Masterclass and the Importance of Mentoring Across Disciplines ☆

“Do young artists need older practitioners to look at them with something benign, giving them permission to try? Yes, yes, that’s essential,” remarks Bill T. Jones, on the importance of mentoring.

The Tony award-winning choreographer is a member of a cluster of great artists (including Placido Domingo, Frank Gehry and Edward Albee) who mentored select groups of high school students and were chronicled by HBO Family in the ninepart documentary series Masterclass. The intimate sessions are part of the National Foundation for the Advancement of Arts YoungArts program, which thousands of talented high school students compete to participate in each year.

“YoungArts is looking at integrating the arts into other subject areas,” explains TC’s Music and Education Professor Hal Abeles, who is managing a Masterclass study guide project for YoungArts with Professor Margaret Crocco of the Social Studies program. This comes at a time when arts education has suffered significant cuts; the National Endowment for the Arts underwent a reduction of 26% to their budget in February, the largest cut in 16 years. “YoungArts believes one way to maintain them [arts programs] is to include the arts in other curriculum areas,” shares Professor Abeles.

How exactly is this being done in the study guide? By threading the theme of mentoring through each of the lessons. “One can be mentored in a variety of disciplines,” comments Professor Abeles. One question the guide poses is: Who could be your mentor in math? To answer the question, students and teachers engage in an open dialogue about what it means to mentor.

In the documentary episodes, the mentees are not the only ones taking away important lessons about their craft. Mentors too, learn how to look at their profession through the eyes of the young artists and it is hoped that the same kind of reciprocal teaching will transpire in the classroom between teacher and student.

To that end, 50,000 copies of the guide for grades 7 – 12 will be produced and made available to teachers, as well as professional education organizations at no cost (or charge). The EdLab at Gottesman libraries is also working on providing teachers with a study guide website and documenting the use of the guide by teachers.

Allowing for free-flowing creativity in the classroom is a challenge: “It is much easier to say ‘here is what you should do,’ it is much harder to help someone sort of figure it out on their own and find their own kind of expression;” says Nate Olson, a Graduate Assistant and Doctoral Research Fellow in TC’s Music and Education program who is providing administrative support for the study guide project. But freedom of expression is essential in the development of any skill, whether in dance, music or science. The masters of Masterclass are proof that to be great (as Nate eloquently puts it), “you have to cultivate your uniqueness.”

HBO Masterclass