For the past 30 years at Church Street School, we have committed to spreading the positive power of music and art to all. To reaffirm that commitment, we will be posting new art & music pieces and resources here every Wednesday. It is our hope that they will lighten your spirit, keep you entertained, and remind you of the power of the arts in these uncertain times.

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Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram for even more content. #CSSMA #CSSMAathome

And f you are able and would like to support CSSMA during these challenging times please head here:

*If you want to learn more about our faculty members please click on their names at the top of each post!


Wednesday, September 30th

Dear Friends,
Many of you may have already checked out our new virtual hub at We are so excited to be creating this new community space for all to collectively be inspired! Here is what’s coming up!
  • This Saturday, October 3rd the site will take on a new look as we launch our FALL FESTIVAL!
  • For the entire month of October you can expect an ever expanding amount of arts related content representing the past, present and future of Church Street School, our Tribeca neighborhood and downtown NYC.
  • Expect art galleries and Q&A’s, deep dives into the archives to see old footage of ALL kinds from CSSMA and treasures offered to us to share from artists neighbors and friends of the school and the arts.
  • Live streamed performance EVERY SATURDAY at We are thrilled to be hosting performances by Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Conductor & pianist Oliver Hagen, (CSSMA Alumnus) who will be joined by our own Jung Sun Kang, award winning kindie singer Suzi Shelton and many more. Stay tuned for the full schedule to be released next week! And that’s only a taste of what you’ll find.
  • Join us on Instagram (@churchstschool) for regular updates!
  • Note: A sliding scale donation starting at $5 will be necessary for entry to Live Stream shows
SATURDAY, 10:00am:
Liz Joyce’s rendition of Little Red Riding Hood, 30 minutes, Ages 2-7

Liz Joyce is the Founder and Director of Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre based in Sag Harbor, NY. She is an accomplished puppeteer who writes, creates and performs a growing repertoire of works for young audiences and their adults. Subjects include her twists on traditional fairy tales, folktales, educational shows and original creations. Liz is believes that puppetry is the gateway to theater and that this art form breathes beauty and life into storytelling.
Trained as a fine artist, Liz also was certified in Art Education K-12. In the early stages of her career, Liz worked with and apprenticed with Terry Snyder, a master puppeteer from Richmond, Virginia. Her artistic approach to puppetry has also been influenced by European puppetry traditions and the eccentric energy of New York’s downtown performance artists. She honed her carving skills working with traditional puppet carvers in Prague, Czech Republic, and often collaborates with other puppeteers in the international puppet community.
SATURDAY, 2:00pm live from CSSMA’s Performance Space:
Michael Eaton’s Quartet: Individuation, 50 minute set + Q&A

CSSMA Faculty Member Michael Eaton is a Brooklyn, NY based saxophonist, composer and educator. He embraces a progressive and holistic vision of jazz, cognizant of its rich history, but reaches for a personal outlook looking towards future possibilities.
His band Individuation, is a modern jazz ensemble that fuses postminimalism, world rhythms, and free improvisations. The quartet is comprised of Eaton on tenor and soprano saxophones, Brad Whiteley on piano and keyboard, Daniel Ori on bass and gimbri and Shareef Taher on drums. Have a listen above for a taste of what’s to come on Saturday!

Would you like to contribute to the fall fest?
Please email Abby Levin at if you’d like to become a sponsor, contribute to the archives or have any other ideas for this new project!

Wednesday, September 23rd

Dear Friends,
The world is just ceaselessly swirling with so much confusion, frustration, fear and even hopelessness right now and it can feel all too much sometimes. Today we share a glimpse of some little art treasures that you might find on a walk. You know, when you see something you didn’t expect and it makes you stop your stride and wake up out of your own day dream… You take a moment to take a breath and look.
There is something comforting knowing that there is someone out there creating little moments of whimsy or sweetness that you can walk into and out of all of the other noise. All of the below photos were taken in Park Slope, BK by Abby Levin.

Back on White Street!

Back on White Street!

Back on White Street!

Multimedia artist Alex Itin, (@itinplace on Instagram), is one of the “art angels” responsible for the figures above and below. Other artists unknown.
Here is one more for you on this late addition of Inspiration Wednesdays… Sometimes we need more than a stroll down the block to get ourselves re-inspired and pumped up! Check out 9 year old actor/musician Nandi Bushell doing a drum battle with Dave Grohl. She is pure energy and joy and kicks some serious booty! Enjoy!
More subtle art treasures in Park Slope, BK

Wednesday, September 16th

Dear Friends,
It was a beautiful day on Saturday and we were heartened to welcome new friends and old back to the block, (and to the web), for our hybrid open house! It felt so sweet to make art and music together whether it was on the sidewalk or on zoom 🙂

Back on White Street!

Executive Director Lisa Ecklund-Flores & Associate Director Betsy Kerlin with big smiles under their masks!

Teaching Artist, Natalie creating drums with some new CSS friends!

Thanks to our brand new virtual hub,, we were also able to live stream our open art and music lessons and invite people at home into our bright and airy performance space for a brilliant trio performance from our inspiring faculty.

Betsy taking temps as people enter the school. CSSMA is taking every precaution to make sure we are 100% safe!

One of the songs KevinPhil Kevin played on Saturday was Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” It’s difficult to sit still when this one comes on and they did a truly inspiring rendition. Above is a video live from the Montreux Casino in 1980. It will move you!

The neighborhood has not lost the urge for creation…have you seen this little sculpture mounted on a parking sign on White Street? Art is everywhere you look…

Wednesday, September 9th

Dear Friends,
As we prepare to head back to school, we all know that things will be quite different this fall.
We also know the extremely important role the arts will play: as a tool for self-discovery, community building, (even from afar!), and healing through this uncertain time.
The above images are from our Creative Arts Club where inspiration is in large supply. It is always fun to see how our after-school students take on the process of creation through ALL kinds of media: painting, drawing, puppet making, animation, sculpture and much more.

Jorge Ben, Caetano Velsoso, Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes – major figures of the Tropicalia movement.

Below are a few examples of several inspired and inspiring music students at CSSMA. These videos were taken for our first series of virtual recitals! While we were away from the school it was so important for our community to be able to come together and share in the music and celebrate the work and passion of our amazing students. Enjoy!!

Fiel’s version of ‘Here’ by Alessia Cara
Adam’s version of ‘Blue Bossa’ by Kenny Dorham
Jacob’s version of ‘Pride & Joy’ Stevie Ray Vaughn

Don’t forget that Church Street School is a place for people of ALL AGES and all backgrounds. If you have always thought about picking up an instrument or learning a new creative skill…this is the time! If you have an idea about a program or class that you wish existed, let us know! We are here to keep inspiration alive and that means for you too!

Wednesday, September 2nd

Dear Friends,
This week we say hello to Karl Kaminski. Karl is a beloved member of our Music Faculty, teaching guitar and bass. He has chosen two very moving pieces of music to share. This week we will tip our hat to brevity and let the music mostly speak for itself. We hope it moves you.
Karl writes: I am a musician and composer adrift in the new current of 2020. I’ve been at CSSMA for a handful of years and really enjoy working with a highly creative mix of students.
There are so many inspiring things in this world to list only a few but here are a two that really spoke to me this summer.

Jorge Ben, Caetano Velsoso, Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes – major figures of the Tropicalia movement.

The first is Piensa en mi (eng: Think of me) by Agustín & Maria Teresa Lara. A reminder that we suffer without our loved ones. I really enjoy Chavela Vargas’ performance in this early recording “take my life, for nothing, for nothing serves me without you.” Her voice emotes the pain in a strikingly beautiful way.
The second piece is a reminder of togetherness with Yamandú Costa’s arrangement of Carinhoso  (eng: Amorous) by Pixinguinha/Braguinha. The audience brings as much to this performance as the maestro. The exchange between Costa and the audience is just brilliant example of music breeding togetherness. Enjoy.
Chavela Vargas sings Piensa en mi
Translated Lyrics, Think of Me
If you are in a deep pain, think of me.
If you want to cry, think of me.
You see that I worship your divine image,
your mouth of an infant, being so girlish,
taught me to sin.
Think of me when you suffer, when you cry,
think of me also when you want to
take my life, I don’t want it at all,
it’s no use to me without you.
Think of me when you suffer, when you cry,
think of me also when you want to
take my life, I don’t want it at all,
it’s no use to me without you.
Think of me when you suffer, when you cry also think of me, anytime
take my life, for nothing, for nothing
serves me without you.
Yamandú Costa performing Carinhoso
Translated Lyrics, Amorous
My heart
I don’t know why
Beats happily when it sees you
And my eyes keep smiling
And, by the streets, following you
But even so, you flee from me
Oh! If you only knew
How amorous I am
And how I want you so much
And how my love is sincere
I know that you would no longer flee from me
Come, come, come, come
Come to feel the heat
Of my lips
Searching for yours
Come to kill this passion
That devours my heart
And only that way, then
I’ll be happy, really happy

Wednesday, August 26th

Dear Friends,
It is no secret that the country and the world are going through immense turmoil right now. It can be hard to know where to turn to find solace or if not solace, at least inspiration. At CSSMA, we aim to offer the space for expression and collaboration that moves and transforms and leads to the sharing of ones authentic voice. Sometimes creative discoveries can revolutionize the way people perceive and respond to the sights and sounds going on around them. Sometimes this becomes a form of protest turns to art can be a form of protest amidst times of massive unrest.
When one thinks of Brazilian music, perhaps the sounds of samba or bossa nova come to mind. Maybe that famous tune by Jao Gilberto, Girl from Ipanema, (released in 1964) conjures images of bathing beauties on Brazilian beaches. All of that is part of the Brazilian musical landscape but it was a stark contrast to the military coup that was taking place in Brazil at the time.

Jorge Ben, Caetano Velsoso, Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes – major figures of the Tropicalia movement.

In 1967, Gilberto Gil & Caetano Veloso were at the forefront of a new style of music called Tropicalia, a style that took bossa nova and merged it with psychedelia, pop and rock n roll. Both artists would join forces with rock bands such as Os Mutantes and performance artists and poets including Tom Zé. The Tropicalistas, as they were called, began an exchange of artistic and political ideas. (Take a look at this article for a deeper picture of this moment and how this friendship and complete immersion into their art got Gil and Caetano exiled from their country).
These collaborations were fierce and enduring. Their experimental sounds, deep lyricism and iconic voices would not be silenced even when forced to leave their own country. Their creative brilliance together forged a new way of feeling, listening and responding to systems designed to mute different versions of life and truth. Take a look at some songs and videos from those who paved the way for this movement to take root. Clearly love and art endure.

Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil on music, Brazil & friendship – BBC News

Aquarela do brasil – Translation

Brazil my Brazilian Brazil
Mulato inzoneiro
I will sing you in my verses
Brazil, samba that gives
Bamboleio, which makes you swing
The Brazil of my love
Land of our Lord
Open the curtain of the past
Take the black mother from the savannah
Boot the Congo King in the Congo
Sing the troubadour again
Every song of your love
I want to see this lady walking
Through the halls dragging
Your lacy dress
This coconut tree that gives coconut
Hi where I tie my hammock
On clear moonlit nights
By these murmuring sources
Where I quench my thirst
Where the moon comes to play
Oh this beautiful and brown Brazil
It’s my Brazilian Brazil
Land of samba and tambourine
Brazil Good and delicious land
From the sestrosa brunette
Looking indifferent
Brazil, samba that gives
For the world to admire…

Caetano e Gil – Cinema Novo – Tropicália 2 – São Paulo 1993

A clip from Os Mutantes the movie

LEFT: Gil & Caetano in Picadilly Circus soon after becoming exiled from Brazil in 1969.

ABOVE: Gil & Caetano have a powerful and enduring friendship based in creative collaboration and experimental approaches to music and protest

Background photo is of colorful favelas (slums) in Brazil

Wednesday, August 19th

Dear Friends,
This week we are excited to introduce one of our talented Teaching Artists, Wendy Cohen.

In Wendy’s words: I have been teaching studio art classes at CSSMA since October 2019. On top of my teaching and curatorial practice, I am a visual artist specializing in sculptural textile installations and sculptural paintings. My work is currently on view in the exhibit Thoughts & Prayers at Chashama Matawan in NJ. As an educator I am passionate about helping kids and adults of all ages grow confidence in their creative voices, so I’m inspired by Church Street’s exploratory approach to arts education.

‘Jean Genet, Paris 1948’ by Brassai

Wendy sitting inside of her sculpture. Photograph by Evan Rensch

Wendy continues: One of my favorite artists is Sheila Pepe. I admire her experimental and playful use of crocheting as a form of sculpture and installation art. This image below is from her exhibit Hot Mess Formalism, which was organized by the Phoenix Museum of Art in 2017.

Here is a great 5-minute video about Sheila’s work at the ICA Boston:

Wednesday, August 12th

Dear Friends,
While these posts are normally a bit shorter, we decided that today we would go a bit more in-depth with our friend Dennis Li who you may remember from his contribution to our June 17th edition of our Wednesday inspiration. Or from seeing him at our front desk!

One of Dennis’s biggest inspirations is French novelist, dramatist, political activist, and philosopher, Jean Genet. As Dennis puts it: Genet’s literary and philosophical legacy has influenced several generations across the world.

‘Jean Genet, Paris 1948’ by Brassai

David Bowie once wrote a song called “The Jean Genie” honoring the inspiration he received from Jean Genet. Nobel laureate for literature, Philosopher and Dramatist Jean-Paul Sartre writes a biography of Jean Genet, titled Saint Genet, to emphasize that “genius is not a gift but the way out that one invents in desperate cases.”
What inspires Dennis, (a director and writer himself), so deeply?
He shares: Genet is incredibly important to my life. He influences the way I write and the way I view this world. In one of his most significant plays The Balcony, Genet writes “instead of changing the world, all we’ll achieve is a reflection of the one we want to destroy.” I remember reading this play for the first time, I was completely stunned by this particular phrase. This was when I still worked with The Living Theatre, and I had been actively engaging in conversations and actions on making our society better. The Balcony then forced me to imagine, even more thoroughly and more radically about what our future needs to be like. The above photo is a staging of The Balcony, directed by Victor Escobar in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1969.
Dennis continues: His other and I believe most recognized play, The Maids, introduces role-play in the form of metatheatre. Here it is used to manifest the ridiculousness of our daily lives and having to conform to the roles assigned to us with no ability to escape. The Maids still remains one of the most produced plays in the world. A few years ago, Sydney Theater Company travelled to New York City with a production featuring Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert (although originally, Genet intended to have male actors portray female characters). Take a look:
Dennis writes: Genet’s legacy is not just limited to drama. As an outlaw to the society in his early years, Genet wrote numerous novels that documented his life in and out of the prison, and his confrontation to his own sexuality. The Thief’s Journal, Our Lady of Flower, and Funeral Rites allow us to hear the stories and reflections from the darkest corner of our society, provoking empathy and compassion to many alike unknown bodies that are still imprisoned by the similar circumstances.
In 2019, Dennis directed Genet’s Deathwatch at Drama League’s DirectorsFest to explore homoeroticism in the realm of power.

Photo by Lloyd Mulvey

Dennis leaves us with this thought: As the world is demanding for stronger and more powerful interventions in our future, Genet’s writings undoubtedly provide us a perspective and a deeper understanding of the things we are not yet familiar with in our society. “To gaze at the world tranquilly and accept responsibility for your gaze, whatever it might see.” And perhaps, we will then be able to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Wednesday, August 5th

Dear Friends,
This Wednesday we meet John Gray. John is heading into his second year at CSSMA as a guitar teacher.
When asked about what inspires him about working at CSSMA, here is what he said: I’m really inspired by both the staff and students; the students all are genuinely interested in learning, and the teachers are all excited and inspired to teach. I’m also inspired by the fact that my students kept their studies going after the lockdown, and the front office staff was very supportive and helpful in setting that up.
John’s picks will definitely bring many of you some nostalgia. He shares two special covers below:
This is probably my favorite Beatles song. It has an ethereal beauty that rivals any of their earlier hits. The fact that this was from the last Beatles album “Let it Be” is a perfect end to a miraculous run of music making. Bill Frisell does an amazing instrumental version of this song, using a lot of reverb (echoing guitar sounds), and special instrumentation (guitar, violin, bass, drums) to make the track special in his own way. I’ve been singing and playing a lot to my 4 month old daughter during the pandemic, and I sing and play this song quite a bit.
Bill Frisell- Across the Universe
Here’s a recent sighting of Bill Frisell playing a safe outdoor show in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago ! “What the world needs now is love sweet love…” Click here to see a short clip of  Bill Frisell’s Trio stoop concert Brooklyn, NY 7/20/20
John continues: Another cover, I know. I came across this group, The Innocence Mission, through a friend of mine, and it’s become one of my most listened to artists for the past year or two. I love the lead singer Karen Peris’s unique and beautiful voice. It’s hard to beat Louis Armstrong’s original music, and I’m not sure anything can, but this version is distinctly different and has a lullaby quality to it that sets it apart from the original. It’s also a song I enjoy singing to my daughter.
The Innocence Mission- What a Wonderful World

Wednesday, July 29th

Dear Friends,
Each week, we look forward to introducing you to our beloved faculty and staff here at CSSMA. Our newest staff member, Sage Baisden has been working behind the scenes as our Marketing Manager since January and chose the world of podcasts to explore for your Wednesday inspiration. Take a look at those and learn some more about our excellent new team member below!

While Sage does not consider herself an artist per se, she did have exposure to the arts as a child and CSSMA reminds her of this important time: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, a first generation New Yorker and American, (my parents are both from the Caribbean). I grew up thoroughly un-athletic and so the arts were absolutely my extra-curricular of choice! I was exposed to musical theater, I sang in choirs, did ceramics and danced!

Little Sage in dance class!

Sage spent a year traveling and doing nonprofit work before finding CSSMA. When asked about the school she shared: Church Street School inspires me because it reminds me of so many of the communities and arts schools that enriched my childhood. I am so happy that I now get to be a part of creating and maintaining that space for this generation of young people (and un-athletic children). 😉

So what has Sage been inspired by recently? Here’s what she had to say: In December 2019, I got a dog which meant I was taking more walks than I ever have before. And, while I thoroughly enjoy music, I found myself listening to more podcasts than anything else. Below are three episodes from Revisionist History, a podcast from famous author Malcolm Gladwell. These three episodes inspired me and taught me a lot, I hope they will do the same for you.

But wait there’s more! If you’re looking for something a little bit lighter, Sage also loves the following podcasts. Click the images to check them out and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 22nd

Dear Friends,
If you follow us on social media, then you probably saw our recent shout out to today’s featured CSSMA Faculty Member Matt Baranello! (If you don’t follow us, what are you waiting for?? @churchstschool)

Here is what Matt had to say about his time at Church Street School: I’ve been teaching at Church Street School as a full-time faculty member since 2015. I have loved every minute of this great opportunity to share my knowledge of drumming with others at the school, and now virtually. I’ve been a full time performing musician my whole working life, starting at 17 years old. I truly cherish the opportunity to share and teach the practical knowledge that I’ve gained with my students. I look at all of my students as my “drumming children” and part of what I can leave behind on Earth. I also truly believe that teaching something is how you master it. 

We revisit the world of jazz again this week as Matt is a monster jazz drummer. Matt referred to his first musical pick as a “no-brainer”and he shared: I borrowed this album from my library way back in the day and totally flipped out when I heard Ralph’s playing, especially on this first track “Urban Omen”. This is what inspired me to become a jazz musician, hands down. I later went on to study with Ralph when I was 16 on and off until my second year of college!

It goes to show you how impactful that one tune or album can be and how the right teacher can help set you on an inspiring creative path for life! Check out Ralph Peterson playing “Urban Omen” from his 1990 album Presents the Fo’tet:

Matt also referred to his second pick as a no-brainer and shared: I had this on VHS and wore it out. This is what inspired me to devote myself to the art of drumming to try and figure out how the heck these guys did what they did! Every drummer in the world needs to watch this and be inspired (and argue for who they like best 😉) .

Take a look at this LEGENDARY drum battle show-down featuring Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, & Vinnie Colaiuta from a 1989 tribute concert for the great Buddy Rich. Can you guess which drummer is Matt‘s favorite?

Another of Matt’s favorite drummers… ANIMAL!! Can you spot him in Matt’s studio??

Wednesday, July 15th

Dear Friends,
Many of you know today’s contributor to our Wednesday Inspirations…Director of Programs, Toby Wine! Don’t miss Toby‘s classic New York story at the bottom!

When asked about his history with CSSMA and what he finds inspiring about the school, Toby shared: I’ve worked at CSSMA for half of its 30 year existence, first as a guitar and band instructor, then a program coordinator, and finally in the Director role I’ve occupied since 2014. It’s an endlessly inspiring place to be and I’m so happy to find that inspiration has continued outside of our physical space and into the remote learning realm. Making connections with countless students and families over the years, while working to create an environment that feels like home and encourages real creative exploration, has been the most fulfilling part of my job.

Toby, a jazz guitarist himself, added: There has always been something of a jazz sensibility to CSSMA, from the premium placed upon the development of the individual artistic voice, to the importance of improvisation in every class and discipline, to the amazing faculty which has always boasted a cadre of world class jazz artists.
Two of Toby‘s (many) heroes from the jazz world are saxophonist Joe Henderson and trumpeter Kenny Dorham. To him, each has an incredibly personal style and charismatic, iconic voice on their instrument. He chose to share the album, “Our Thing” which is still a great favorite of his and always gets him inspired to practice and play! Check out the record below.

Toby Wine

Toby is a native New New Yorker and shared an amazing story about when he

Teenage Toby with hair!! And his beloved guitar.

first met the renowned saxophonist Bob Mover (now amazingly a CSSMA parent!):

When I was 16 years old and already a huge jazz fan, my uncle brought his friend Bob Mover over to my parent’s house one evening. Little did I know that he was one of the world’s most formidable and respected saxophonists. Instead of talking to the adults we hung out into the wee hours of the morning as he put my through my musical paces. Within days he’d brought me to the Village Vanguard where I watched none other than Joe Henderson up close, then sat at his table during a set break and got to talk to him for a while. Both he and Bob were so warm and encouraging, I was bursting with inspiration and my commitment to becoming a professional musician was cemented.
Bob has many beautiful recordings as both a leader and sideman (notably with Chet Baker for many years) and is a great interpreter of romantic ballads, but his 1983 take on “Bye Bye Blues”, played at a furious clip, is a virtuoso testament to his formidable achievements. Check it out below!

Wednesday, July 8th

Dear Friends,
Today we introduce one of our newest faculty members, drummer Peter Moffett who has been on faculty at Church Street since February! What a time to start a job!
When asked what he had been doing in these recent months to stay inspired Peter shared: Honestly it has been quite difficult to find inspiration in the times we are living in. Being a musician, there are no gigs, and teaching isn’t always consistent for those of us who share that passion on top of our music making. Forcing creativity seems futile when there’s so much reflecting to do about our society or the world at large. But in late May I was invited by a roommate of mine to join a week-long “song-a-day” challenge.
How did that work? The set up was simple – turn in a completed song (short, long, loop, verse-chorus, whatever!) by noon each day to be added to a private Soundcloud link of all participants’ songs for that day. I was hesitant at first as I wasn’t sure I could keep up with it but I was encouraged by a friend to go for it and decided to dive in.
This week stood out for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious being the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, which was to be the second day of this week-long challenge. Each day of the challenge started with a group check in and reflection on one thing or another. As the week ground on, we all found ourselves feeling heavier and heavier with the weight of what had happened and what has been happening in this country. Luckily, we had each other – a diverse group of creative minds – to lean on, reflect together, and draw from each other. 
This challenge really did bring us all a little something that we didn’t have before we came in. For some, it was a sense of community. I certainly felt that. For some it was a chance to learn something new. And I think it was a combination of both of these things that really stuck out for me. I would not have made it to day three (let alone day seven) if it weren’t for the encouragement, reflection, and care of the group from that week.

Check out this a video of a song called “Albany” released in February of 2019. This is a from a band called Secret Sibling that Peter plays with and misses dearly!

To continue with the idea of community and support, Peter shares: I’d simply like to encourage people to visit the site Bandcamp. Since the song-a-day challenge, I have been going there to see what my peers are up to, support their work, and in turn, support causes that need it NOW and being stuck at home is a great time to check out what people are working on!

Wednesday, July 1st

Dear Friends,
It goes without saying that artist and musicians can be true agents of change. This can be especially apparent during periods of serious unrest. Protest is really an art form unto itself.
Protests for the Black Lives Matter movement are taking place all over the country and the world and you don’t have to be a professional art maker to express yourself. Whether with signs, slogans, murals or songs, it is easy to be moved by the creative ways people are showing their passion for justice and taking it to the streets! Take a look at some examples below from recent weeks in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Perhaps it will inspire you, to share your voice in a whole new way!
  • A clear statement using some home art supplies at Barclays Center. Brooklyn, NY

  • Some of the protest art that has gone up on shuttered buildings in SOHO, NYC

  • Young protesters at City Hall, NYC

  • She may have had help making it but this little girl was quite proud to hold it up. Brooklyn, NY

  • A representation of Martha P. Johnson, an icon and founder of the gay liberation movement. DUMBO, NY


  • His sign says “Skin Color shouldn’t determine your rights 🙁 ” Written in his handwriting. DUMBO, BK


  • Invoking the great James Baldwin, novelist essayist, poet, playwright, and activist. Brooklyn,NY

  • “No Justice. No Peace. Know Justice. Know peace.” Outside of the Brooklyn Museum during the Black Trans Lives Matter march.

Wednesday, June 24th

Dear Friends,
Meet Angela Jaeger, who has been with CSSMA for over three years now and is one of our beloved early childhood music and art teachers. She also leads our free chorus program for 5-12 year olds and provides a really special environment for kids to come together through song!
Angela, a born and raised New Yorker, is sharing some punk rock history with us today. She was a witness and participant in the New York and London punk scenes of the 1970’s and shares how there are echoes of that spirit at CSSMA where the cultivation of freedom of expression through the arts is key.
She writes: At Church Street School for Music & Art, we embrace a diversity of methods and approaches to the arts. We encourage students to come together and experiment with different styles of music and hope to encourage self-discovery through creative expression.

Angela writes: Poly Styrene was a true punk warrior who inspired me as a singer, performer and style icon. Her energy and wit informed such amazing songs as The Day the World Turned Day-Glo and Identity. When her band X-Ray Spex played at CBGB’s I marveled at her sheer energy and was mesmerized by her radiant voice. Poly was an originator of ideas who celebrated individuality and found the braveness to be herself.

Poly Styrene — Photo by Anorak London

Check out this video of Poly and her band X-Ray Spex doing their tune IDENTITY in this 1978 video. The music and performance energy is raw and real. Everyone has had some moment in their life where there was a reckoning with identity and punk music lets that struggle be heard out loud.

As we all know, music and art have the power to help people grapple with life’s intense challenges, (no matter your age or your background). It can take real bravery to let yourself openly be who you are and hopefully this brave expression can lead to liberation!
A few lines from the song:
Identity is the crisis can’t you see
Identity identity
When you look in the mirror
Do you see yourself
Do you see yourself
On the T.V. screen
Do you see yourself in the magazine
When you see yourself
Does it make you scream

Wednesday, June 17th

Dear Friends,
Everyone who works at Church Street School wears many hats both inside and outside of the school walls. Most of you have crossed paths with Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li either by phone or at our front desk. Dennis makes incredible work as a theatre director, performer, playwright and performance artist. Please click on his name or photo to learn more about him!

Dennis chose to talk about Charles Burnett, a film director, writer, actor, photographer,

Charles Burnett

and cinematographer. He was once called by The Chicago Tribune, “one of America’s very best filmmakers” and by New York Times, “the nation’s least-known great filmmaker and most gifted black director.” When Dennis discovered Burnett’s films he was very moved by his poetic cinematography and approach to storytelling.

Several Friends, 1969

The Glass Shield, 1994

Killer of Sheep, 1977

Dennis says: In his movies, there are not many “dramatic” moments in the traditionalsense as you see in most Hollywood films with intensified dialogue and jaw dropping plot

twists. Instead, he simply takes film back to the life itself. “Drama” in his films is all about the situation that his characters live in. Throughout his career, he was able to capture the lives that are rarely depicted on big screens. When diving into his films, I always feel that I am “there”, in that particular neighborhood or street, witnessing how the environment and the situation shape these characters’ behaviors and attitudes and even their future.

How Burnett influences/inspires Dennis:
It inspires me to examine our relationship to the environment we live in. It also reminds me that to make a good theatrical piece, it is not about how superb an actor’s performance is or how unique the story is. It is how we successfully connect the lives on stage with their situation. We also have to create the time and space to comment on the society we are in, particularly during this time. If we strive for freedom for all, then we must work on reforming the current sociopolitical/socioeconomic structure.

Here is the trailer to one of Dennis’s favorite movies of Burnett’s, My Brother’s Wedding. It is about a man named Pierce Mundy who has no ambition and no plans in life, and spends most of his time hanging out with his friend, Soldier. As his life goes on, he is facing a life dilemma. He needs to choose between attending his brother’s wedding and being by his friend Soldier’s side. It the lives on stage with their situation. We also have to create the time and space to comment on the society we are in, particularly during this time. If we strive for freedom for all, then we must work on reforming the current sociopolitical/socioeconomic structure.

Wednesday, June 10th

We at CSSMA have been coming together this week to share examples of leaders in the field of art and music education so that we can continue to learn and grow from successes in the field both past and present. We believe strongly in the positive power of arts education and its ability to guide students toward their own authentic voices. Art Faculty Member, Natalie Casagran Lopez, shares the work of one incredible music educator, Nancy Dupree, who exemplifies how effective and important this type of work can be.

Nancy Dupree was an activist and music teacher who took the limited curriculum of the 1960s’ Rochester elementary school where she worked into her own hands. She and her students collaborated on a full albums’ worth of songs which spoke to her students’ lived experience. The result is full of heart, passion, and power. Dupree was a true visionary arts educator who amplified her students’ voices. Below you can hear the song “What do I Have” from the album GHETTO REALITY.

You can find the the liner notes for this special album here

‘What do I Have’ Lyrics
“I have a mind
I have a Fine mind
I was the first
to figure it out the world was round.
I have hands
I have Strong hands
I built the pyramids
a long time ago and they still stand
I have a voice
and I can Sing!
Beethoven was my
brother just like BB King
I have feet
and I can Dance
I’m so beautiful when
I dance that I can put you in a trance
I have Soul
I’m All Soul
Don’t you worry ’bout
what it is, just envy me
I have Guts
I have Heart
And if I get myself
together, a-Hey Hey Hey…”

These beautiful works from Baltimore based painter, Amy Sherald. You might recognize her as the artist who painted Michelle Obama’s official portrait. Learn more about her and her work here:

“Innocent You, Innocent Me” Amy Sherald

“All Things Bright & Beautiful” Amy Sherald

Wednesday, June 3rd

Dear Friends,
We have sent you inspirational music and art every Wednesday for the last few months to share Church Street School’s fundamental belief in the healing power of the arts during this pandemic. Now we are filled with even more sadness and pain. The events of this last week have again laid bare the inequalities and inhumanity that exist in our country. Church Street School stands with the Black community and demands the respectful treatment and support of all people who are in need and facing injustice. 
Church Street School’s mission is to bring people together, to build community and offer resources that are accessible. The arts are one essential tool we have to process our experiences and share our voices. We support that expression and healing across communities. Moving forward we are doing the work of re-examining our practices and policies as an organization to make sure we are reflecting our support for justice and equality in all that we do.
As Church Street School plans community-building events and opportunities to engage in creative expression in response to the atrocities of the last week, we offer the spoken word and music below as balm for the wounds in all communities, and urge all of you to take this moment to use music and art to reflect and heal in your own way. Make more music. Make more art.

Executive Director Lisa Ecklund-Flores shares this Chuck Mangione tune with Esther Satterfield’s beautiful vocals, along with the lyrics.

Look, please look to the children
The children they know
In their eyes are the answers we seek
And their hearts feel the way to go
Look, please look to the children
They know more than we
How it feels in this world to be free
Free to love and be loved by all
See, please see how the children
They wake with a smile
For to them life’s so precious a thing
Every day is their first day of spring
Look, please look to the children
They know more than we
For all kids are from one family
Any playground is home to them
You (me) let’s be like the children
Together let’s play
Sharing all that this world has to give
Life’s a groove we all once loved
Love, give, live like the children

Development Director Abby Levin offers this amazing TED Talk on deconstructing racism from Baratunde Thurston

Please reach out to us if you would like to share and process what you and/or your child is going through. We are here to have these important discussions and take action through the arts together.
Take care of each other.

Wednesday, May 27th

Have you met Stacy Werdin? You may know her as a teacher of saxophone, piano, or vocals. Or perhaps you’ve had conversations with her as our Program Coordinator.

When asked about her time at CSSMA and what inspires her about her teaching,  she said “I have been with CSSMA for 7 years now (I think!?) Time flies! I’ve had the opportunity to work at the front desk, teach and serve as the Program Coordinator over these years, but teaching has been a constant here for me. It is a true passion and one of the most important gifts I can share. I’m incredibly grateful that I get to do this on a regular basis. Teaching at CSS is inspiring because the staff is made up of amazingly talented individuals who are able to bring their own style and methods to the school making it the well-rounded and diverse place it is. Even in these challenging and confusing times, we all feel connected because we are behind the philosophy and know how powerful and important music is now and always.”

We are lucky to have Stacy at CSSMA and she has some good tunes to share with you!

Please enjoy Stacy’s music inspirations below!

Jill Scott- “Golden”

To me, it’s all about living life to the fullest and using the tools within to endure and keep “singing loud and strong”. This is certainly something I’m trying to do more especially in these crazy times. Introspection has been key to working on how to truly shine and I feel like there are so many opportunities for us all to really look inside so we can make it count when everything is back to “normal.” ‘Golden’ has been an anthem for me lately, because life is precious.

Maze- “Happy Feelin’s”

Music is a universal language and this song exemplifies the most straight-forward and positive message that could be conveyed. You can’t help but smile when you hear this jam. Funky, soulful-70s is the best! Throw this one on when you’re relaxing around the house. It will be hard not to dance or sing along.

Wednesday, May 20th

This week CSSMA Music Faculty Member, keyboardist, and band leader Kevin Bernstein shares his experience at Church Street School.

“I started subbing at CSS 5 years ago and officially joined the staff 3 years ago. I’ve learned a lot about working with young students and I’m inspired by the effort and talent I hear in them. I love being a part of the esteemed and diverse faculty who are all amazing and the staff who work hard to help me find new students and ask me to be apart of a wide array of school events. Church Street is a special place for me!”

Please enjoy Kevin’s music inspirations below!

Gabriel Garzón-Montano- “Long Ears”

I’ve known about this singer for a while (lead singer of amazing band funk band Mokaad) but I neglected this album that came out in 2017. It still sounds just as fresh as if it came out yesterday. I’m amazed by how unique it sounds to me and the variety of textures and colors happening at the same time. He mixes classical, latin, r&b, hip hop, and electronic together in a really stunning way. I love the sort of spooky groovy feeling that permeates the whole track and the unusual chords. I find it hypnotic!

Aretha Franklin- “What a Fool Believes”

Are you looking for a high energy song to dance to while you’re stuck at home? This one hits the spot for me! This is a classic “yacht rock” 80’s jam written by Michael McDonald for the Doobie Brothers that Aretha then rerecorded with the help of some all star musicians. I actually like this version more than the original (which is very rare)! The synths sound bright and strong, the drums are tight and make you move, and Aretha adds so much energy to the vocal part and has some great background melodies. Definitely a fun one to put on at the next dance party, whenever that is.

Wednesday, May 13th

We are so excited to bring you the first installment of CSSMA Spotlight Collaborations! This week you will meet Music Faculty Member Sam Friend & CSSMA Student, Mukundi Ramaite aka LENKIE.

Mukundi, who is 17 and heading to the University of Southern California for college, has been taking voice and guitar lessons with Sam since Spring 2018 and they’ve done a lot together in that short time!

When asked about the process of working with Sam, Mukundi writes: It has been a really fun adventure. All of it has been collaborating and trying to meet each other in the middle. Sam’s unbridled belief in me as an artist is invaluable and part of what makes it all so fun to do. More importantly, my dream of connecting with people through music has never been more tangible. I’ve learned a lot.

When asked about the process of working with Mukundi, Sam writes: Working with Mukundi has been invigorating. Re-experiencing and re-approaching the journey from early songwriting through recording and releasing music with such a talented young person has further revealed the depths and vast dimensions music can offer.

“Trouble” is Mukundi’s third release as LENKIE and can be heard below. Check her other songs out anywhere you stream your music!

Mukundi writes: I see “Trouble” as a sort of support group for the romantically self-destructive. For me, the song is so much about being able to laugh at myself for my poor romantic decision making skills, being able to dance my way through it and hopefully be able to connect with people.
Sam writes: This is the third one we worked on together. This one really stood out with its brooding framing of an epic hook. That contrast and connective tissue was highlighted through a production palette that emphasized momentum and buoyancy.

Below enjoy some more art and music inspirations from Sam and Mukundi!

Sam’s pick:
“An inspired experience with art occurred recently for me at an exhibit by Diedrick Brackens at New Museum. It struck a profound chord. His use of textile materials and weaving techniques brought to light narratives that resonated with me on both aesthetic and structural levels, and left an impression that continues to evolve in my memory.”
Mukundi’s pick:
‘Skankin’ Sweet’ by Chronixx is my go to song when I’m down in the dumps. Now more than ever with everything that’s going on it rings truer than ever. It’s about dancing and grooving all your problems away. I need that, I think we all do and to me that’s all that music is. Music, specifically songs like this one, have been an important grounding point for me. I may not be able to do anything right now, and the “senioritis” is whooping me, but it doesn’t have to burden me.”

Wednesday, May 6th

Our first contributor today is Phil Stewart. Phil teaches drums, band and guitar at CSSMA. You may have seen skills at our monthly open mic nights! Phil is from Canada and is a huge rock fan. He chose a song from the Canadian prog rock band: Max Webster called Astonish Me off of their 1978 album Mutiny Up My Sleeve.
Phil Says: This is my favorite song of all time! This band captured my heart and soul from the first time I heard them. I was literally playing their albums by age three. This tune takes me to a place that seems otherworldly especially the piano intro and the middle soft breakdown section!
Mother’s Day is coming up and this next piece comes to us from our friend Babsi Loisch. She is an artist who made the ‘lactation room’ at CalArts into an art installation while she was a grad student and new mom!

Of this piece, Babsi writes: “It was about laying bare my experience in the strange, cozy, blurred zone of not being just one, but also not yet being two that is mirrored in this intimate space.” Click here to read more and discover her work.

Wednesday, April 29th

We hope that you are enjoying these Wednesday inspirations as much as we are enjoying putting them together!  Just tuning in?
Here is a quick recap of what these emails are all about:
  • Every week you’ll hear from a faculty/staff member or CSSMA friend about some piece/pieces of music, art or anything that inspires them.
  • These emails hopefully offer a chance to take a break and take a breath and be taken away from it all through the power of the arts, something we deeply value at CSSMA.
  • Contributors will share why these piece(s) are important to them and you will get to experience these works for yourself. Hopefully you will learn a little bit about the person sharing and then hear, see or read something that will also inspire you…and the joy spreads from there!

Let’s take a break now and watch this beautiful Ted Talk from Conductor Benjamin Zander, currently of Musical Director of The Boston Philharmonic & The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. He takes a packed audience on wonderful journey to describe the transformational power of music. Enjoy:

Wednesday, April 22nd

This week, Michael Eaton is offering several pieces from two of his inspirations: Steve Reich & Marc Copeland. Take a listen to these incredible pieces of music and read about what has moved Michael to share them!
Steve Reich, Six Marimbas from “Sextet/Six Marimbas” (Nonesuch)
Michael says: Steve Reich has been one of my core inspirations in writing for my own band, Individuation. “Six Marimbas” is a re-scoring of “Six Pianos”, completed a few years prior. I prefer this version for the warmer and more sustained sound of the marimba and what it does to the character of the piece. The beautiful field of Six Marimbas brings to mind for me what Sigmund Freud called “the oceanic feeling”, almost like a religious ecstasy or vibrant, timeless serenity; picture gentle ocean waves crashing against a beach or leaves blowing in the wind.

Michael continues: The primary emphasis here is on slowly shifting textures, with parts of rhythms distributed among each of the six players that together form a composite whole. It might sound lulling or relaxing, but pulling this off in performance would require a lot of rehearsal and familiarity to make it work. Often in the score Reich does not indicate a definite number of repeats for a given passage; he leaves it up to the ensemble to determine what feels right in the moment, but the paradox is that this is otherwise a highly controlled work. The chords change so slowly and quietly you may not notice if you are not actively listening.

Marc Copland & Greg Osby,
Round She Goes and Whatever the Moon from “Round and Round” (Nagel Heyer)

Michael says: Copland inhabits a very elegant post-impressionist harmonic universe. Although he often records and concertizes in piano trio settings, he made a number of duo albums in the early 2000s, including this one from 2003, which pairs him with saxophonist Greg Osby. Copland and Osby make natural duo partners; Copland’s glassy and austere touch set offset against Osby’s warm, full bodied alto sound that tapers to a razor point. Their writing and improvising is filled with subtlety and relaxed artistic mastery.  Copland’s style exploits a murky lyricism, while Osby plays with fluid geometry. For example, I love the subtle bitonality (two keys at once) in the first four measures of “Round She Goes”, or the way Osby’s jagged chromaticism suddenly shifts from the inside to the margins of the chords. Jazz can often be joyous and high energy music, but the mood here is introspective; hauntingly grey and yearning, but pulsating and alive.

And of course, we have to wish everyone a Happy Earth Day! Perhaps you have been making earth-inspired art at home today….If you’re looking for more art prompts…please check out our social media posts! We will always have a project for you and the fam on Wednesdays so give us a follow and stay inspired!
Please join our online community and share!
Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram for even more content. #CSSMA #CSSMAathome
Have something you think might inspire others and would fit in this newsletter? Email:
Stay well everyone!

Wednesday, April 15th

Today’s opening selections show some love for NYC and come from another amazing Church Street School Music Faculty Member Jane Irving:
Jane, (originally from Australia), writes: I have felt a heightened sense of solidarity for New York amidst this dark time. I am glad to be here now – it never occurred to me to return to Australia. Glenn Close recently posted a short video on Instagram sharing memories of her early days in New York. Here is an excerpt from that post:
“…The city that nurtured me has always brought me huge comfort. Comfort in the crowds in the subways, comfort walking along the streets -comfort in my neighborhood. People just let you be who you are. It’s about the absolute thrill, the joy of being able to do what you want most in the world. To do and what you feel is why you’re here. To have that chance, that’s New York for me. The city of endless adventure and endless possibility. It challenges you, you gotta live up to it. You gotta learn your way.” -Actress Glenn Close

Take a look at the full video here:

Jane says: And so, to continue the theme of my bond with New York, here is the track ‘Manhattan’ from George Russell’s 1959 album New York N.Y. Narrated by the John Hendricks. American jazz singer, lyricist and the most prolific exponent of the art of vocalese. “It may seem like a cold town, but man, let me tell you, it’s a soul town.” -Jon Hendricks

And here is a final touch from Keith Haring, an artist who is known for coming into his own in the streets of NYC. You see a lot of bold hearts and animated figures in his work and this image just seems to say…”it’s ok, I got you”. If you haven’t yet opened your windows at 7 pm to salute our frontline workers…it is a powerful way to say “thank you and we got you too”.
We hope you are staying healthy and well and continue to express yourselves through whatever creative channels suit you best. We are here for you at CSSMA and sending love to you and yours!

Wednesday, April 8th

Today’s first of several sonic selections is from
Church Street SchoolMusic Faculty Member Abby Payne:
Abby chose the song “I Concentrate on You” as sung by great American Jazz Singer, Ella Fitsgerald. The tune was written by Cole Porter for the 1940 film Broadway Melody of 1940. In 1956, Ella put out a studio album called Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook. This was the first studio album ever released by the famed jazz label, Verve Records. Abby is particularly struck by the songs’ “sophisticated songwriting, poetic lyrics and a reminder to focus on those we love in times of difficulty.” Please enjoy the tune!

Our second selection comes on the heels of losing one of America’s most beloved folk singer-songwriters, John Prine. John got his start in the 1970’s at a Chicago music club while still working days as a mail man. He was beloved for his expertly and simply crafted songs that chronicled the human condition and he was known for his humility and humor. Take a look at this interview from 2016 where Prine speaks with inCommon & Mike Leonard about the creative process…magic words for Church Street Schoolers.

Finally, we must give a huge bow to the incredible Bill Withers…another music legend we lost too soon. Like the artists above, his words, music and soul resonate profoundly for so many right now. In the spirit of togetherness…please take a watch and a listen to this beautiful version of Lean On Me from 1973. For all who are celebrating today and through the weekend, we send you lots of warmth and love to you and your family near and far.

Wednesday, April 1

Today’s selections come from Church Street School
Teaching Artist Natalie Casagran Lopez:

Natalie writes: “I wanted to include these images of Mary Nohl’s house in Wisconsin. Nohl was never concerned with reaching commercial fame, but she was an incredibly invested artist and literally turned her home– and the land it occupied– into an entire artwork. As we navigate tapping into creative sources within us and our individual homes, let’s look to Nohl’s resourcefulness and commitment to her fantastical art-world.”

But Wait! There’s More!

Natalie continues: “In hopes of sharing some beauty and calm, I would like to offer this enactment of a score by Pauline Oliveros’, The Seminal Experimental Composer, at the Met Cloisters from 2017.
Oliveros’ ‘Sonic Meditations’ proposed an awareness of environment, sound, and self and pushed forward the idea that deep listening is a grounding technique which can encourage deliberate collaboration and presence of thought. Also, it’s so comforting seeing one of the most beautiful spaces in NYC activated!”

Wednesday, March 25th

Music by Styx

“My student Cooper and I have been working on this song together. It has a simple but very effective piano intro and a hilarious but powerful transition. We stumbled upon these lyrics: But we’ll try best that we can. To carry on…’ Yes we will”

Jung Sun Kang

Monday, March 23rd

Art by Susan Duncan, Music by Chopin

“I believe in the therapeutic power of the arts; I go to music and art to help ground me in a time of stress. Today I am sharing the artwork of our beloved Susan Duncan, along with one of my favorite pieces of piano music, the exquisite Chopin Nocturne No. 1 in B flat minor. Make more music. Make more art.”

-Lisa Ecklund-Flores

Friday, March 20th

Art from our Church Street School Community