Reaching Children Through Music

Community outreach efforts by Baylor’s School of Music faculty, staff and students — particularly those working with special needs children, hands-on music classes and symphony performances — were honored in January by Solid Gold Neighbor, a University initiative to strengthen the bonds between Baylor and Central Texas.

The people and programs receiving acknowledgment in January are among the many widely recognized and successful endeavors within the acclaimed School of Music.

Spring 2020 - Oso Musical
Oso Musical


Oso Musical

Oso Musical provides free, weekly music classes for special needs children in the Waco area. Participants range from age 4 through 12th grade and have a variety of special needs and abilities. Research has shown that children of all ability levels benefit from making music. Being immersed in a music enrichment class is a joyful and transformational experience, especially for special needs children.

Jillian Gusukuma, BMEd ’10, MM ’12, an administrative associate in the School of Music Dean’s Office, is Oso Musical program director. 

“It is difficult to say who learns more and experiences the greater joy between our volunteers and participants, called Oso Pals,” Gusukuma said. “We love when BU Buddies and Oso Pals alike see one of their classmates overcome a challenge, make progress and try something new so much that we break into spontaneous celebration.”

Elisa Crowder, BMEd ’81, museum and gallery attendant in the Department of Art and Art History, designs and curates curriculum for the program. She also leads classes to begin each semester before allocating teaching responsibilities to BU Buddies, who are mostly music majors seeking teaching opportunities and experience with the community.

Spring 2020 - Oso Musical 2
Oso Musical

Baylor String Project

Michael Alexander is associate professor of music education in the School of Music. He oversees the Baylor String Project, which introduces low-cost group string instruction to Waco-area students in grades 4 through 12. Students learn how to read music and play a stringed instrument — bass, cello, viola or violin. In the process, students develop good work habits and improve their ability to coordinate and cooperate in groups. On average, 30 to 40 students participate in the program each year.

Baylor students in supervised teaching roles conduct the classes. This allows Baylor to offer these music lessons at substantially reduced fees. 

Alexander said class sizes in the 6- or 7-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio range is ideal both for the students learning and the Baylor students teaching.

“Teaching one-to-one lessons is great, but when you teach more than that, our students learn to deal with multiple variables at the same time,” Alexander said. “It’s more like an authentic classroom. The practical teaching experience gained in this program has a powerful effect on their preparation for the teaching workforce.”

“The young students love their Baylor student teachers,” Alexander said. “They beam with smiles in each class.”

Baylor Symphony Children’s Concerts

Stephen Heyde is The Mary Franks Thompson Professor of Orchestral Studies in the School of Music. He also is director of orchestral activities and conductor-in- residence. Heyde and Waco Symphony Association Executive Director Susan Taylor coordinate the Children’s Concerts, which consist of three consecutive performances at Waco Hall with approximately 2,000 students attending each concert.

Students learn to appreciate music from a wide range of musical eras through the development of active listening skills. 

“It is one of our favorite events because the children are always an excited and appreciative audience,” Heyde said.

He estimates that more than 400,000 students have attended the Children’s Concerts, held annually since 1946. 

“For many of the youngsters,” Heyde said, “this is the first time they have been in such a large and impressive auditorium on a college campus. It opens their eyes to a wider world and its potential for them.”