Jessica Ingraham is strongly in favor of inclusivity.
She believes that everyone should have access to enjoyment and fulfillment through music regardless of ability, age, or zip code. Through her work with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the non-profit, Different Dynamics, she is on the ground, working hard to bring that about!
Jessica is the current Director of Education for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) where she produces the Family and Education Concert Series, in-school programming, and teacher professional development programs. She has held this position for five years, working with students and teachers from Early Childhood through high school, enabling the SLSO to reach approximately 50,000 students every year. Her goal in creating the programming is “to inspire students to get involved and stay involved in music, and offer support for the dedicated and passionate music educators in the local schools.”
In order to reach diverse groups of students and teachers throughout the greater St. Louis area, the programming is designed to reflect the many needs and interests of all students and teachers. Using an elemental approach to teaching music and movement as a foundation, Jessica is able to create opportunities that are accessible to all. This approach has also enabled her to revolutionize the programming by breaking down the wall between audience and performer, and allowing even the youngest and least experienced students to create and perform along with the musicians of the SLSO.
Ms. Ingraham consistently demonstrates her leadership style by listening to teachers, and acting on their suggestions. Colleague and former SLSO Education Programs Coordinator, Laura Reinert commented on this collaboration, “Jessica’s leadership helped revitalize the educational offerings of the SLSO and brought them to a new level of excellence. (She) continues to strive for growth and improvement and never settles for ‘good enough’… Jessica took time to listen to what educators need and want, allowing her to refine the programming to better suit the needs of the community.”
Programs such as Link Up, developed by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, provide professional development for teachers and give students opportunities to perform along with the SLSO. Lead Link Up Teacher, Emilee Kellerman describes the program’s increasing success under Jessica’s leadership. “Link Up has grown from barely 2 concerts to selling out 3 concerts. Each concert influences and impacts over 2,000 students, teachers and parents. She is making a difference in these kids lives.”
Maureen Byrne, who oversees the Education and Community Partnership for the SLSO, describes how Jessica restructured programming to reach underserved communities, while improving the experience for all children and teachers.
“Jessica has facilitated the engagement of thousands of students and teachers in greater St. Louis – especially from underserved communities – with high quality music activities and experiences that are not available to them elsewhere.”
In designing concerts that address specific needs of audience participants, Jessica has made it possible for many to fully enjoy the experience for the first time. Byrne continues, “In 2016, Jessica focused SLSO curriculum development efforts on K-12 students with Sensory Processing Disorder. These children are often excluded from school field trip experiences enjoyed by their neurotypical counterparts, so Jessica designed a special SLSO concert experience which will launch in November 2019. As many as 2,000 children with a diagnosis of autism or other developmental challenges will experience a full orchestra concert designed specifically for them. This effort which is unique among major American professional orchestras is expected to become a regular and sustained part of SLSO education programming.”
Jessica’s experience as a Band Director in the neighboring City of St. Charles Public Schools for 6 years, followed by her work for over 2 years with the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra has prepared her to engage with both teachers and students on behalf of the SLSO. She maintains her musicianship and nurtures her artistic self by playing clarinet in the local St. Louis Wind Symphony. She recently completed her Orff-Schulwerk Certification by taking Level III.
Through her work with diverse populations, Jessica was inspired to reach learners with physical and intellectual challenges in ways that are not readily accessible to them outside of the school day. Recently she started a non-profit called Different Dynamics, A Center for Special Music Education.
Jessica listened to parents of children with special needs who had concerns that there were no after-school music education programs for these students taught by certified music educators. Upon surveying the landscape, she realized that an organization was needed to provide affordable, high-quality opportunities.
Different Dynamics began when Jessica was accepted into the Social Enterprise Accelerator Program at Washington University’s Brown School in 2017. There she received support in creating a sustainable business model for the venture. The organization was incorporated in March, 2018, and had a Board of Directors in place by August, 2018. Programming for Different Dynamics takes place in various community locations, such as local libraries and museums. They also partner with other organizations, including Concordia Lutheran Church, who welcome special needs programs.
“Using an elemental approach to music and movement education at Different Dynamics, we are able to create a space where everyone can participate in the music learning to the extent to which they are able. The process-base approach allows students to take ownership of their learning… and creates an atmosphere where exploration and discovery are encouraged and rewarded. We are able to differentiate almost every learning activity when we approach it from the most basic elements.”
Jessica and the Different Dynamics team are faced with an array of challenges in creating meaningful experiences for participants who may be non-verbal, non-ambulatory or neurodiverse. They often need to assess and adapt activities ‘on the spot’ for brand new students. “We start where we know they can be successful and we build from there.” In that way, “it’s no different than working with any person.” Having the confidence to address individual needs means that team members cannot be afraid to ‘fail.’ Jessica and her team trust their instincts and abilities to differentiate and create something based on what the individual can do and not rely on activities that may not be of good quality or age appropriate. Providing visual and aural prompts for most of the activities reaches more students and encourages participation. Those with Sensory Processing Disorder have the options of noise-cancelling headphones or retreating to a quiet place.
“When we work with any of our participants through Different Dynamics it is not about the finished product. For us, it is about the creative process – that journey we take together to create something bigger than ourselves.” She continues, “The only limitations for participation in music are the ones our society creates. Most of these limitations stem from a lack of awareness and understanding of people’s differing abilities and our own ability and willingness to adapt and modify our definition of success. By simply modifying our definition of success, we can all make music together – everyone can find success in music!
Currently Different Dynamics provides music classes for Summer Adventure Camps that are offered by the non-profit, Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis. In addition, they produce free music classes for families throughout the city, most recently in partnership with Easterseals Midwest. They also partner with local arts organizations in creating and developing audiences for sensory-friendly family concerts.
Jessica describes the goals for Different Dynamics, “Our vision is a community where participation in music, as both a performer and an audience member, is accessible to all people with special needs and their families.”
Designing and carrying out the many layers of her work is demanding but Jessica feels encouraged, knowing that the contributions she makes to music education for people of all abilities has an impact on many lives.
The SLSO music education programming reaches 250 schools throughout the bi-state region. I am grateful to work for an organization that values music education in our schools and supports community efforts to give all people the opportunity to express themselves through music… When we teach people to make their own music, we are giving them a voice. When we find our voice, we find our power.
For more information, follow these links:
The Different Dynamics team: https://www.differentdynamicsstl.org/staff
Washington University’s Social Enterprise Accelerator https://sei-lab.wustl.edu/engage/social-enterprise-accelerator/
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: https://www.slso.org/en/about-us/about-the-slso/
Her passion for music showcases through dedication in helping others love and enjoy music… She is quick to investigate if she doesn’t know the answer and willing to learn so that she can provide the best professional development to others. ~ Sheila Baer, teacher in Union RXI school district, Educational Task Force Committee with the SLSO
… Jessica has dedicated countless hours and boundless energy into her mission of making music accessible for ALL. In my 31 years as a special educator, 20 of those as a special education music teacher, I witnessed firsthand on a daily basis how the power of music impacted our students. I have such admiration and respect for Jessica for making this dream a reality. Our community needs this….our community deserves this! Jessica’s tireless efforts, persistence, dedication and commitment continue to build Different Dynamics….and the special needs community and their families will continue to benefit greatly from the fruits of her labor. I’m honored to be on this journey with her! ~ Paula Berner, consultant for the SLSO Sensory-Friendly Concerts and Different Dynamics colleague
….She is one of the hardest workers I have ever met. … Her love of music and her continuing efforts to expose young people to the performing arts is extraordinary… she continues to find new pathways to reach even more audiences with her love of music. I am honored to have been able to share 6 years of my career with her and I look forward to seeing where her passions take her next.~ Allison Smith, colleague, St. Charles High School, St. Charles, MO
Jessica has already raised awareness among SLSO staff, key board members, and SLSO volunteers about learning and experiences that are often closed to students with special needs and their teachers…Jessica is tireless in her resolve to leverage the power of music to improve young people’s lives. ~ Maureen Byrne, Associate VP, Education & Community Partnerships for the SLSO
Jessica is such a bright, positive person. She works tirelessly without the need to be in the spotlight. What she does comes from the love and joy she has for music and her desire to share that with everyone, no matter what the limitations might be. ~ Emilee Kellermann, SLSO Link Up Lead Teacher, and teacher in the Rockwood School District
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