George Russell Jr., & Co. Celebrates 30 Years with YAMA!
Jun 1, 2022
With a background in arts education, and a great love of performing, George Russell Jr. came to YAMA in 1992 at the request of the phenomenal jazz vocalist Semenya McCord. Their program 'Journey Into Jazz' delighted school audiences, inspring them to develop a gospel program called 'Ain’a That Good News.' In 2002, when Semenya moved back to Illinois, George Russell Jr. developed his well-known program Clap Your Hands, a high energy exploration of the history of gospel music and its place in the Civil Rights Movement. The program is currently performed by George Russell Jr., & Co, with George on keys and vocals, Wesley Wirth on bass and vocals, Sean Skeete on drums, and vocalists Wanetta Johnson and Emily Russell. Along with his performances for YAMA audiences, George is an integral part of Boston's music scene as an award winning professor and current chair of the Harmony and Jazz Composition Department at Berklee College of Music.
After 30 wonderful years, George Russell Jr., & Co. will retire from the YAMA roster. When asked to share a fond memory of his time performing for Young Audiences, George told us, "There’s not one, there’s many. I’ve always found that once the music starts and you open up their minds and you have the opportunity to impart information that goes along with the music, it's always a good time." We hope the thoughts he shared inspire you as much as they did us.
What inspired you to become a music educator?
First of all I love music. Even more over, I love people, and one way that I can love people is through performing and teaching music. So, music was a natural fit for me and a music education track was a natural fit for me also. I think one of the examples that I have was a high school teacher I had, his name was John Garrett, and I saw how he used music to engage people, and I loved that. So I think that was what led me down the track of being a music educator.
My undergrad degree is in music education, and I actually thought that I wanted to teach in a high school or elementary school. Until my senior year of college when I realized I wasn't satisfied with my development as a musician, so I decided to go to graduate school and become a performer. I also realized that teaching at that level was not conducive to much of a performing career.
Whenever I'm involved in any aspect of music or teaching I like to go all in, and if I were to do that on a high-school level the work would never stop. So the idea of me being a performer too- it would have been a little bit challenging. So I thought that teaching on a college level would be the best case for me, and still be a performer, and then the idea of Young Audiences went right along with that.
What is significant to your about performing for children?
With children you get such a large canvas. Kids are so wide open and ready and willing and able to accept- and not only that, it's an opportunity to think about the future of the arts. Even if those students aren't artists themselves, they develop an appreciation for it. Being able to teach any concept with music and arts is very key. Several of the things I remember-that I'm supposed to remember- as a grown up, I learned in a song. Remember multiplication rock on Saturday mornings? I remember watching Schoolhouse Rock, and learning how to get a bill passed. I remember all of that from the songs.
What is your hope for the future of the arts in education?
Well I think we all know that the arts bring about a sense of stability in our spirit, and I think that is so vital moving forward. Particularly coming out of this recent pandemic, and recent remote learning, where you actually have the arts right in front of you and you are able to engage and are involved. It hits upon sides of our emotions and our beings that nothing else can hit. I think it makes us better people, gives us the ability and capacity to be able to love people, to sustain or get past the other challenges in life that come our way. Having the arts and having music allows things like that to happen more readily. I also think we mentioned before- it’s just a way of learning information or passing information, we can do it through the arts. I just think it is vital to us as a human race to utilize the arts to build up our self-esteem, our awareness and appreciation for things that are being created right in front of us. So yeah, the arts are vital.