group. Well, we know the music’s not gonna be great, whereas sometimes in education, in a reading class or a math class they do have different levels, um and studies have shown that when you do that they grow from each other. It is just not that same way in music. Yes I do believe they grow, but I think you’ve gotta have some areas of um, skill based, um playing, in order for your orchestras to really flourish [Yeah]. And who wants to come to a concert that, half the ensemble’s out of tune, hahaha. So that’s never good.
K: Yeah, no definitely by grouping them into the same skill levels like, you can give them more personal instruction whereas I know Ms. Whindleton like, she’s talking to one kid over here it’s like, oh, do this, but then to you that doesn’t work for you, you need to start at this level, so I’m glad it works out better in the Youth Orchestra Program.

Segment Synopsis: Ms. Adams describes the demographics of the students who participate in the Youth Orchestra program, including school, age, and skill level.

Keywords: schools; skill; students

Subjects: music; orchestra; program

GPS: Her office in City Hall
Map Coordinates: 37.541, -77.433
00:10:26 - Two Jobs, One Mission

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Partial Transcript: Um, okay, so… I was just… want to clarify how, what the role of the Richmond Symphony is with this, because I know you work a lot with teachers and students in the public schools… but you’re also working for the Richmond Symphony?
A: Yeah, so they’re actually two separate jobs with a community umbrella, and that’s how we’re tied together, is through the community. My daytime job, my full-time job, my first focus are the kids in Richmond public schools, that’s my 8 to 4:30. Um and making sure that those students, gets, has exposure to all genres of the arts, that’s from theater. My dream, is that if a student comes in kindergarten and stays till 12th grade, they would have had experience in theater, in dance, in music, in choir, and this, and that, and guitar. And that’s the way that I would eventually like to set it up, that each year students get the experience in the arts, in some way, shape, or form. Um, in doing so, I feel like… it, my job doesn’t stop there. So here’s your opportunity, here’s your class, but isn’t it our job or my job to make sure they can get to that next level, and that they can become competitive in the music world. And so, as part of my after 4:30 job, because I can’t just walk away from kids and say well good luck with that, you know, um, I wanna provide them another opportunity to be able to advance. And so, because many of our students don’t take private lessons, possibly can’t afford private lessons or maybe just… don’t have the opportunity doesn’t work in their schedule, um, that this is another component of them on their instrument to be able to grow, um, after school and again in a safe place, with like-minded people. And so, that’s where I go to say, here’s what else you can do, but also as a teacher, as a professional I wanna continue to grow. But in order to do my job here, I have to stay connected with kids. I’m out of the classroom, so I don’t get one on one with students anymore, and this is how I can stay, um, up on kids, this is what kids need or, you know um that’s my way of keeping in touch with them but also providing them a second opportunity to continue and to help them get to the point where other students in their age group are. And so the Richmond Symphony and I, as an umbrella, with the community, try to put in place these steps and stages for our kids so they can advance… like most others.
K: And have you really seen like, kids go through this program like, with their schools and with the Youth Orchestra, and have really seen like them grow, in their musical abilities and like their love for music?
A: Absolutely when I was a teacher, when I was in the classroom teaching I had several students that I would tote, in my car and go over to the Youth Orchestra cause I’ve been conducting for some time and we’d get in the car after school I’d stop at McDonald’s and get them, you know some fries and a drink, get them a little energy, go in the orchestra and I had a couple of students who majored in music, um I have my first student who is now a music, who is a college professor at Longwood, um as a violin teacher. So yes, it works. Maybe it’s only 1 in 25, 30 years, or 2 in 25, 30 years, but that’s 2 more than would have been without, had I felt like I’d not, had I not been doing, had I not done that.

Segment Synopsis: Ms. Adams distinguishes between her two jobs, but explains how they both engage with and help the community.

Keywords: community; program

Subjects: separate; students

GPS: Her office in City Hall
Map Coordinates: 37.541, -77.433
00:13:57 - Community Support

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Partial Transcript: K: Um, I guess I wanted to ask a little bit more about that need, cause you mentioned, um you know some kids don’t take private lessons, can’t afford it, don’t have time, but um… like I was with Ms. Whindleton, she was also saying, some kids can’t even afford to have an instrument, or buy the books or materials. Um, so how does, maybe the Richmond Symphony, or, not sure quite how to phrase this question but how does uh, the department support that need?
A: So again, our community umbrella has been phenomenal, um, especially in the East End of Richmond. Um, they’ve got a really strong community team of people committed to making sure our students have choice, and what that means is if you were to walk into a classroom as a fourth grader and say, “I’ve always wanted to play trumpet.” Well, the only instrument left, Johnny, is a saxophone. So that’s the instrument you have to play. We don’t wanna do that. Because if it’s your dream to be a trumpet player, you should have a trumpet. So the East End community has had several fundraisers started by the Richmond Symphony, and the Symphony has committed to moving around the city to collect money for each of the different districts, which is amazing, and I’ll get into that in a second. But the East End has promised to continue in their neighborhood without the Symphony, and just with the community. And um, to raise, they’ve raised over $200,000 in the last 2 years, um, to help with choice so that, that trumpet is available when Johnny comes in, even if he comes in you know mid-year, because he transferred from another school, you can still have your choice. And so, that’s their commitment, you don’t wanna tell any kid no, their dream of playing an instrument, or painting a picture, being an artist. Um, and so they’re determined not to say no to any kid and that’s my dream. You wanna do it? Here you go. And so, the Richmond Symphony like I said is committed to going around, they’ve done a south side one, where they’ve fundraised in the music and, the music they raised in the south side. We now have early childhood music at some of the elementary schools, which is not required by law. So they’ve been able to fundraise enough money to hire a teacher so our 3 and 4 year olds can get music. Um, and so the Symphony has been a great, great community partner in, um, just making sure our kids have what they need, um and they haven’t stopped. I mean they’re still moving around, and they’re still sending the checks in. Bon Secours has been a good partner in the Richmond Symphony, um, which is very interesting because the Richmond Symphony is a nonprofit. If you know anything about nonprofit orchestras in the country right now, they’re struggling to pay their musicians. You know? It’s difficult to go to a concert. Um, and so some of them have had to you know cancel concerts or get rid of staff. But the Symphony being nonprofit and fighting their own individual battles, they have not stopped thinking about our kids, which they very well could just be fundraising for themselves. And they’re not. Um, none of that money goes to the orchestra; it all comes into our schools. So, you know, it’s amazing that they’re almost willing to sacrifice their stage to get our kids on stage. Yeah, which I think is pretty amazing.
K: Yeah, and it kind of does work both ways cause if you don’t help the kids, then we’re not gonna have an orchestra in 10 years, you know? And I really liked, I mean I heard you say community, probably a dozen times just now, but that, it just highlights the importance of that. Because, yeah, money will buy you instruments, and books, maybe even private lessons, but you know there’s more to music than that, cause what if you don’t have a parent who can give you a ride to the orchestra? And it’s just all connected together.
A: It is, it really is, and we can’t let somebody’s zip code, or their financial background, hinder them from being the next, you know, Shostakovich or you know. Who’s to say that the next Beethoven is not living over there, in one of our housing projects? Well we’ll never know if we don’t give them the opportunity. But they could still be living there, you know? You just never know. And I can’t sleep at night thinking, that’s what that is.
K: I just feel like it’s my thoughts being said by you, so, thank you so much!
A: Yeah. I can’t sleep at night thinking that there’s a kid laying in the bed who wants to play a trumpet, and we don’t have one for them to use [Yeah]. I don’t know how anybody sleeps like that, but anyway.

Segment Synopsis: Ms. Adams discusses the support that the Richmond community has given to help students have choice.

Keywords: community; orchestra; support

Subjects: instrument; need

GPS: Her office in City Hall
Map Coordinates: 37.541, -77.433
00:18:34 - Arts Integration

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Partial Transcript: K: Yeah, and sadly it’s often times music and art that’s the first thing that’s cut from schools because oh no these kids need to know math and English, science, history. Well, not all kids are gonna [Are gonna be a mathmetician] excel in academics, what if they find their true passion and talent in music? Just never have the opportunity to, cause they don’t have the funds or the community support?
A: Now I am a believer that everybody needs those foundational skills in math, English, science, and history. And we cannot function in society without being somewhat successful in those areas; I’m a firm believer in that. However I do believe that there can also be that extra piece – that is called passion – that kids will wanna go into. Um, and so I don’t ever fight against or not support those areas, and that’s why I push, um, arts integration into our school district about 3 years ago. And what that does is it, it creates a partnership between the arts specialist, so the dance teacher, whoever it is, with the math teacher, or the art teacher and the math teacher. So, kids are having problems with geometry? Maybe it’s a mural they need to design to work on angles and proportions and things of that nature so kids can understand better. Because you know if you put a piece of paper in front of a kid and go, you need to create this mural that’s gonna go on the side of this 16 by 20 wall, there’s a lot of math involved in that. There’s a ton of math. Um, when you put on a stage play – there’s a ton of math. Cause if you’re not, that lighting is not angled at the right direction, it can change the whole picture of a stage play. Um, the technical theater piece is huge in math. Um, we also have to be able to read charts, as a theater person, gotta be able to read script. That enhances reading skills. Um but I think sometimes our kids need that differentiated instruction to say: here’s where it’s relevant. So you may wonder why you ever learned the Pythagorean theorem: when will I ever use that? Well look, look at this, this is how you can use it, and you’re gonna need to use it when you’re doing this thing. So, I’m really big on showing kids how you will need these things, um they’re not just throwing this at you, you do need to learn cause one day you’re actually gonna use it… A lot of balls in the air, but, haha.
K: Oh, definitely sounds like it. Um, okay, so, yeah. I think you might have mentioned this, but um I found on the University of Richmond website actually, that um… I read about the Partners in the Arts, and how it collaborated with Richmond public schools to win the $1.3 million dollar grant for arts integration education. Um and can you just explain like how this happened, like the process of it, and the impact that you’ve seen this have in Richmond public schools.
A: Yeah, so Rob McAdams who is the executive director of Partners in the Arts, and I have had many a conversation over a cup of coffee about our dreams of what this would look like as a mural in the math problem. We’ve had endless conversations about that. As a dream, you know? And then so Richmond public schools has worked with Partners in the Arts and we sent teachers to the summer institute where they’ve learned how to incorporate the arts into those core classes. Um, but we’ve always thought of that as, why does it end in a week, you know? What can we do to make this bigger larger longer, and touch more teachers? And so um, when this grant came around you know I saw it, and was very interested, and I said, huh, this would be good, let me call Rob, haha. And he and I sat down, and put the workings of the grant together to make it longer, and bigger, and better. And so, we currently have 35 teachers that are in the program. At the end of it they will receive 180 hours towards their teacher certification renewal, and they will also have a certificate to say that they are specialists in arts integration. So, they can be teacher leaders in their buildings to say, this is how you can do this. Well if a teacher says my kids are really struggling with word problems. What can I do? Well here’s an arts integration strategy that is phenomenal that I can guarantee your kids will advance with. Um, and so that’s what we’re trying to do, is get somebody in our district or several teachers in our district that teachers can go to and say, hey look at this, I’m having trouble. You have any strategies? And they pull it out of their pocket go we have 3! Try these 3, these’ll work. So, um, success right now yes, we have it in 3 schools, and we see teachers using it more and more, becoming more comfortable. It’s year 1, we had a planning year and year 1 of implementation. And so this first year we are seeing teachers a little more open, cause it’s scary for a math teacher to teach art. [Yeah!] It’s very scary, right? Um but we’ve seen it more and more with teachers becoming a little more comfortable, using it more often, and they’re actually sharing their lessons with other teachers, so that’s, that’s a huge step for us, just getting over that fear, to me is our biggest hurdle.
K: And, do you remember which 3 schools those are, that have the-
A: Mhmm. We’re at Binford Middle, MLK Middle, or Martin Luther King middle, and Woodville Elementary school.
K: Okay, got it, um, well…
A: And at the beginning of that I will say um, how we got to that grant we have some, um, 3 years ago there was a school getting ready to close and superintendent said, you know, what kind of proposal can you make, to try to keep this school open? And we said, arts integration, we did that proposal, it was accepted. One piece I forgot is about, how do we work with the teachers, how do we give them what they need, because we can’t just throw teachers in a school and say, good luck with that! Um, but we kinda did. And then that, again I had sleepless nights, like how can I help these teachers, I’m one person, that’s 50 teachers over there. And so, we applied for Turner and Arts, to be a part of the partnership with Turner and Arts which is Michelle Obama’s arts initiative when President Obama was in office, and through the President’s committee on arts and humanities they formed Turner and Arts. And Turner and Arts is just that, to support teachers in arts integrated schools, to give them strategies and professional development, and to monitor the program so that it’s successful. And from that I said that’s not quite enough, that’s when I met with Rob, because we need something on the bigger scale. And so that’s kind of the steps that brought us to the $1.3 million dollar grant.
K: Okay, um, well, that is all I have, but it sounds like you’re doing amazing work in the Richmond public schools and I really do love this idea of arts integration [Yes, it’s how all classrooms should be taught.] Yeah, definitely seem helpful [Nowadays]. Well and yeah I hope it expands to even more schools across the district.
A: I hope it expands to more schools in the state [Yeah], is what I hope.
K: Well, thank you so much for your time!
A: Thank you, thank you!

Segment Synopsis: Ms. Adams talks about how she incorporated arts integration into several schools, and the effects that it has had on students and teachers.

Keywords: art; integration; music

Subjects: schools; teachers

GPS: Her office in City Hall
Map Coordinates: 37.541, -77.433