Ambition Musician: Showing Students Real Possibilities

Rachel Schachter is a volunteer Citizen Teacher who taught a Ambition Musician apprenticeship at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Newark, NJ.  She is a music major at Drew University.   When I was in middle school, my conception of the music industry was that one day I would win a talent competition, I would become famous, I would make hit records, and I would do nothing but music for the rest of my life.

As I’ve grown, my goals have shifted, I’ve become a folk-oriented singer/songwriter, and I know that, while I might have to work a day job for most of my life in which I do not perform, I can also make music and make money doing what I love to do.

When I signed up to teach this apprenticeship, it was that sort of realism that I wanted to instill in children.

An incredibly important aspect of Citizen Schools' apprenticeships is the focus on College to Career Connections. The fact that we as teachers are encouraged to make these connections every day adds a world of significance to class. As simple as it might seem to think, “of course people are employed as songwriters, performers, producers, and sound engineers,” we don’t necessarily do it unless it’s explicitly brought up, and that’s exactly what these students need. They need to know that these opportunities are real and extend beyond things like “American Idol.”

One particular student, Damiana, stood apart from the first time the class met. At the end of our first class, she and a friend performed a song that she had written, and they did so confidently. When we began the songwriting process, she dove into it, both in writing her own lyrics and in editing the lyrics of others. She was always constructive and never rude. When the time came to begin rehearsing, she not only wanted to sing, but she wanted to rap, always expanding her horizons, willing and wanting to try new things.

My favorite part of my experience with Damiana, though, was when she and about 20 other Citizen Schools students visited Drew University for an event called “Pathways to and Through College,” in which a class of Drew freshmen took Citizen Schools students through a virtual college experience. Damiana spoke with a Drew professor about a music major and pursuing a career in performance. The Drew professor explained the necessity for professional singers to constantly take voice lessons, to constantly audition, and to be able to handle criticism and rejection. Damiana took the whole talk in stride, and at the end of the day said, “I can’t wait to go to this college.”

Citizen Schools has allowed this apprenticeship to impart a realistic understanding of the music industry to students who are seriously interested in music as a career. Their worldviews are that much more grounded and hopeful for it.

Teaching has also let me remember how much I wanted to grow up to be a musician when I was younger, and let me realize how proud the person I was in middle school would be of the person I am now. Whether I continue to teach or take my career path in a whole different direction, I will always have singing and songwriting in my life, and I am incredibly glad that this apprenticeship has reminded me how important it is to me.