How I Used Free Resources to Build My Music Program

Picture it. August of 2015. I was a teacher who had just relocated his whole family from Florida to New York City. Fortunately, I had found a job as music teacher split between two schools. On my first day in class, my students had nothing. Only me. No instruments, no razzle dazzle, just me. Fast forward to December of 2018. My classroom now has 10 keyboards, 6 acoustic guitars, a bass guitar, an electronic drum set, and a portable PA system. My intention with this article is to share how I got from August 2015 to December 2018.

A letter from one of McKanstry’s students to a donor.

During my first year, I heard about an organization from my Arts Matter mentor that was supplying schools with instruments needed to start a modern band program. The name of this organization is Little Kids Rock, and after attending an amazing professional development workshop, attendees were given points which were redeemable for instruments and materials. By attending this professional development, I was able to supply our students with 4 keyboards, a portable PA system, and 6 acoustic guitars. This was great, but with 30 plus students in some classes, my program would need more materials in order to survive.

A few months ago, I heard about, a website that allows donors the opportunity to select classroom projects to fund. At first, I was a bit apprehensive and skeptical as this was something new. However, I persisted and decided to give it a try. The site allows teachers to to write mini grants for supplies for their classroom. After completing the information I clicked the button to launch my project and emailed about five or six parents from my school. Of course, as with anything new, I started psyching myself out. “What if no one gives?” “This probably won’t work out!” These are but two questions of many that ran through my mind. I remember this experience vividly. I launched our project on a Wednesday. By Thursday morning, we had our first donation from one of our parents. By noon that Friday, the project was fully funded. Just like that, a bass guitar and an electronic drum set were on their way to our school. I was elated for my program and what this would mean for our students. While we were waiting for our materials, I figured I’d try to put together another project for some additional materials and instruments for our budding modern band. This time, I was expecting the same results as before. Three days had gone by and not a single donation. However, by the time a week had passed, we received our first donation from a colleague of mine and shortly after the project was fully funded by an anonymous donor. Music stands, two keyboards, and new headphones were on their way to my classroom. Within about three weeks, all the materials had arrived. I can remember the confusion and excitement as these large boxes were brought into the classroom. “Mr. McKanstry is that for us?”, “Mr. McKanstry did you buy this?”, “Oh wow I love playing drums!” These are just a few of the questions students were asking on this awesome day. The students were so excited, several of them volunteered to help me set up and organize the classroom incorporating our new instruments.

Students of McKanstry at Lafayette Academy

Throughout this brief article, I have mentioned to key relationships that have greatly improved my music program. However, there’s one more key relationship I need to unpack. That is the relationship between me and my principal. We do not always agree. However, I value our relationship because my principal, Brian Zager genuinely cares about the students and teachers. If there’s ever anything I need for my music curriculum he makes sure that I have exactly that. Mr. Zager made sure I had keyboards and other instruments to use before I ever discovered Donorschoose. For that I am grateful.

In closing, teaching is no walk in the park. Teaching music in New York City complicated things even more. This is such a big town and can be exhaustingly overwhelming. However, take things at your own pace. Don’t feel like you have to explore every partnership in your first couple years. Everyone’s journey is different. It has been my pleasure to share mine with you. Below is a link to the organizations I mentioned in this article and a few other resources I’ve found along the way. All the best to you.

Jameel McKanstry is a teacher, Music director and actor. Jameel is a graduate of the College of Music at Florida State University. He currently in his 8th year of teaching, 4 of which have been in New York City. Jameel is the music teacher at Lafayette Academy where started the music program which now has chorus, musical theater, and now a modern band.

Little Kids Rock
Symphony Space
Carnegie Hall

“America’s Songwriter” Reaches Out to MEANYC Members

I am a NYC songwriter and music educator. Over the past ten years, I have had the pleasure of working with many of my fellow MEANYC members who have performed my patriotic and inspirational songs with their classes.

I have recently revised my website to include free vocal recordings, sheet music (including SATB arrangements), lyric sheets, and instrumental tracks (with melody line) for all four of my well- known patriotic songs: "The Spirit of America," "One Heart, One Voice," "Halfway to Heaven (A 9/11 Tribute)," and "The Men Who Built America." These songs have received numerous performances across America, particularly at school assemblies for Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Patriot Day (9/11), and Holiday and Spring Concerts. I have posted many photos of these song performances on my website, as well as videos on my YouTube page, Hank Fellows USA. I have also been honored to receive civic awards for the performance of my patriotic songs from the New York City Council, the Bronx Borough President, and the 9/11 Memorial Committee of Jersey City.

I encourage all MEANYC members to check out my website. In addition to my patriotic songs, I have a broad range of easy-to-learn songs for many occasions, and many songs have free vocal recordings and sheet music available right on my website. For example, "New York City" to celebrate living in The Big Apple, "6,000,000" for Holocaust Remembrance Day (5/2), and my inspirational songs "Take My Hand," "Carry On," and "The Tree of Life" to celebrate friendship, fellowship, and perseverance.

Another facet of my songwriting career is personal appearances. At school assemblies, I engage the students in a discussion of creativity, songwriting, and finding one's own unique voice. I also enjoy performing my own songs for the kids, and answering their questions. (Yes, I have a fluffy little dog named Lenny!).

I look forward to helping my fellow MEANYC members inspire their students through their performance of my patriotic and inspirational songs.

Hank Fellows is a NYC songwriter, author, and public speaker. His patriotic and inspirational songs have been performed across America. Please visit Hank’s website at

Building a District 75 Musical Theatre Program

I have both the privilege and challenge of directing the end-of-year show at our school. My first year, we did a Broadway revue. Because of its success, my AP suggested that we do a full show the following year. So we did Aladdin. I typed out the lyrics to each song, and to make their meaning come across more clearly, I supplied images from Aladdin that went along with each lyric. We had an audition process in which I asked them to circle three characters they wanted to audition for, and then they would pick a song to sing. I assigned them their roles and handed out the scripts. I also used the whole process as an opportunity to teach them about audience etiquette.

At most schools, musical theater rehearsals happen after classes are wrapped up for the day, but we don’t have that luxury. So one of the challenges was to get the main characters rehearsing with each other since they weren’t all in the same class. I made up a schedule, and the admin and homeroom teachers were both amenable and flexible. I choreographed the dances by researching videos online for inspiration. I decided to assign about two classes to each dance. And then we made time to rehearse both classes together.

This was also my process for last year’s show, The Lion King. In general, I made things much more detailed for The Lion King, much more spelled out, mostly so that I could get more assistance. For instance, I assigned the paraprofessionals different jobs and kept them in the same assignments because doing behind-the- scenes work is like putting on another show. There’s a lot to rehearse both on and off stage. As an example, each stagehand has to rehearse when to bring the scenery on and off stage, and they have to time this just right while the show continues in front of the curtain. Some scenery changes have to happen very quickly in order to create a seamless transition into the next scene. I also added more notes into each script so that those paras knew exactly what to do and when. And I made sure we had a lot more rehearsal time in the auditorium. I found it was very important for them to rehearse in the location in which they would be performing, so that they could get used to their surroundings and become very familiar with that space.

One of the most time consuming parts of the show for me is creating the “show map.” The show map is very important because there are so many moving parts happening all at once, and this map tells each teacher, para, student, stagehand, etc. exactly what to do and when. I make a spreadsheet that details each character’s entrance/exit, microphone pass, props, lighting cues, curtain cues, etc. And then I add those cues into the scripts and color code them (entrances in green, exits in red, microphone passes in orange, etc.).

Last year, we had the honor of being the only District 75 school to get to perform at The Queensborough Arts Festival at Queens College. I took four of my students who performed “Hakuna Matata.” It was a long day, and at one point I had to request a separate, quiet room for us to use because the noise was getting to be too much for them. During the dress rehearsal, I looked out into the auditorium and thought, “Oh, no. This place is huge. I hope this doesn’t throw them off.” (Colden Auditorium has over 2,000 seats.) But when it came time to perform, they were amazing! If anything, I believe the larger audience fueled their energy, resulting in an even better performance. The other teachers and paras were standing with me backstage, peeking through the curtain and beaming with pride.

I think it’s important for the students to see the connection from what they’re doing in school to what is happening in the world. The Theater Development Fund has a lottery for autism friendly performances of Broadway shows, and we have had the fortune of being able to attend three performances already. We have also been to dress rehearsals and performances of three different shows with New York City Opera. Our school has nine different sites (we’re the only high school site), and each year we attend the performance of at least one of our other site’s end-of-year show.

There are wonderful resources out there for adapting popular musicals for children. However, they don’t really address the needs of our particular population. That can pose a challenge to teachers serving these kinds of students, and it’s a disservice to the children as well. I would like to see sanctioned adaptations that include images and more visuals as well as choreography and script modifications that match the disabilities and learning needs of all of our students. These are the problems I would like to see addressed on a larger scale. However, the rewards that come from this process outweigh all of hard work involved. In my time organizing musicals at the school, I’ve seen undeniable benefits for my students, as the interdisciplinary nature of musical theater provides them with numerous developmental opportunities rolled into one practice. Language and social skills, learning how to collaborate and form communities, exploring the use of technology, building self-confidence - all of these are the direct result of merging music, dance, acting, set- designing, costumery, and more into one common goal. Participating in a musical is incredibly rewarding, and I know from experience that we are creating memories to last a lifetime.

Ms. Jessica Kimple, a native of Iowa, is the music teacher at The Riverview School in Long Island City. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Northern Iowa, her Master of Music degree from Manhattan School of Music, and her teaching certification from Brooklyn College. In addition to teaching music, Jessica is a freelance musician and a member of The Brick Presbyterian Chancel Choir in Manhattan.

Thoughts on Recruitment in the Choral Classroom

Thoughts on Recruitment in the Choral Classroom

Each year, I hear chorus teachers lament that students are not signing up to join chorus during the school day. Many students experience chorus in elementary school, and are ready to try something new in middle school. Students are excited by new classes available to them, such as S.T.E.M, dance, computers, art, band, drama, and other attractive options. The question remains: How can we make chorus shiny and new once again?

Read More

Calling for Submissions

Have you always wanted to be an author? Are you doing something unique or original with your students that you want to share? Have you ever wanted to broaden techniques you are doing, to influence other NYC teachers?

We are looking for innovative ideas that we can share with other MEANYC members. We are looking for members who are willing to write an article about: something you are teaching, a new skill you have presented, or just something cool that would benefit other NYC teachers. We are even looking to share local music news and organizations that work for our students. If you are interested in submitting an article for PRESTO!, please email Brian Wagner-Yeung at:

What Folks are Saying ...

What Folks are Saying ...

The Computer Tech workshop with Jim Frankel and Barbara Freedman was nothing but enlightening to a computer savvy and to the non-technological teacher. Information presented was beneficial in the music classroom as a teaching tool, a creative tool and as an assessment tool. Participants experienced first hand the MusicFirst website having been given access immediately to test drive its content with its founder. While on the other hand, Barbara Freedman noted many interesting technological elements for using equipment and software to compose music.

Read More

Upcoming Workshop Information

Hi Everyone,

I hope you are all having a good school year and wish you a happy, healthy holiday season.

MEANYC workshops have been wonderful this year. Sara Shikowitz's choral workshop was packed with so many useful resources and each attendee received a huge packet of music!

Barbara Freedman's and Jim Frankel's workshop was wonderful. The world of technology and music is expanding and thanks to both of them, we received great insight into it, tips for our classroom and free trials of software.

We look forward to seeing you at next 2 upcoming workshops:
Afro-Latin Rhythms in Band and General Music presented by Graham Johnson on Saturday March 16 10-1 and Swing into Spring with Stories, Games and Jazz for kids presented by Sharon Burch on Saturday, April 6 10-3PM

CTLE credit is offered for all our workshops.
Check out what attendees have been saying about workshops in our “What Folk’s Our Saying…” segment.

Sharon Golub

Upcoming Workshops

News From NYSSMA, Winter 2019

The NYS School Music Association is YOUR state professional organization. . . PLEASE JOIN!!!! will lead you to membership!

The NYSSMA Zone 12 calendar will be available on the Zone 12 area of the NYSSMA website. It will also be on the MEANYC website, and sent out through the borough arts supervisors' offices. If you have any questions about registration for NYSSMA Spring Adjudication Festivals, please contact me at

Monday March 4, 2019 is Joe Sugar Day in Albany, a day of advocacy for music education. Please consider joining me in Albany to meet with legislators regarding music education. We also have two students performing in our NYSSMA All-State Jazz Ensembles. The day includes visits to the legislative offices, performance by the All-State Jazz Choir and All-State Jazz Ensemble, lunch, and an early evening reception for our legislators and participating teachers, parents, and NYSSMA representatives. For more information, please e-mail me at by Maria Schwab

Many teachers wonder, “why should my students play a solo at a NYSSMA Adjudication Festival,” and “why should my major ensembles play at a NYSSMA Adjudication Festival?” Here are some thoughts from former Zone 12 representative and retired NYCDOE music teacher Richard Klingensmith.

  • Thousands of student throughout the state participate in the NYSSMA Evaluation Festivals and are evaluated by trained adjudicators. The process documents achievement using a reliable and valid criteria through the use of outside evaluators.

  • Students are motivated by a desire to improve their performance through constructive criticism rather than by competition with other students or a need to “win”.

  • Having your students practice for a solo performance will have a positive effect on their musical accomplishments and therefore positive effects on the ensembles in which they perform.

  • Teachers of ensembles need valid and reliable evaluation of their best work if they are to continue to improve instruction and raise the quality of music learning and performance.

  • Assessment helps you motivate and reinforce learning, raise the quality of instruction, improve planning and curriculum and reward hard work and success.

  • Many music teachers throughout the state have o in-house help, no music chair or ongoing help from the district level. Parent’s applause for little Johnny and Suzy at an evening performance while necessary and important, is not an evaluation which is useful to either the teacher, administration or Suzy or Johnny.

In the Spotlight

Brian Worsdale

Brian Worsdale is a very busy man. Not only has he been recently named Music Director of The Three Rivers Young Peoples Orchestras in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he is now also Director of The New York Pops’ Kids on Stage program. Kids on Stage is part of The New York Pops’ PopsEd education portfolio, providing middle school students access to the professional performance process from the first audition to the final note! The experience culminates onstage at Carnegie Hall with the students alongside The New York Pops musicians at the orchestra’s annual Birthday Gala. Auditions for the prestigious program are set to occur on February 2 and 3, 2019, and over one hundred New York City students have applied!

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Mr. Worsdale attended public schools, and the new appointment as Director of Kids on Stage is particularly meaningful to him. Mr. Worsdale was one of the first students to participate in The New York Pops’ Salute to Music program (the predecessor to Kids on Stage) which was the brainchild of the orchestra’s founder, Skitch Henderson.

“Salute to Music was an incredible experience for me! Getting to play alongside The New York Pops musicians and working under the late Skitch Henderson was a money-can’t-buy opportunity. It provided me with the motivation and drive to pursue a career in music” Mr. Worsdale said.

As part of the Kids on Stage experience, students also get the opportunity to be awarded one of six scholarships to the French Woods Festival of Performing Arts
summer camp. This is thanks to the generous support of the camp’s owner, Ron
Schaefer, who was a music educator in NYC public schools for many years. In 1994, he asked Mr. Worsdale to join the camp’s faculty, eventually bestowing upon him the title of Artistic Director and Conductor.

During high school, Brian attended the Manhattan School of Music Pre-College Division, and received his formal music training as a trombone student of David Finlayson (New York Philharmonic). He eventually decided to pursue conducting, and became a protégé of the late Maestro Jonathan Strasser (formerly on faculty at the Manhattan School of Music). He has continued his professional studies working with Larry Livingston (faculty at the University of Southern California) and Anthony Maiello (faculty of George Mason University).

His work as a guest clinician and adjudicator has brought him to cities throughout the United States, but Mr. Worsdale’s commitment to education shines brightest through his entrepreneurial efforts to build stronger band programs in New York City. Among them, the award-winning InterSchool Orchestra of New York (ISO) Symphonic Band, and of course, The New York Pops’ Kids on Stage program.

For more information on Kids on Stage, visit

by Analisa Bell

NYC Music Teacher Awarded

Congratulations to David LaMorte, Assistant Principal of Visual, Performing, and Career Arts at Tottenville High School for for receiving the George N. Parks Award for Leadership in Music Education, through the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).

Mr. LaMorte has overseen the program of six bands, three symphonic orchestra ensembles, four choruses, and marching band at Tottenville High School. He is also the Executive Director of the Summer Arts Institute.

You can see him in action conducting the Concert Band at the MEANYC Middle School Festival in February.

President's Corner

Dear Membership,

I’m sure you are all in full swing preparing for Winter Concerts and community events. As you’re racing about juggling so many details, I hope you’ll be inspired by Snoop Dog’s Hollywood Walk of Fame speech excerpts.

“I’d like to thank me for believing in me.
I’d like to thank me for doing all this hard work.
I’d like to thank me for having no days off.
I’d like to thank me for never quitting.

I’d like to thank me for always being a giver and trying to give more than I receive.
I’d like to thank me for trying to do more right than wrong.
I’d like to thank me for just being me at all times.”

I hope
 you find time to appreciate yourself in this 
hectic season!


Patricia Peltz, President