How does Detroit music educator Delashea Strawder work?

What’s It Like to Work as a Music Educator in Detroit?

What’s It Like to Work as a Music Educator in Detroit?

What do you do all day?
Aug. 6 2017 2:01 PM

How Does a Music Educator Work?

Delashea Strawder infuses music into the classrooms of Detroit and the lives of its young people.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mosaic Youth Theater.
Delashea Strawder.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mosaic Youth Theatre.

On this season of Working, we left the East Coast behind and flew to Detroit. We’re speaking with eight people who are drawing on the city’s complex history as they work to create its future.

For this season’s final episode, which you can listen to via the player above, we spoke with Delashea Strawder, associate artistic director and director of music programs at the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit. An alumna of the program, Strawder wears many hats, including serving as the principal conductor for the school’s main stage vocal ensemble. She also contributes to other elements of Mosaic’s arts curriculum: When we sat down with her, for example, she was in the process of directing a play. Sometimes she also visits classrooms around the city to infuse the arts into other teachers’ lesson plans, singing and teaching songs about the topic of the day.

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“Young people like to play, so if you can make the material they’re trying to learn more kinesthetic, it helps it to stick a bit better,” Strawder says. “It’s a way to transform the classroom into a living, breathing art, so that it becomes a part of them, as opposed to material that they’re supposed to absorb and spit back out.”

Strawder tells us that she sees her work as part of Detroit’s rich musical history, but she also thinks it fills a gap in the city’s present. “Mosaic was birthed out of the fact that 90 percent of our public schools … didn’t have theater programs, and 70 percent didn’t have vocal music programs. In the city that birthed Motown, which is beyond me,” she says. “There’s a lot of brilliance in our city, and in our youth, and they just need opportunities to showcase that and tap into it themselves.”

We witnessed some of that brilliance firsthand when we listened in on a rehearsal for the play Strawder is directing. You’ll hear audio from that session in this episode, but you’ll also learn much more about Strawder’s approach to music education. Then, in a Slate Plus extra, Strawder talks about her role as a fundraiser for Mosaic. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at slate.com/workingplus.