Community Resources: Entrepreneurship Course at RCC

Last week, I completed the Create Your Own Job Seminar. Offered at Roxbury Community College, the course introduces topics from crafting a business plan to deciding when and how to incorporate your business. The course culminated with a one on one 15 minute, pro bono Q&A with one of the lawyers of Latham & Watkins, LLP.

I really appreciated Alexa and Priya of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice for their availability and willingness as mentors. They wanted to know our individual goals and presented topics to us with this in mind. Each week a different guest speaker presented on topics such as personal finances, business planning, and marketing. It definitely benefited us that the speaker each week was different and a specialist in their field. Not only were we hearing from a specialist, but we were hearing different perspectives, which helped to reinforce what I was learning.

Travis Grillo of Grillo’s Pickles, came to speak as an example of the program’s success. His business, self described as “starting with a pickle and a dream“, started with a niche product that grew over time because of demand, rather than the planned profit potential of a typical startup. One of the more laid back presentations, we brainstormed out loud ways in which the markets of the class participants overlap and how, just with the ideas in the room, we can help each other.

That is not to say that a person should not take the course if they have not yet determined what their product or niche market is. I attended the course as a musician looking for the skills to create opportunities for myself. I literally wrote that on my attendance intake form the first day. It so happens that, during the stretch of the course, some ideas formulated for me, but the knowledge I gained in the class was useful all the same.

Anyone who knows me has heard me lament about the lack of business training that artists receive from higher educational institutions. Did you know that when the CIA runs security clearances for job applicants, they check your credit history? Nowhere in Quantum of Solace does M remind 007 that he should be keeping his receipts. If spies have to find time between learning advanced driving skills, espionage, languages, and marksmanship to be financially responsible, why shouldn’t we? (Granted, rubbing elbows with the 1 percent, while impeccably dressed and digging for information, you would probably hear some insider information drop, but you see where I’m going with this.)

Artists operate in a nebulous area between non-profit and for profit. We are typically funded by grants, fellowships, and donations, but these projects also pay our salaries. This was not lost on the presenters when I asked specific pointed questions for my use case. I also appreciated that if the presenters did not know the answer, they would try to point me in the direction of a resource where I could find the answer for myself. I would highly recommend this class to anyone who wants take the helm of their own creative destiny and is looking for a place to start.


Wibb Week – Worth the experience

This past week, I was afforded the opportunity to study in master class setting with William Bennett at the William Bennett Summer Flute Academy, affectionately known as “Wibb Week”. Run by Professor of Music, Flute Dr. Lisa Read Wolynec, the week long course focused on performance practice, phrasing, and style, with morning sessions having a pedagogical focus.



William Bennett is a force of pure musical, unique, energy. The wealth of knowledge that he brought to the works each of our cohort performed consistently reminded me why I had made the trip to Tennessee to participate in this class. The most memorable and exemplary moment for me of this when he, very animatedly, sprang over to the piano to play an accompaniment underneath a student playing the Sarabanda from the Bach Partita in a moll for Solo Flute. Using the implied harmonies of the line, he demonstrated in real time where the phrases began, and where implied dissonances, appoggiaturas, etc. lied. I already knew that harmonic understanding is important to interpret any work, but he bridged the gap for us by showing us how to apply that knowledge.

There were many ways to attend the course, and no age limit is specified. Because of this there were a variety of musicians at different stages of development, each on different professional paths. The support that each of us gave one other during Wibb Week was so inspiring. Those who know me professionally know how I feel about the impacts of a positive learning environment on students. Wibb Week was an illustrative example.

The majority of the requests Wibb made of me were not any different than what would be asked of a singer. Focusing on my posture and angle of my chin, we freed up tension in my throat by lifting my head, allowing immediate and noticeable difference in my sound and projection. As instrumentalists, I believe there is a tendency to become caught up in the search for a pure tone and other technical considerations to the neglect of the real singing of the instrument that really speaks to the listener. Music as language is not an unheard of concept. Instrumentalists do not have the benefit of words to assist us in the communication of our intent, unless it is a transcription of an opera or some other vocal work. Wibb likened the rhythmic structure of speech to musical phrasing:

Ibert - Stress


Discussions in Wibb’s sessions about sound, projection, and phrasing were reinforced  in informative, technical morning sessions with Dr. Wolynec. In morning warm ups, she covered specific technical aspects to playing that previously arose in sessions with Wibb such as tapers, vibrato production and control, articulation. Dr. Wolynec centered these sessions around how this information can be applied to students, which was very helpful to me as an educator.

Rhonda Cassano, Flautist and certified Body Mapping instructor, also supplemented the instruction during the week by offering private sessions and a group session open to all. Adaptive to my individual needs, we discussed techniques and exercises that can be applied to my specific mechanical, physiological tendencies while playing.

Other activities, included:

Masterclasses with pianist Megan Gale
Flute Choir – Directed by Josephine Bossenberger
Student Recital culminating the week
Peal and Altus flutes

What I would love to see more of next year are scheduled activities for collaboration among us. Our last morning session was spent with Karl Barton – who also gave a flutes of the world session earlier in the week – learning about jazz and jamming together. I would enjoy more exploratory activities like this. The experience was definitely worth the time and travel. Most artists can attest to competitiveness and its stifling of creativity and the innovation that comes from camaraderie. As artists, there is an obligation to convey through music what words alone cannot communicate. I have sometimes asked myself: if all a fellow musician can contribute are the impacts of competition and antagonism, why are they here? How can they sow the seeds of cathartic joy if they don’t live it in their daily lives? There, I found the level of support and team work very refreshing. All in all, I learned a lot of from Wibb and my fellow participants.


Examples of Experiential Education: Habanera and Tango

I recently had the opportunity to teach a music class to my mother’s students at Claymont Elementary School in Claymont, Delaware. What a wonderful welcoming group they were! I decided that I wanted to teach them the historical and musical practice of Tango and its development out of Habanera. It was suprising that I could not easily find any lesson plans or tips online for experientially teaching syncopation and rhythm. I began to ponder the best way to fit this into 40 minutes.

By the end of the lesson, I wanted the students to be able to demonstrate and understand Habanera and Tango rhythms:


Habanera Notation


Tango Notation

In order to demonstrate the subdivisions of Habanera and Tango and how they differ, I decided to ask the students to count the eighth notes to feel the groupings that make up Habanera

Habanera 3-1-2-2

Habanera Subdivision

I would then explain that Tango takes the middle groupings (3-1-2-2) and puts them together. The result is a grouping that is 3-3-2:

Tango 3-3-2 derived from Habanera 3-(1+2)-2

Tango Subdivision

The students told my mother that they wanted to drum with me on the African drums they had in class. My lesson was almost begging to write itself! When students are engaged in a preferred activity as part of the learning process, it makes classroom management and engagement even easier. The students could use the African drums to learn and perform the Tango and Habanera rhythms.


Teacher Takeaways: If I had more time, I would have made the lesson more relevant by talking about how artists from different parts of the world influence music in other countries. My last leading question to encourage thought would have been: Who are some of your favorite and influential (musically, culturally or any type of impact) popular artists are not American (Justin Bieber, Rhianna, PSY)?

If you’d like to hear Tango rather than read about how to teach it (or to use in the lesson below), my Tango/Milogna/Habanera Spotify Playlist is below for your listening pleasure:

Classroom Lesson on Tango and Habanera

Grade Level: 5th grade
Knowledge students already bring: some understanding of off-beat rhythms, music notation (understanding of quarter, eighth notes, etc)
Time: 40 minutes
Materials needed: percussion instruments for students, a Habanera and Tango song to perform or play to demonstrate the dance rhythms

1. Introduction

  • Habanera – History of the Cuban Contradonza and relation to other cultures and popularity in France

2. Experience

  • Divide students into two groups, group A and group B.
  • Have group A drum the Habanera rhythm (3-1-2-2). Have group B drum steady half notes (4-4).
  • Switch sides

Leading question: what are some elements that make up music? (melody, rhythm, harmony)

3. Demonstrate

  • Habanera from Carmen by Georges Bizet (1838 – 1975) transcribed for flute and piano
  • I asked the pianist to play the left hand of the score, which provides the rhythm of the habanera and asked them to listen for this throughout the performance

Leading Question: What do you all know about tango?

4. Introduction to Tango and development out of habanera and exposure to other cultures as result of colonization

Leading Question: does anyone know what the Creole Language is?

  • explain French/Spanish Creole influence

5. Experience

  • Group A drums Tango rhythm (3-3-2). Group B drums steady half notes (4-4)

Leading Question: what was different about drumming the Habanera and the Tango? (if needed, drum both dances again to allow comparison)

Students should be able to tell that, with Tango, there is a moment at which one group feels separated from the other but then joins them again.

6. Define

  • syncopation

7. Demonstrate

  • Tango Etude No. 2 by Astor Piazolla (1921 – 1992)


Thank you to Claymont Elementary Music Teacher Ms. Rash for allowing me to use her classroom and spend time with these wonderful, musical students!