Jazzmone Sutton, now the State Advocacy Engagement Manager for National Association for Music Education, was teaching elementary music when her school shifted to virtual teaching. Due to concerns about screen time, there weren’t formal music classes, so she provided music resources for students. Pre-COVID, she implemented “Technology Fridays,” which proved to be helpful for online learning. In August 2020, classes were virtual and lasted 20 or 30 minutes. They weren’t able to have an elementary chorus, although many students asked her about singing. At least, Jazzmone thought, parents were able to see the excitement and energy music had, and this was a big advocacy tool.
Like all teachers, there were struggles. She wasn’t able to teach the lessons she wanted to teach. Her classes were often only 20 minutes, and that was too short. While she became incredibly precise and got right to music making, she also struggled with playing and singing in her class due to COVID regulations. She refined her teaching, but shortened class time and cleaning instruments left her with even less time to address music creation.
If you have ever met Jazzmone, however, you would know that she doesn’t dwell in the frustrations. Virtual teaching allowed her to connect with students in a different way. She gave voice and piano lessons, and taught whatever students were interested in. A number of students purchased their own instruments, and she provided learning resources. To see students so engaged during this time was inspiring. In fact, there was so much interest in these endeavors, she had a vision of having a second music teacher in her school. There simply wasn’t enough of her to spread around. In addition, parents and caretakers participated in music. For example, a student had his mom learn Latin dancing with the class. Afterwards, the mom would jump into a lesson simply to say hello. In another instance, a grandmother reached out to ask for help to sing and play in church. Jazzmone was able to connect her to self-guided resources. Virtual learning removed barriers of participation that we, as instructors, don’t always realize are there. What could this mean for the future?
Jazzmone values giving her students the skills to be independent music makers, and COVID forced her to do this to another level. She asked herself: “Will they make music after I’m gone? If I get out of the way, can they make music?” She couldn’t see much music making, but that was the point. Students were creating music with classes, family, and friends. The students were making music without her there. During COVID, “it wasn’t that people stopped singing. It’s that people stopped singing in a group that someone was in control of.” But people sang. She points out that people fought to keep singing, though it may have been a different type of music, and this demonstrates that music is a vital part of the human experience.
In the last year, Jazzmone accepted a job with the National Association for Music Education. Similar to teaching, her new job in music education advocacy requires relationship building. “What we do is community,” Jazzmone said, “We should strive to build relationships within our space.” She did that in her teaching, and it’s how she approaches advocacy.
As an advocate for choral educators, Jazzmone would share some words of wisdom: Allow yourself grace, allow students grace, and do not expect normal. What does grace look like? Grace is acknowledging the growth and possibilities in the current situation, even though it may be different than pre-COVID. For example, you may want to do certain music, but your students may not be ready for it. With grace, a choral teacher can release the expectations and see the possibilities for what the situation could be. One way Jazzmone reframed this for her students was to ask them what they hoped for out of their time together, and they had great ideas. And if you run into barriers, look at it with patience and kindness. She believes we have to leave room for surprises, because surprises are opportunities for change. In a year when those surprises were consistent, choral educators were innovative and impactful. Allow your singers, your community, yourself to surprise you.
I asked Jazzmone specifically about equity. We agreed that advocacy involves understanding equity. Here it also needs relationship building. Conversations are a two-way street between teachers and students (or communities), and teachers will know the needs of the community because they’ve spent time with the community. In essence, relationships help teachers meet the needs of their students because they will know what they need to advocate for. Who are your students beyond musicians? How do you advocate for the whole student? And this, Jazzmone says, is how she can help in her new position.
If you are looking to increase advocacy, Jazzmone Sutton is the State Advocacy Engagement Manager for the National Association for Music Education, and would be a great resource. Additionally, ACDA has an Advocacy and Collaboration Committee that is very active. You can view the website here.