Elk Grove Students Take a Virtual Field Trip to SF Jazz Concert
In honor of Black History Month, band students at Elk Grove Unified’s Toby Johnson Middle School joined students from across the state for a special concert from the SFJazz Center: Sounds of Freedom – Harriet Tubman and the Blues. Although SFJazz has sponsored several School Day Concerts over the past year, the February 8 event was their first time to include videoconferencing as an option for schools outside of the Bay Area. Toby Johnson was one of four middle schools invited to participate virtually, along with Preuss Middle School (San Diego), Lorbeer Middle School (Pomona), and Edna Brewer Middle School (Oakland).
As over 400 students from local schools were filing into San Francisco’s SFJazz Miner Auditorium, the four virtual sites were busy setting up their cameras and checking their sound systems and Internet connections.
At 1:30 p.m., SF Jazz Director of Education, Rebeca Mauleón, welcomed the students, both in the auditorium and at the four schools online. She then turned the program over to award-winning bassist and bandleader Marcus Shelby.
After introducing the band members, Marcus spoke of the connection between music and history, explaining that the goal of their interactive performance was to demonstrate “the relationship of various blues forms, spirituals, and work songs used by freedom fighters such as Harriet Tubman and other runaway slaves to gain their freedom.” Each composition represented and celebrated the fight for emancipation.
During the hour-long concert, the singer Tiffany Austin (below) and band members interjected questions for the students and invited them to sing along “call and response” style.
Throughout the concert, Toby Johnson’s video production news team was busy not only filming the event, but also conducting live interviews with band students, teachers, and the district tech support team.
As the concert drew to a close, SF Jazz Director Rebeca Mauleón stepped back on the stage and invited students to ask questions.
“I am thrilled that our students were able to ‘attend’ a professional, live jazz workshop/American history lesson – without having to pay for transportation costs to San Francisco or missing an entire day of instruction!” said band teacher Jay Roberts. “The fact that it was a rainy, windy day made the option of joining from our cozy band room even more appealing.”
“My favorite part about the SF Jazz videoconference was that we could ask questions because it was live,” said 7th grader Sydney Boone.
“Being able to interact with Marcus and his band members has expanded my knowledge of jazz culture,” said 7th grader Ben Chuong. Fellow classmate Emily Chen added, “I’m glad I got to see a live professional group work with improvisation, which is something I’ve been trying to get better at.”
Setting up for the SF Jazz concert definitely involved a time commitment on the technology end, as the schools would be connecting with Ultragrid, a newly developed, high-quality videoconferencing program. In Elk Grove, the Technology Services team started testing connections weeks earlier and continued troubleshooting right up till the day before. Fortunately, their efforts paid off. From start to finish, both the audio and video connections were excellent, making it possible for over 700 middle school students (in-person + virtual) to enjoy, learn from, and interact with a highly talented group of professional musicians.
SF Jazz hopes the School Day Concerts will help students “learn how jazz is alive, relevant, and continuing to grow today.” They also want students to experience a jazz performance in their state-of-the-art Miner Auditorium. Thanks to Google’s Cultural Institute, students (and teachers) who were not actually in San Francisco for the concert can still take a stunning virtual tour of the SF Jazz auditorium.
A huge shoutout to SF Jazz! The Sounds of Freedom School Day Concert was a remarkable event and a wonderful example of using technology to bring rich, interactive learning experiences directly into the classroom. Toby Johnson band student Oluwadara (Dara) Aina summed up the event in a sentence: “I like how even though the band focused on Black History Month and Harriet Tubman, they were also able to make it diverse, into a language people of all races could understand – music.”