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The Music Teacher

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Mark Jackson in Taos, New Mexico

By Clara Middleton 


Over the holidays I was in Taos, New Mexico, for a few days. What an interesting place. What makes Taos particularly interesting is the almost unlikely combination of people who live there: Native Americans, Hispanics and Mexicans, and white folks from many parts of the country (even the world). And apart from some rich people who have either retired in Taos or use it as a getaway, most people seem to live modestly. In fact, an awful lot of people are poor -- from Native Americans who live mostly in Pueblos to artists who figure they have to sell their work for very cheap if they want to eke out a living. Except for a few artists who charge the bloated prices of “recognized” galleries, there is not much money to be made in Taos. That sometimes makes for a great deal of honesty and unpretentiousness.

 

I had some very interesting conversations with Mark Jackson, an accomplished musician who taught in Taos public schools for a number of years. He had a great deal of interesting experiences and, frankly, I hope that publishing him here will inspire him to share more of the insights he has gained. So let me first introduce him.

 

Mark Allen Jackson is an opera singer. He has sung in the US with renowned companies such as Boston Opera Company, Boston Lyric Opera, Santa Fe Opera, the Minnesota Opera Company, and New York City Opera. He has given recitals all over the world.  He moved to Taos in 2002 and when the following year he accepted the directorship of the bands at the high school and middle school, his commitment was a most welcome contribution to the Taos public school system. A local mother and attorney, Carol Neelley, wrote in Taos Times: “That a concert musician of Mr. Jackson’s caliber would choose to settle in Taos and join our public school staff is remarkable. That he would make a five-year commitment to the music program is little short of miraculous.” Only one year after Mark Jackson’s appointment, Neelley observed “Anyone who has heard the band recently appreciates the dramatic upturn in musicianship and participation of students from sixth to twelfth grades. Everyone who hears it now feels the impact of the electric energy and enthusiasm of all our children who participate.”
 

Now, Taos public schools are what is politely called “diverse.” If you ask me, what is called “diversity” is usually a reflection of segregation and poverty. And the sad fact is that kids in these schools are nobody’s priority and the schools themselves have very little resources. Against this general background you often find dedicated and brilliant teachers who struggle to teach and in fact rescue children from societal neglect. Mark is one of those teachers.

 

When you face very trying situations and have to meet the challenges they create with very little outside help, you come to rely on your own personal resources and those of your best colleagues. So you learn a lot – and if you’re creative, you invent a lot. Mark agreed to share with MoBB some of what he has learned and thought over the years. Stay tuned…

 


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