Jazz For Learning at Coral Gables Congregational Church

Written By Fernando Gonzalez
January 20, 2018 at 8:08 PM

The Summer Concert Series at the Coral Gables Congegational Church, which just celebrated its 31st season, has become a South Florida institution. Yet the concerts are only the most visible component of the quietly ambitious Community Arts Program. It includes an after-school program, the Conservatory for the Arts, which offers music classes, several ensembles, and live performances; CAP’s Miami Jazz Institute and CAP Records, which not only serves to document the students´ work but also as a teaching tool for studio playing, recording, production, and marketing.

The Community Arts Program (CAP) was founded in 2003 by Mark Hart, who had joined the previous year to develop a curriuculum and became its executive and artistic director. The purpose, he said, was simply to “make music education accessible to all kids. So even if they have financial difficulties, we make it possible for them to have a teacher and learn music.”

The response spoke of a need. “When I started we had seven kids on a Tuesday evening,” he recalled. “Now we have about 175 kids in the program.”

And there was more than just numbers to the success of the work.

The program employs teachers from places such as the University of Miami Frost School of Music. And only four years after it was formed with not quite enough musicians to have a true big band, the All-Star Jazz Band, directed by Daniel Strange, was one of the 15 finalists at the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival in 2013 — and then, again, in 2014 and 2015.

We spoke with Hart about the program and the notion of using music in general, and jazz in particular, to teach subjects such as teamwork, listening and creative thinking.

How does CAP fit into the overall work of the Coral Gables Congregational Church?

To the vision and mission of this church, art is seen as a window to the Creator, so it was a way of reaching people. We have all experienced that listening to a piece of music or looking at a work of art there is something that speaks to us at a divine level, whatever that means to you individually, and this church has always held on to that as something very valuable.

How do the Summer Concert Series fit into the program as a whole?

It’s an opportunity for kids to see and hear these artists up close. Listening is a great learning tool. A good concert is worth hours in the practice room. In addition to that, the day after the concert, we have master classes taught by the artists. It’s a way of giving kids an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with the artists, ask questions and find out what they did and how they did it. It’s a way for them to get a deeper understanding about this [music] world and what it takes to get [where these artists are].

Is forming musicians the goal of the program, or is to make music part of their education?

At the Conservatory [for the Arts] the children are taught musical skills, but also how to use these skills for building team work and building thinking skills such as analytical thinking and thinking outside the box. If you’re only teaching how to make good music, you’re missing some of what music teaches. We hope that [the study and practice of music] develops in them a discipline to listen, to think and to be creative and analytical.

You were trained as a classical musician. Why the interest in developing a jazz program?

We are working with classical music as well. We teach classical and jazz. But I see the value in jazz for understanding and developing ideas and developing a conversation with these ideas, getting beyond what is prescribed on the page and developing new and greater ideas. We are teaching kids that come in and study classical music how to expand that by using some of these tools, such as improvisation and understanding how jazz musicians develop ideas. Most of the world problems stem from the fact that people haven’t learned to have conversation in which every voice can be heard. Jazz is one of those platforms that allow everyone to have a say in the conversation and it demands that everyone be heard.

The CAP Conservatory for the Arts is offering Saturday Music Classes with instrument and music theory instruction for youth (ages 8-18) beginning in September through April 2017. The teaching includes instrument training—violin, viola, cello, bass, guitar, piano, woodwind, brass, percussion, and voice— classes in theory and ear training, performance and 360 Forums to which parents attend classes with their children. Those interested apply here:

Those interested in joining CAP Creative Strings I, II, or III:

Those interested in joining CAP Jazz PREP Band or CAP ALL-STAR Jazz Ensemble:

For more information call the Community Arts Program at 305.448.7421, ext. 120.


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