Welcome to another installment of Three Gems Tea Breaks, where we have tea with our interesting pals doing interesting things! Today we're sipping tea with Eva Gonzalez-Ruskiewicz.
How would you describe yourself and the work you do?
Musician, educator, cat dad, beginner ballerina; former public school music teacher, current grad student in communication.
What are your three gems for teaching young students about music?
We are all natural musicians! Yes, adults who claim to not sing, even you! My job is to help students recognize that they are innately creative, and that music is an accessible and powerful medium for self-expression.
Musician friends know: playing music stirs the soul. Kids are moved by their music, too! It is my greatest privilege to facilitate a musical experience that leads students stunned into silence by their own creations.
Music educators have an important role to play in the Black Lives Matter movement, including examining classroom repertoire and teaching that American music is Black music. The work of Decolonizing the Music Room and Dr. Bettina Love have been great resources as I work to become a better co-conspirator.
Why is music education important for all students?
Do we send children to school simply to get them out of their parents' hair? Or is school meant to develop the full potential of a young person? If you believe in the latter, you believe in music education. Music is a unique vehicle for delivering so much of what children need to flourish: joy, connection, resilience, soulfulness, just to name a few. Plus, teach children music, and they'll always have access to that gift. When adults tell me they can't sing or hold a beat, I know that's not true! They probably just didn't have the right elementary music teacher!
What do you wish more people knew about education policy and its tangible impacts?
When people are talking about changes to education policy, follow the money. Too often, education "reform" is actually a way to move public funds into private hands. For example, the adoption of a national core curriculum sure made a lot of money for textbook and test-material companies. Want to see test scores improve? Ensure every child has access to healthy food, excellent healthcare and a safe place to live. And while we're waiting for that to happen, start paying teachers what they're worth! There's no substitute for a skilled, experienced teacher, but currently, half of all teachers burn out in their first five years.
How has the digital classroom changed music education?
Ooof. We can't make music in ensembles anymore! None of the online platforms can allow for choral singing or real-time instrumental rehearsal. But teachers are getting creative, really figuring out how to still teach quality music lessons. Personally, I'm exploring how Zoom can be used for group movement and choreography.
Have you seen any creative homemade instruments in your Zoom classrooms?
A lot of leftover easter-egg shakers. And, a pot'n'pan drum kit. Before Zoom-times, but still worth a mention: a plastic-bag bagpipe.
Any tips for parents tired of listening to recorder practice?
I am a recorder nerd forever and ever so please take my advice with many grains of salt. Sooo maybe you need to buy a nicer recorder! Your kids are playing a $3 piece of plastic — there are some $20-$30 instruments (still plastic) that produce a way nicer timbre. Or... get an alto recorder! It has a lower register and — never forget — the alto is meant to be the primary voice of the recorder family!
If the idea of spending money on a recorder is inconceivable, I get it, I was like you once. Take a moment to celebrate that your kiddo is excited about music, and then see if you can channel that drive into an instrument with a more dulcet timbre.
What do you miss most about playing live music?
The connection — the feeling in a room when everyone's lost in the same moment.
What tea are you sipping?
Midnight Blossom Oolong, brewed in the gorgeous Three Gems gong fu set. It's malty, complex, grounding, soothing to the stomach. The smell is half the pleasure. As I was brewing this cup, I noticed how many times I stopped to sniff!
When and why do you take a tea break?
A good oolong is basically my favorite thing. I'll have some tea in the late afternoon or early evening. Pandemic has made life kinda monotonous, but my tea break reminds me of the simple beauty that can come from engaging our senses. No matter how my day has been going, I can't help but have a nice time while sipping my tea!