February 1, 2023
The Cali Pathways Project is changing the face of classical music by helping talented young underrepresented musicians reach their full potential
Posted in: Arts, Home News, University
As a freshman, Basil Blasa is already performing at the highest level at the John J. Cali School of Music. As a member of the prestigious Wind Symphony, he plays his own silver-plated clarinet, a high-quality instrument he could never have afforded on his own.
But as a music education major in the Cali Pathways Project—which identifies talented musicians while still in high school and provides funds to help them purchase instruments and more—Blasa is reaching her potential thanks to Montclair State University’s commitment to diversifying the field of the music.
In only its second year, Cali Pathways is hitting all the right notes. With about 40 high school musicians receiving instruments and instruction while still in high school, the first freshmen group of 10 Pathway “alumni” sing and play on campus, preparing for careers as professional musicians and music educators.
Funded by grants and private donations, Montclair is now launching a campaign to expand the initiative. A Name-A-Seat campaign will allow donors to name one or more of the 180 permanent seats in Leshowitz Recital Hall. The goal is to raise $100,000 to help fund scholarships for talented student musicians from underrepresented backgrounds.
“The students we’re trying to reach are students who are very passionate about music, talented in music, committed to their public school music programs, but who don’t have the resources to take that next step,” says Project Coordinator Cali Pathways Tomoko Fujita. “We try to break down these barriers so that students don’t make life choices based on the limited options in front of them, but instead can reach their fullest musical potential.”
Victoria Ortega, a freshman music education major, learned about the program from a teacher while helping organize the orchestra room at her high school in Staten Island, New York. “They can provide you with lessons, they can provide you with a tool, they can provide you with training assistance,” Ortega recalled of the conversation. “I had to send a video of myself playing, so I used a clip of me playing a euphonium solo.”
She remembers the day in Montclair when she was given her own euphonium. “It’s basically a tuba, but it sounds more like a trombone,” Ortega says. “I didn’t have my own instrument because it cost $5,000 and we just couldn’t afford it.” Opening the box and playing it for the first time, “It sounded so good I didn’t want to stop.”
Victoria Ortega, a freshman Music Education major, opens the box and then plays her new euphonium, which was purchased for her with funding from the Cali Pathways program.
At the national level, many efforts are underway to increase access to music education for underrepresented young talent. “But the reality is that we haven’t changed the demographics significantly,” says Fujita, noting that only about 3 percent of musicians in professional orchestras are musicians of color.
“What’s interesting about Cali Pathways is that we’re not just looking to diversify orchestral musicians, we’re also developing music educators. If we can have more musicians of color teaching in schools, then we will be able to inspire and connect with more young students of color. That can have a huge impact,” says Fujita.
Blasa aspires to teach high school, pausing as he talks about his goals to remember (and thank) his teacher at Bayonne High School for inspiring him. “If I could do that for even one student—if I could be like her for me—then my life is made. I find something so remarkable about that.
Cali Pathways is modeled after existing not-for-profit programs, with Montclair being the first university in the nation to work directly with public schools to recruit and train high school students and follow and guide them to music schools. Montclair provides full scholarships to students who successfully audition and are accepted into the John J. Cali School of Music, says Principal Anthony Mazzocchi.
“Every student has a very different story and very different needs,” Matzocki says.
Many will be the first in their families to attend college, and students say the Cali school’s encouragement is transformative. “The program represents hope,” says high school senior Taimar Garlington, a trumpet player from Staten Island, New York.
“I’ve become more confident because when you’re around your peers, you always get feedback like, ‘Oh, you’re doing so well.’ But when you’re in front of people you don’t know or people who are more experienced, it’s like, wow, maybe I’m better than I thought,” says Garlington. “It’s so surreal to me because if you asked me a year and a half ago if I was going to go to college for music or pick up an instrument, I’d be here in college playing for choirs, I never would have thought of it.”
Maria Taveras, a senior clarinetist from the Bronx, New York, adds, “Although we are all from different areas and backgrounds, what brings us together is music. It makes me happy because I’m not the only Spaniard who likes classical and jazz music and wants to focus on it.”
Story by staff writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren. Photos and video from Rob Davidson.
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