How Evan Wichman ’12 composes culturally relevant and conscious music programs – from Queens to Beijing

Evan Wichman ’12 with a view from the top of Lao Zhaishan overlooking the Li River outside Xingping in Guangxi Province, China

Music teacher Evan Wichman ’12 quit his first teaching job after designing a choral program from scratch and putting together a competitive a cappella group. But when asked how much his life resembles the TV show “Glee,” he laughs. “Well, we didn’t sing ‘Blurred Lines’ and we didn’t do a student production of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show,'” he says of his seven-year role at Maspeth High School in New York.

“I don’t want to discount ‘Glee’,” Wichman says, “but there was a little diversity issue on the show. Just a little bit.” His Maspeth students, he says, were much more diverse. Mainly from immigrant families, they come from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Puerto Rico. Others spoke Polish at home.

“Queens was fascinating,” says the teacher, who dreamed of landing a job at an urban school while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music teacher education at the University’s School of Education.

Founded in 2011, Maspeth teaches the “classics”. Students learn Latin and enroll in an arts course for all four years. “The goal is to develop public speaking and debating skills,” Wichman says. When he joined Maspeth in 2014, the school did not have a choir program, so he developed his own program.

With the arts at heart, the choir was sequenced and taught individually by level, not as an elective. “It allowed me to start in ninth grade reading music fundamentals and progress in technique and theory as each year progressed,” says Wichman, who developed the program at the point of supervising extracurricular ensembles and traveling shows.

One of the highlights was when the Syracuse University singers, the flagship choral ensemble at Setnor School of Music, performed a combined concert. “It was a full-circle moment,” Wichman said, seeing his former teacher, John F. Warrento give a lesson.

“Evan’s students were very responsive and very open. They had a lot of spirit,” says Warren, music teacher and director of choral activities. “Evan is a passionate learner. His students reflected this and were eager to learn.

Warren says he knew Wichman would make a great teacher. “I remember he had great poise in his teaching,” he says, recalling his ability to lead a class while expressing his joy. “He’s so energetic and so much fun, but there was no doubt who was in charge.”

To build a culturally relevant music program, Wichman first asks, “Who are the students I serve? He then searches for pieces that students can connect to – selections from their cultures, in Indigenous languages ​​and styles. Not only does this approach teach them about their culture and make them feel proud, he says, but it can also center students as experts so others can learn from them.

It takes time to compile representative works, but cultural exploration through musical repertoire can have a big impact, he adds.

Alum Evan Wichman's high school music students pose together during a choir competition at Disney WOrld

The Maspeth High School ArgoNotes celebrate their performance at Walt Disney World. Wichman stands on the far left.

Wichman credits his teachers with being mindful of cultural representation. He specifically references a book on Brazilian music lessons in a college setting called “Travel On and On: Interdisciplinary Lessons on the Music of World Cultures” by Elisa Macedo DekaneyAssociate Dean for Research, Graduate Studies and Internationalization at the College of Visual Performing Arts and Professor of Music Education, and Deborah Alane Cunningham ’94, G’04, doctoral student at the School of Education.

In Maspeth, Wichman used materials he gathered during a 2018 summer Fulbright-Hays Fellowship in Ecuador. “I had many Ecuadorian students who were really excited for me to go,” he says. Upon his return, he has planned a concert with songs in styles unique to Ecuador, including a piece in Quichua, the language of the indigenous peoples of the Andes.

“One of my students remembered growing up hearing his neighbor speak that language,” says Wichman. “She remembered enough to share those thoughts with her classmates. Thus, a song in this language that none of us speak fluently came to life.

“Choosing a repertoire is not easy,” he adds. “If it’s easy, you’re not working hard enough.”

Wichman says the month-long Fulbright-Hays program was a life-changing experience. One of 16 accepted American educators, he has traveled throughout Ecuador, learning about its different cultures, listening to traditional music — like the pasillo, a style of song found in Ecuador and Colombia — and even visiting the Galapagos Islands. .

He found it empowering to experience Indigenous culture first-hand: “There’s so much erasure in the United States, as people celebrate it, it opened my eyes. »

During his visit, Gustavo Lovato, former director of La Casa de la Music in Quito, Ecuador, and organizer of the Pasillo concert, presented Wichman with sheet music books, which have accompanied him to his current position as teacher in a public school in China.

Four years later, Wichman returned the gift, sending Lovato a video of his Chinese students performing a traditional Ecuadorian song. “It’s not like I was at the forefront. It’s just that my students in China might not come across this type of music on their own.

Currently halfway through a two-year contract as an International Baccalaureate music teacher at the National Day School in Beijing, Wichman plans to spend two years in China and then try a stint elsewhere.

The biggest challenge of her freshman year was not teaching, but living China’s zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19: “I’m in the right place at just the wrong time.

Wichman’s choice to pursue a musical education was pragmatic: “In high school, I asked myself, ‘What do I like to do?’ and I really liked the music. Obtaining a teaching degree combined his love of singing with a clear career path, and he settled at Syracuse University because it offered the best variety of musical learning and performance. . “I could be in a marching band and still do the opera workshop and play,” he says. “There is a lot of flexibility.”

He also came to learn that the School of Education’s music education program places great emphasis on diversity of interests.

His former teacher Kelly ChandlerOlcott, acting dean and holder of the Laura J. & L. Douglas Meredith Chair for Teaching Excellence, says Wichman has been among her most memorable students in more than 25 years of teaching. “Evan was always well-prepared, engaged, and he possessed a lively, self-deprecating sense of humor,” she says. “He has great promise for the future.”

A fun moment—during an immersion visit to the Foundations of Music Education course at the Bernice M. Wright Child Development Center on the Syracuse University campus—reinforced her decision to teach music.

Music Education students were asked to teach 30 minutes of music lessons each week to 3- and 4-year-olds. One day, Wichman was leading an exercise singing “Chop, Chop, Chippity Chop,” a children’s song about making soup. “We sang ‘chop chop, chippity chop, we cut the low, we cut the top, and what we have left, we put in the pot,'” he says. “Then you ask the students, ‘what do you want to put in your soup?’ And they suggest different things.

Wichman laughs: “One of the students said he wanted cheese. Pretending, I took my cleaver with my hand and said to everyone: ‘let’s cut the cheese!’ Laughter erupted: “That’s where it sank… I really like that, seeing the imagination and the energy of the kids. I loved feeling that energy.

Finding new ways to help students in the social and emotional areas that need it fascinates Wichman. That’s why he recently started a three-year online Masters program on the future of education at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The program is designed to meet the need for creative, critical, and experiential thinking at all levels of education and among communities, industries, and organizations.

former student Evan Wichman leads a musical rehearsal with his students at Beijing National Day School

Wichman leads a musical rehearsal with students from the Beijing National Day School.

Mindfulness became a surprising component of Wichman’s pedagogy while teaching in New York, and its usefulness resurfaced in China. The concept was first introduced to him at a workshop at Carnegie Hall that he attended with other New York music teachers. One Saturday, an elementary school music teacher introduced puzzle games by pulling out a box of cards showing different activities.

“My first reaction was that it had no use in my classroom,” says Wichman, but he has come to adapt the exercises to the needs of his students. For example, a card with a breathing exercise helps her students better conceptualize breathing through song. “The first time I tried I was watched by my assistant manager at Maspeth,” he says. “He found it amazing.”

When he moved to China, Wichman had not anticipated that these modified exercises would be useful outside of the choir. But a month into the school year, at a faculty meeting, the discussion turned to students’ stress levels. The Chinese school day is quite long, he says, and the extended tutoring sessions continue into the evening.

Musical practices and appreciation of the arts, notes Wichman, are essential elements of a balanced life. “Singing releases endorphins,” he says. “Singing makes you feel good because it’s a controlled exhale. When you meditate, one of the things you focus on is a slow inhale and a long, controlled exhale. Singing is basically controlled exhalation. This is why chanting has such restorative properties.

Learn more about the School of Education B.Mus. in Music Education (pre-K-grade 12) or contact Tim Findlay, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Recruitment, at [email protected] or 315.443.4269.

Story of Ashley Kang ’04, G’11