“Music is something that all people can access. It offers shared experiences through which individuals, communities, and culture can strengthen and expand.”
Dan is a composer, educator, and architect for socially conscious music programs in the U.S., South America, and Europe. He uses music as a vehicle for social change, with youth voice and community voice as their foundations. Dan helped start many El Sistema-inspired programs across the U.S., and founded Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids, and Tuned In at the Peabody Conservatory. In response to the global pandemic, Dan launched The Collective Conservatory, providing immersive music-making programs in a virtual setting.
What led you to be a teaching artist?
Necessity. I needed to eat, make a living, and pay for my mother’s health issues. I grew up in a poor rural family with little access to music or music education. When I was 12, a man in a bar gave my dad an old tuba for me to play. I practiced on my own for six months, then started playing on the street in the summer. A counselor at Interlochen heard me and suggested I audition. I did, and was accepted. After I played and taught for a while, I realized my calling was to create systematic approaches to accessible, high quality, socially motivated music instruction.
We all learn and experience life in unique ways. I use music to channel those differences into a shared experience. My teaching is an opportunity for people to come together to creatively explore and express their stories, ideas, and emotions through music. It is a collaboration between youth, educators, community members, and professional musicians.
My work employs collaborative composition, improvisation, and group activities. Collaborative composition encourages participants to explore and develop their musical ideas within a group setting. Shared ownership and responsibility for the expansion of musical material provides a forum for communication and learning that benefits everyone. One of the most exciting aspects of this work is that the musical material is not dictated, therefore everybody involved plays an essential role in creating.
Improvisation is a liberating tool for composition that emphasizes immediacy. When improvisation and collaborative composition are used in a group setting, individuals are granted active roles in musical performance that might normally be beyond their reach.
Also, I look at where we are and what we have, instead of what we think we need, or what we think we’re missing. We can make music together where we are right now, with the assets and skills we have right now.