Interview with Kenzie Jones: YMF Teaching Artist
Kenzie Jones is the teaching artist at College Track Boyle Heights. She is a musician of many talents and jumped right into the opportunity to teach virtual ukulele. In our interview, you will learn a little more about the program at College Track and Kenzie’s teaching journey using Uku's Wanderer Soprano ukulele.
- What was the first instrument you learned to play? When did you first learn the ukulele?
My first instrument was the piano. I started lessons in 3rd grade to help cure my diplopia (it kinda helped). I started learning the ukulele recently in the summer of 2020.
- Tell us a little bit about your musical self! What artists and genres inspire you?
My musical education is classical. I have a BM in oboe performance and am currently earning my MM in composition. As much as I participate in music academia, I am not a huge fan of its emphasis on literacy and its canonization of particular composers.
I am constantly inspired by the band Hiatus Kaiyote and their lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Nai Palm. Interestingly, Nai Palm is music illiterate and depends on guitar idioms to compose harmony.
- Did you always know music would be part of your professional life?
I did not! When entering college I had to declare oboe performance to receive a scholarship. My only goal was to come out of undergrad debt-free so I could work for a nonprofit specializing in women’s empowerment in India. However, I fell in love with music as I was pursuing my degree. After completing internships and poverty immersions in Kolkata (2014) and Lucknow (2017). I decided I wanted to pursue community-building work through music in Los Angeles instead.
- How did you come to be a teaching artist for Young Musicians Foundation?
I have had a crush on YMF since 2015 haha. I just love their mission. I was very fortunate to have a timely email reach Cesar in early 2020 and got to sit in on a music technology class for young women. Fast forward to the summer, Kelsey asked if I’d like to assist their virtual ukulele classes and here I am.
- What do you like about playing the ukulele?
I love how easy it is to create something sweet and catchy from it. It takes many years to make a good sound on the oboe and the genres available for performance are limited. This makes me really appreciate the uke’s pickup and playability.
- What do you like about teaching the ukulele?
The ukulele provides an occasion to teach harmony, accompaniment, and composition all on an accessible homophonic instrument. Students can learn about frets, chord shapes, baring all without slicing their fingers open on thin wire strings.
Most of all, I love that it gives my students the opportunity to learn the music that they listen to. Most young peoples’ favorite music is in song form. Learning the ukulele allows students to learn and play almost any song as a beginner. No need for ‘hot cross buns,’ etude books, etc.
- Tell us about how the students at College Track have responded to learning the ukulele?
The students at College Track have responded with a lot of intrigue. I can see they appreciate the privilege of owning an instrument and some have really taken off with independent learning. For others, this is their first time learning an instrument so the ukulele is helping them learn a lot about music in general. I think the playability of the ukulele brings out their inherit musical ability. It surprises them what they are capable of!
- Do you have a particular memory or story that you can share about how the ukulele impacted a particular student’s life?
I don’t have a response just yet for the CT group. However, I have a memorable moment in regards to teaching another ukulele class for YMF.
In the Fall I had a student compose a song when she was really upset. A reoccurring lyric was “let the fire burn!” and she created a menacing strumming pattern to match. She turned the musical concepts she had learned in class into a full-fledged piece of expression. Obviously, I and the others on the zoom call were ecstatic and did not hold back any praise. I assume that she experienced an amount of validation in that moment that could have alleviated or redeemed the negative experience that inspired the song.
- How do you think the ukulele supports social-emotional learning in school?
Because the ukulele lends itself well to learning through song, the students get to frequently interact with lyrics. They have the opportunity to reflect on why they resonate with a particular lyric or musical gesture and get to express themselves through those very things in performance.
Sharing these reflections and performances as a class creates an environment focused on listening to one another and learning from one another.
- What about using Uku ukuleles helped make your experience at College Track a success?
Getting an instrument into the student’s hands has been invaluable during this period of online instruction. The Wanderer Soprano ukulele adds a much-needed interactive, tactile experience to the virtual learning environment.
With the CT group, we have not had a string break from tuning, which is great. I usually have 1-2 students have this happen with my other students, and you can imagine it is hard to address during online group teaching.
- Uku Global was founded on the belief that the ukulele spreads happiness and fosters community. In your experience, have Uku’s Ukuleles combined with your teaching done that at College Track?
Definitely, in class, there are many opportunities to share and perform. Students get to learn about their classmate’s musical tastes and hear each other express themselves through music. I believe the ukuleles bring the students joy and reprieve from their academic studies. You can’t beat the soothing timbre of nylon strings tuned to a pentatonic scale!
- Please share your thoughts on the Wanderer Soprano Ukulele!
The Wanderer ukulele has great resonance! It achieves a darker and louder tone than any other ukulele I have played. It is obviously beautiful and I appreciate the inlays at the 12th and 15th frets.
Music education is a critical part of Uku’s mission. We strive to be involved in programs like College Track and work with teachers like Kenzie. The collaboration with Young Musicians Foundation has created so many musical moments and opportunities for students.
Thank you to Kenzie, Young Musicians Foundation, and i.am College Track for an amazing partnership! We can’t wait to see what the future holds!
The post Interview with Kenzie Jones: YMF Teaching Artist was first published on Uku Ukuleles.