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Pioneering Equitable Virtual Music Education

Learning about virtual Music Education from PhD Candidate Roque Diaz.
April 17, 2020

PhD candidate Roque Diaz (Music Education) currently serves as the Director of School Partnerships at MacPhail Center for Music, a state leader in virtual Music Education. We had a discussion with him to learn more about how his role plays into the quickly-expanding alternative learning environment that we are experiencing today. We also learned how his role has changed to adapt to the new learning situation. 

PhD music education Candidate Roque Diaz

Tell us more about your work and role at MacPhail Center for Music. 

RD: I am the Director of School Partnerships. I currently oversee 50 in-person and online school partnerships throughout the state of Minnesota. With over 30 years of award-winning programming, School Partnerships enrich the lives of young people and their families in Minnesota by providing unrivaled in person or live online instruction in tandem with a Minnesota school. Our staff works with a school’s music teaching artist and/or administrators to develop customized programs that provide relevant and compelling music education to strengthen student learning. Programs are individually designed for each school to create custom supports that enable children and youth to succeed

What is your favorite part of your role? 

RD: I have many favorite parts of my role. I bring a unique set of skills to MacPhail, being an avid scholar, educator, musician, and arts administrator. These many hats allow me to be a resource to my faculty, program, current, and potential school partners. 

How has your role at MacPhail changed in the past month?

RD: Seeing where COVID-19 was heading over a month ago, I worked closely with MacPhail’s senior leadership to create MacPhail K-12 @Home to provide online music instruction for K-12 students at home during school closures. MacPhail K-12 @Home is offered at no charge to students. The program offers 30-minute classes Mondays through Fridays from 8:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. In keeping with MacPhail’s promise to provide for all ages and abilities, programming is available for youth grades K through 12, with offerings ranging from general music education, MacPhailK-12 @Home “How To” classes covering a variety of techniques and topics, virtual boot camps for instruments, professional development for music educators, and MacPhail Coffee Talks featuring live performances from MacPhail faculty with stories from their years in the industry and Q&A sessions.

What are some opportunities and challenges you have encountered in a virtual music education program?

RD: MacPhail has always been a pioneer in virtual music education. Our award-winning Online School Partnerships (OSP) program has been delivering high quality online music instruction through MacPhail Online for over 10 years supporting educators in Greater Minnesota by providing creative supplemental music learning.

There was already a template for MacPhail K-12 @Home with OSP. Given my connection to administrators and music educators throughout Minnesota, I saw this opportunity for MacPhail to be a resource while students are at home. 

I am beyond thankful for how hard everyone at MacPhail has worked to get the new program up and running in a matter of weeks. Here we are in week three of the program already reaching 300 students from 115 schools. 

Of course there are challenges with creating a new program. For me, the biggest challenge is how to reach students that have limited or zero access to online learning. How can MacPhail be an equitable resource? We are collaborating with the Minnesota Music Educators Association and the Perpich Center for Arts Education on getting eLearning resources out to different communities, but that is still not enough. I think getting more visibility and creating new partnerships with local and national music education organizations and businesses such as phone companies, Internet providers, computer, and software companies, etc. to show how music connects all of us is a must during this time of uncertainty. 

What music experience do you miss the most right now? 

RD: I do miss group ensemble music-making experience. There is just something magical about making music together. That being said, I have seen many musicians being creative in new ways to overcome this. There are many virtual ensemble videos being posted. It is inspiring to see the level of creativity explode during this pandemic. 

What is your favorite Music Education activity to do online? 

RD: I have so many. I was telling my colleague that I feel like a parent sometimes because there are on average 8 to 10 classes running daily with MacPhail K-12 @Home. I am able to log in and view my teachers’ classes. We offer a Beat Boxing class that has become very popular. This week we have over 25 students registered. It is pretty cool to see that grid view of boxes and see the students engaged in music-making. 

What advice do you have to give for parents and other music educators going through virtual education right now? 

RD: My biggest advice would be for everyone to take a few breaths and know that we will get through this. Keep checking in on yourself, your students, and your children's physical and mental health. We as people are expending more energy now through virtual education. It can be exhausting. The education world got flipped upside down in a matter of days. There is no “correct virtual education model.” This is a day by day process. Keep assessing what works and what does not. Lastly, do not be scared to reach out and ask questions. Everyone is navigating in uncharted waters. There are a ton of great resources being produced every minute. If you are getting overwhelmed, please reach out to someone. It is amazing what a three-minute phone call can provide over 30 emails. 

What is your favorite story from your role? 

RD: My favorite story is getting an email from one of the parents during the second week of MacPhail K-12 @Home. I remember observing the class. There were two brothers eating their breakfast taking a Mindfulness and Music class. They had the biggest smiles on their faces. A few hours later their mother emailed me thanking MacPhail for the program. They had already taken multiple classes. I saved her message: “We wanted to thank you, Roque, for offering these classes. What an opportunity! The classes have given us some structure here at home this week, and my kids have learned a lot too.” I sound like a broken record, but music does connect us. 

To find out more about MacPhail's programs, please visit their website, here