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Music in America in Action: The Jazz Academy at Solebury School
(Published: November 09, 2012)

By Logan Buckley '12 - Nov. 9, 2012

This past summer, Marci and Brian Alegant left Oberlin to spend a week in New Hope, Pennsylvania. They volunteered their time to teach at the Jazz Academy at Solebury School, a program that allows high school students from places like Camden, New Jersey to spend a week immersing themselves in music and getting a taste of the college experience. Ms. Alegant, an assistant director of career services at Oberlin, and previously the executive director of the Music in America Initiative, describes it as her "favorite week of the summer." This is the second summer that she and her husband, music theory professor Brian Alegant, have taught at the Jazz Academy. Already, they can't wait to return next year.

The Jazz Academy at Solebury School is an exciting weeklong summer program for students from a diverse collection of high schools, including schools from impoverished areas like Camden. Students spend the week playing jazz, making connections and learning a little bit about what college is like from the campus atmosphere of the Solebury School (a private school in rural Pennsylvania). While there, they have the opportunity to ask Oberlin students about college - including some who, like themselves, went to school in Camden. Marci Alegant describes the school as "a kernel of hope for students trapped by poverty," an opportunity for music to help serve as a way out. Above all, the impression one gets speaking to those who've been involved in the program is just how much fun it is for everyone.

The idea for the Jazz Academy originated at Camden Creative Arts High School (CCAHS), one of the Music in America program's participating schools, with the support of the Jonathan D. Krist Foundation and the Solebury School. Bob and Peggy Krist created the Krist Foundation in memory of their son Jonathan, an Oberlin student who was known for his passion for both music and for helping the less fortunate. He worked to build wells in Africa, providing sources of much-needed fresh water for communities, as well as to provide band instruments to underserved schools. When he tragically passed away at a young age, his family formed the Krist Foundation to continue the work that Jonathan loved.

In an example of what Peggy Krist describes as the power of coincidence - she is a firm believer in "giving credit to the little things in life" - Ms. Krist met Jamal Dickerson, the band director for CCAHS. This introduction came through Oberlin alum and jazz musician James McBride ‘79 while he was helping the Krists with another project for the Foundation. Mr. McBride mentioned that he was tutoring a student at CCAHS (Alex Cummings, now a student at the Oberlin Conservatory). He suggested that Ms. Krist get in touch with Mr. Dickerson to see if the Krist Foundation could do something help the disadvantaged students in Camden.

She agreed to visit and, by another coincidence, the first student she spoke to in Camden was the same Alex Cummings. During their conversation, Alex shared his dream of starting a camp for jazz musicians. Jamal Dickerson shared Alex's dream, and Ms. Krist realized the potential of their idea, thinking it could be a way for the Krist Foundation to start something that would live beyond their family and carry forward their son's spirit and vision of improving lives through music.

They found a willing partner in Solebury School, located on an idyllic tree-covered campus in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Through the cooperation of the Solebury School, the Krist Foundation and CCAHS, Alex's idea became a reality. The first year, the Krist Foundation and Solebury School funded a trip for CCAHS for a long weekend on the Solebury campus.

The second year it was extended to a full week, and that is when the Alegants began volunteering. Marci leads morning meditation sessions and teaches voice lessons and life skills classes, while Brian teaches music theory and also tutors the Oberlin students who come to help at the camp to improve their teaching. Dennis Reynolds, the director of the Oberlin Jazz Orchestra, is another faculty member who volunteers at the Jazz Academy. He also took the Jazz Orchestra on a trip to Camden this past spring.

As it has continued, the Jazz Academy has expanded to include students from the area surrounding New Hope and several other schools in impoverished and underserved areas. This evolution is fostering connections between students who would be unlikely to encounter one another otherwise.

Ms. Krist describes the effect of the Jazz Academy as "the Oberlin difference," and refers to her desire that it will serve as a legacy for both her son and for Jamal Dickerson. She is especially proud of the students from CCAHS who are now attending Oberlin, and the Oberlin students who have come back to teach at the camp.

Marci Alegant echoes those ideas, describing her "hope that it [the Jazz Academy] outlives all of us." In particular, she is amazed and inspired by how many of the students that come through the Jazz Academy - both from Oberlin and from the high schools -want to go back and teach music in Camden or other challenged school districts..

The meaning of the Jazz Academy and Jamal Dickerson (known to his students as Mr. D) for students from Camden and other schools can probably be best illustrated by an anecdote Ms. Krist tells from last summer. At the Academy, they screened "Thunder Soul," a movie about a group of middle-aged former students who organize a reunion concert to honor their high school band director and recognize the ways that he had inspired and helped them. When the Camden students saw the movie, their enthusiastic reaction was unanimous: "This is what we have to do for Mr. D."

More Information: http://new.oberlin.edu/office/musicinamerica/

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