Institute Students Head Back to School for 2021-22 Academic Year

Students across the Institute’s programs recently began heading back to school for the 2021-22 academic year, with the continuing impacts of COVID-19 necessitating a wide range of safety protocols and alternative strategies, including continued virtual learning. The Institute is working diligently with teachers and administrators in each of its partner schools to confront the complex challenges presented by the pandemic, and ensure that students from every background continue to get the most out its programming.

Jazz in the Classroom activities are ramping back up in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. Institute teaching artists are bringing their insight to jazz band, combo, orchestra and other ensemble classes, helping students grasp and practice such musical concepts as improvisation, song form and swing. Instruction also focuses on building life skills that will aid students throughout their academic careers and beyond. Of particular importance, the study of jazz is a highly effective method for developing discipline, enhancing communication, sharpening math skills, and–naturally–learning to improvise, a critical ability in everyday life.

Institute staff, instructors and students are happy to be discussing these lessons face-to-face once again, even masked and with appropriate social distancing. “Teaching virtually has its advantages–for one thing, being able to reach so many students throughout the country–but there is nothing quite like being back in the classroom and in front of a band,” says Institute Vice President of Education and Curriculum Development Dr. JB Dyas. “We are tremendously excited to be able to resume in-person teaching and learning with the necessary safety measures in place.”

After more than a year of meeting exclusively via videoconference, Dyas is in the process of scheduling school site visits for the Institute’s National Performing Arts High Schools (NPAHS) jazz program, an annual tradition that the pandemic disrupted. He is set to travel to partner schools in Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Houston and other locations over the course of the fall semester. At the same time, the Institute expects to reinstitute weekly visits by local master instructors at schools in the NPAHS program, working with students on a wide variety of jazz topics, including ensemble playing, time feel and improvisation. This intensive technical instruction will help the young players hone vital performance skills that were difficult to practice during self-isolation.

The current hybrid landscape marks a change from the previous academic year, when the Institute offered all of its free jazz education programming virtually in accordance with state and local policy and public health guidelines. Core initiatives such as Jazz in the Classroom and the National Performing Arts High Schools jazz program were retooled to focus on concepts compatible with the distance learning format, including music theory, reading rhythms, repertoire memorization, transcription, active listening and jazz history. Students had overwhelmingly positive responses to the adapted setup. One student noted that “despite the world seemingly shutting down,” Jazz in the Classroom “showed that music will always keep on going, which is very inspiring to me.”

In addition, last spring seniors in the Institute’s programs had an impressive finish to their high school studies, with 100% graduating from high school and more than 90% going on to college, most receiving scholarships. Many cited the Institute as a helpful influence during the pandemic. Said one recent graduate, “Having jazz as a creative outlet during that difficult time was how I kept a positive outlook on life.”