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Since January, Upper School Chamber Orchestra students have been creating their own music history podcast episodes uncovering the musical contributions of minority people, communities, and cultures. Their 15-minute episodes will air on the new Westridge radio station KWST.

After working with Associate Producer of NPR’s Latino USA Alissa Escarce, who visited the class in January, students selected a breadth of research topics from within assigned time periods. Just a few examples include:

  • The work of women composers in the Renaissance like Maddalena Casulana and Vittoria Aleotti
  • The influence of Black composers in the Classical period including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Francis Johnson
  • How Chinese ideals were expressed in Chinese opera during the Ming Dynasty
  • The components of Jeongak (aristocratic music) and other Korean traditional music during the Joseon Dynasty
  • Instruments used in Latin America during the Baroque period
  • The impact, meanings, and misinterpretations of the American Indian Ghost Dance of 1890
  • And more!

"We have all heard of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven," said Orchestra Teacher Kerri Epps. "These podcast episodes will celebrate their contemporaries, such as Francesca Caccini, Francis Johnson, and Wovoka. There are so many barriers for people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ folks in music because of a set of standards that were largely established by straight white males, and I really wanted students to have the opportunity to learn about and celebrate musicians who don’t always have their stories told.”

Above: Escarce visits Chamber Orchestra to talk about her work creating stories with music.

For their episodes, students interviewed academics from various universities nationwide, as well as other subject matter experts. During her visit to the class, Escarce also helped students better understand the technicalities behind creating a podcast with music. “I think the way that we communicate best is often by telling stories,” Escarce said while describing what makes a compelling podcast. “I try to think, ‘What stories do I want this person to tell me and what images can I create with music in [the listeners’] minds.’”

“My podcast episode is about the emergence of a form of Chinese opera called zaju during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 A.D.) and what it reveals about the people's attitude towards the arts at the time,” said Shirlynn C. ’21. “Ms. Escarce said that creating a podcast is like trying to create a movie in the listener’s mind, and that completely changed the way I viewed this project.”

This “Music History of the Underrepresented” podcast builds off the “Representation Matters” project that the class did in the fall, in which students privately completed a worksheet about their own personal identities and then presented on a musician who represented identities that students felt described them. Epps said that she wanted to use their time in remote learning to engage more deeply with music history, finding ways to make their discussions of composers and musical periods more personal to students. “Students seeing themselves in music history and exploring stories that they feel connected to, is so energizing and exciting,” said Epps.

Stay tuned for more on when podcast episodes will be released!