In the News

The Brandeis Reporter (November 2, 2004)

MusicUnitesUS combines Brandeis professors, music educators, and Waltham public school children in perfect harmony

by Beverly Freeman

Judy Eissenberg's craft is making music. Artist-in-residence at Brandeis University, she has enriched the lives of the Brandeis community through her music and is now bringing music to Waltham schoolchildren to help them create a bridge to other cultures.

Eissenberg is a founding member of the world-renowned Lydian String Quartet and the founder and director of MusicUnitesUS (MUUS), a groundbreaking program of the Brandeis music department, bringing together students to experience diverse live music performances that suppor their social studies lessons in a classroom. In these performances, music works as a powerful teaching tool because it is an authentic voice for articulating values, hopes, and dreams of diverse cultures, as well as exploring issues of identity.

On Oct. 18, MUUS held "Civil Rights: Songs of Hope and Struggle," an educational and cultural musical experience for all fourth graders from the Waltham public schools. Singer and songwriter Jane Sapp, Mel King Fellow at MIT and director of Voices of Today, presented a program of freedom songs with South African musician, Stompie Selibe. A music educator like Sapp, Selibe is dedicated to promoting reconciliation in Africa through drumming, music and song. The students' corresponding lesson plans related to the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

Last academic year was the pilot year for MUUS. About 100 fifth graders from the James Fitzgerald and Northeast Schools in Waltham came to campus. This year marks a significant expansion of the program: more than 1,000 Waltham students will come to campus for three performances.

"We believe that education helps to shape our children's ability to act ethically and responsibly in this world, and that MusicUnitesUS demonstrates a special contribution that the arts can make towards this goal," Eissenberg said. "We aim to link these music programs with the social studies curriculum. Especially in this post-9/11 world, we must appreciate many different histories and world views that tell the story of humankind."

As part of a similar program, on Oct. 20-21, Waltham seventh graders, who were studying Asia, came to Brandeis to experience music from the ancient Silk Road. The performing group, the Orchid Ensemble, is par of the new Brandeis World Music Series. As an added bonus, the students toured the Rose Art Museum to see an exhibit of drawings by Yun-Fei Ji, done in traditional Chinese style about the controversial Three Gorges Dam project. Later this year at Brandeis, the international 26-member touring group Peru Negro will be on campus for a two-day residency and giving two programs for the Waltham fifth grades, culminating in a full concert, open to the public.

"One of the most exciting things about this project for me," said Eissenberg, "is the way music unites us on different brings people together in this country and with cultures throughout the world in a shared vision of peace."