From AIR to Educators

Josanne Francis Helping A Student Play The Steelpan


Strathmore’s Artist in Residence program makes mentors out of musicians.

By Barbara Ruben

Students at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring eagerly raised their hands when steelpan virtuoso Josanne Francis asked for help playing “Happy Birthday.” By the time she launched into a salsa tune on the melodic instrument, kids were wriggling and swaying in their seats. 

“One boy asked for the name of a song and said when he went home, he would learn it. That made me really, really excited,” says Francis, a 2018 Artist in Residence (AIR) alum. She visited the school last fall to launch a six-week steelpan program as part of Strathmore’s Bloom initiative, which provides students with free programming from professional artists. 

Teaching excites Francis thanks, in part, to Strathmore’s AIR program. Although she already had an undergraduate degree in music education, “AIR is really where I felt my identity as a teaching artist blossom,” she says. 

And that’s exactly what AIR Director Betty Scott aims for. While AIR offers performance opportunities and professional development support, it also helps participants develop their instructional style so they can pursue teaching if they want. Scott, who taught music in Prince George’s County elementary schools for 40 years, says this is an instrumental part of the program. 

“I find mentoring and education incredibly important,” she says. “We would be totally remiss if we took these musicians into the program and didn’t at least give them a chance to become educators.” 

Some already teach in the classroom, such as class of 2024’s bassist Zoë Jorgenson, who teaches strings in Fairfax County Public Schools, and pianist Alfred Yun, who has taught at Capitol Hill Day School. Others teach private lessons. 

In addition, all artists in residence host a public workshop at the Mansion. Yun led a demonstration in January of various Korean rhythms and explored how they differ from the Western rhythmic tradition. In her February workshop, Jorgenson delved into the US music education system and the need for skilled music educators. 

Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Francis says learning and playing music in a community setting started her on the path to music education. Now she wants to help diversify school music programs beyond Western classical music to engage students of all backgrounds. 

Francis, who has also appeared at Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center, is pursuing her doctorate in music education from the University of Maryland. In 2019, she launched Steel on Wheels, an educational program that offers steelpan workshops in schools and the community as well as access to instruments. She attributes starting the organization and local music education efforts to her time in AIR. 

“The opportunity to go out to schools really opened my eyes to how hungry these kids and teachers are for something different,” she says. “Over the past five or six years, there’s been more awareness of diversity and inclusion initiatives, and what I do fits in perfectly with them.” 

Strathmore is deeply grateful to the many individuals, corporations, and foundations who provide vital funding for our Bloom programs, ensuring access for all.