MacPhail’s White Bear Lake Partnership Brings Music to All Children

by | May 2019

Two children take piano lessons through a partnership with the MacPhail Center for Music.

Photo: Joel Schnell

MacPhail Center for Music school partnerships bring music into the community.

A Minneapolis institution, MacPhail Center for Music’s history goes back to 1907, when it was known as the MacPhail School of Violin. Over the years, MacPhail expanded and evolved, creating innovative curriculum for young students. From 1966 through 1994, MacPhail was part of the University of Minnesota, during which time it created an early childhood education program that offered one of the country’s first Suzuki programs.

MacPhail’s reach extends far beyond Minneapolis to offer music education programs through community and school partnerships developed to serve the needs of learners in all life stages. MacPhail instructors teach in long-term care communities, community centers and schools in a total of 113 sites outside the downtown Minneapolis location, reaching 9,000 people. Birch Lake Elementary School in White Bear Lake is home to a school partnership program that MacPhail offers outside their Minneapolis campus.

The program at Birch Lake Elementary began in 2006. Students take part in a music curriculum as part of their school day. There is also a program open to all members of the community for individual and small group lessons in the afternoon and evening.

MacPhail’s mission statement is,“Transforming lives and strengthening communities through exceptional music learning experiences that inspire,”and MacPhail’s president and chief operating officer Paul Babcock says that community and school partnerships are central to everything MacPhail does and have been an important part of MacPhail from its earliest days.

Paul Babcock

Paul Babcock

“Community partnerships … have grown substantially since they were started nearly 30 years ago,” says Babcock. “In the last 30 years, MacPhail has developed over 100 community partnerships reaching 9,000 students of many ages and all backgrounds. Our partnerships bring programs out into the community to provide greater access for students … [and] they are a very important part of helping us reach our mission.”

Babcock says the partnerships are meant to be a resource that supports what each school wants to offer their students and their community.
“The number one goal of a community partnership is to be a programming resource to that organization whether it is a school or an assisted living [community],” he says. “MacPhail has 230 wonderful teaching artists with extensive and deep backgrounds in very specific areas of music and music education. Their skills can augment and support the ongoing work of an organization or school utilizing the unique talents of MacPhail teaching artists.”

MacPhail’s director of school partnerships Roque Diaz is a Ph.D. candidate in music education at the University of Minnesota. His doctoral work focuses on embedding diversity in the arts. He joined MacPhail after organizing a pilot program that provided free after-school music lessons at a Minneapolis school with a historically diverse student population that had been underserved in music education. “The ability to merge my diversity research with the pilot program allowed me to intentionally embed and increase diversity in the music program,” Diaz says. It also gave him the practical experience running a music education partnership that led to his current position.

Roque Diaz 

Roque Diaz

Diaz works with partner schools to determine what type of programs are needed. The school then works on hiring the MacPhail teaching artists needed.

Sue Ruby, a teaching artist at Birch Lake, teaches piano in both the school-day curriculum and the after-school private and group lessons. In addition to Ruby’s work with MacPhail, she is part-owner of the K&S Conservatory of Music in Woodbury and a founder of the Association of Professional Piano Instructors.

One of the things that Ruby values most about the MacPhail partnership is that the school-day classes are all free. Students are able to sign up during parents’ night at the beginning of the school year and participate as part of their elective classes during the day. These are small group classes that give children the chance to explore music. The instruments used for the program were donated to MacPhail for use in the community programs, and MacPhail provides these to the students at no cost.

“By making the lessons and the instruments available, MacPhail creates a situation where there is equal access for everyone,” Ruby says. “It’s one thing to bring music lessons into the school but [cost] can exclude some kids.”

Ruby holds a master’s degree in piano pedagogy. “I always knew I wanted to teach,” Ruby says. “I love to see that look in a kid’s eyes when they make connections.” She says that what she does is help children learn how to express themselves using the piano.

“There are so many right and wrong questions that kids have to answer today,” says Ruby. “It’s nice to give them permission to get out of the black and white and express themselves.

Diaz says that the White Bear Lake partnership offers guitar, cello, piano, voice, ukulele, violin and viola in private and shared lessons and one-on-one music therapy.

“Since the MacPhail White Bear Lake partnership started in 2006, it has grown well, much as we had hoped. Today there are 190 students in the partnership program [school-day group classes] and 120 individuals in registration-based lessons,” says Diaz.

In addition to the programs currently offered through the White Bear Lake partnership, MacPhail offers an extensive menu of other programs, including the MacPhail Music for Life™ program that focuses on involving elders in choral groups.

“Music strengthens the mind, lifts the spirit and improves communities. It is essential for the well-being of children, adolescents and adults” is one of MacPhail’s core beliefs, and they are committed to the philosophy of lifelong learning. Jeanie Brindley-Barnett, who oversees MacPhail Music for Life™ says that the she hopes to see MacPhail Music for Life™ in White Bear Lake in the future.

MacPhail Center for Music
White Bear Location
Birch Lake Elementary School
1616 Birch Lake Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN 55110
Facebook: MacPhail Center for Music
Instagram: @MacPhailMusic
Twitter: @MacPhailMusic


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