An interview with Jared Cassedy, the award-winning performing arts coordinator for Lexington Public Schools

Darren Huang and Ella Bilge, LHS student interns with FOLMADS (Friends of Lexington’s Music, Art and Drama Students) spoke to the performing arts coordinator for Lexington Public Schools, Jared Cassedy. Under Cassedy’s leadership, the district was recently named one of the “Best Communities for Music Education” by the NAMM foundation. 

DH: What do you believe makes the Lexington music community deserving of this award?

Jared Cassedy, Darren Huang and Ella Bilge

Cassedy: As a community, we have students who are performing at such high levels across all academics. There is also a tremendous amount of importance placed on the value of music education as a part of a well-rounded and comprehensive education. This is something that you don’t see in many districts. In many communities focus is placed solely on the vocational success students will find once they graduate from high school — whether it is being accepted into post-secondary institutions or finding careers that will ensure financial success. While I think these are important considerations, the arts have such an important role within a student’s education and vocational trajectory at-large. Here in Lexington, we have such an amazing amalgamation of all these different worlds coming together, whether it be humanities or STEM or the arts. Students have access and resources to fully participate in the arts, and to do so with a lot of joy.

EB: In what ways has LPS made music education so accessible and inclusive for all students?

Cassedy: We are bolstering things from the elementary school level all the way up. We have K-5 general music classes that are part of the core curriculum, which is then augmented by students who find the value in participating in strings and band instrument instruction. We work exceptionally hard to provide instruments to anyone who would like to explore this kind of experience. Our curriculum at all grade spans is underscored by student interest and an aligned understanding of the content and skills that will enable them to continually cultivate their musical understanding, helping them to achieve even higher levels of musical understanding and engagement. We have added more music electives such as guitar, piano, and composition classes, as well as courses that focus directly on music consumerism that broaden what music education offers. Additionally, we have been provided with the funds within our district budget and other resources in the area, whether it be other music vendors or grants, in order to support such curricular initiatives and to provide students who may not have the financial means to rent an instrument or take private instruction a pathway to do so. And of course we have an exceptional teaching staff who is committed to providing engaging, safe, and meaningful music-making experiences at all grade levels.

DH: Why is it important that music education be accessible to all students?

Cassedy: With music, students are developing such a different part of their brain and their hearts. Many people can easily believe that the arts are just a nice add on. Yes, music is beautiful to listen to and participate in, but what they are actually taking part in is collaboration; an opportunity to connect with one another in a way that is so different than any other part of their lives. I always say that it’s not just music, it’s through music that students are able to develop and cultivate a part of who they are as human beings. It’s such a connecting and creative outlet that enables students to really develop those skills that can easily transcend into a career in so many other areas other than the arts. The skills you learn through music permeate so many other aspects of our lives and our humanity.

EB: As director of the LHS Wind Ensemble, how are you promoting those skills while in the classroom?

Cassedy: I’m all about three main pillars of learning: student identity, student agency, and student belonging. It’s important that students have a voice within the class structure; within the rehearsal structure to provide voice to what the music means to them and why. How should we perform this work and how does it relate to the composer’s intent? What is our intent? How do we want to express this to and for the audience? I think those core ideas really enable students to connect and invest with and in each other. When students are invested in each other and they’re invested in what they’re doing, the musical outcomes will be of even higher quality than when you’re just focusing on perfecting the notes and rhythms. You might be able to reach a higher level of technical proficiency, but you risk missing the heart of what the purpose of music is. I think people recognize that and they want to share that with one another when they listen to us perform. 

DH: What kind of roles do parents play in a student’s musical development?

Cassedy: Parents are such an integral part of any music program and their child’s musical development; they are the backbone of the educational experiences that their children are exposed to. A lot of parents may not play instruments or sing, but if they see a value in it as part of a well-rounded education, then it becomes a mainstay within the student’s education. That is definitely something that is unique about the program here in Lexington. Parents see the value it brings to the education of the whole child and how it really underscores the skills necessary to be successful as a human being, not just for the sake of it being music.

EB: In what way is peer-to-peer encouragement important to the performing arts at LPS?

Cassedy: I’m a firm believer that students celebrating students cultivates the cohesive set of core values and beliefs that we have instilled in our students through our programming. When you have buy-in from your peers, and when you can buy in to your peers, it only solidifies that relationship between music, education, and our understanding of what we are doing as a collective. It’s all about relationships. To only know each other as “Oh, they sit next to me in the clarinet section” would mean that students would be missing out on a lot more of what music-making truly is — bringing people together.

EB: How has your experience teaching LHS students changed over the course of your time here?

Cassedy: What I’ve realized over the course of my five years here and while we’ve had to navigate a pandemic, is that while our students perform at exceptionally high levels, what has been reinforced is that we must focus on our authentic and genuine “why.” What’s our purpose? What’s our value when it comes to expressing ourselves through this artform? It’s not about how well one performs, it’s about how you make other people feel when you perform. If you’re not feeling anything when you’re playing music, then what’s the point? This is an organic enterprise that is part of our human nature, and so I’ve been trying to bring that perspective to the students and the teachers I work with. It’s given me an opportunity to consider the intersection between high-quality musicianship and also the joy that comes from that act of performing music. That’s where the sweet spot is.

As an example, we’ve been having a number of conversations about our repertoire selections and thinking very deliberately about why we play specific repertoire. The LHS Wind Ensemble performed a piece during the pandemic, called “Of Our New Day Begun” by black composer, Omar Thomas. It was written in honor of the nine people who were killed in the Charleston, South Carolina shooting at the Emanuel AME Church. However, it was not only composed in memoriam of the people who passed away, but was also a call to action. We took a lot of time during the pandemic to open up and have very raw conversations around identity when it comes to one’s own background and those of the people we commune with; and how it is either celebrated or marginalized across different communities. We didn’t shy away from the challenges that came with this kind of dialogue. And what happened, which I thought was pretty amazing, was that the students were so ready and willing to take part in these conversations. There was just so much courage and empathy. What resulted was the development of an ensemble equity statement that was crafted by the members of the ensemble themselves, underscoring our commitment to performing music by underrepresented composers and about social justice themes. This document we created was picked up by national organizations, outlets, and podcasts who interviewed our students and were able to champion this work to a wider-spread audience. It was amazing how it resonated in communities across the country. This is the power of music and how it impacts the world we live in.

DH: As a member of Wind Ensemble, that was truly a transcending moment for me to have those conversations and see the other side of the notes on the page. 

Is there anything you wish you could change about the performing arts program?

Cassedy: I wouldn’t say change as much as continue to evolve. The pandemic enabled us to really take a step back and be reflective about our practice. We always talk about “the why.” Our community has flourished and has grown so much, even in the short five years I’ve been here. It’s about how we, as Lexington Public Schools and the Town of Lexington, can continue thinking outside of the box and innovatively look at our programming, our schedules, how our schools are structured, and be able to continue to provide impactful learning opportunities that are going to be even more profound than the superficial understanding of regurgitating what’s on the page. I want music to expand well beyond the walls of this school while understanding the many challenges our community and our nation faces financially, culturally, and socially. 

EB: What’s your favorite part about your job?

Cassedy: It’s absolutely you all; it’s the students! You are absolutely the best part! And I don’t just mean the students here at the high school that I work with. The other day I went to Harrington and Mr. Tracy and his 5th grade band students were playing “Baby Shark” and it was the cutest thing. Just joy, fun, and using music as a means to connect. The kids in this district are so intuitive, so “available” to the experiences they take part in. That is what education should be. It should be filled with happiness, joy and excitement matched with empowering our students, and each other, to reach beyond our own perceived potential. You all bring so much to the table and in turn inspire all of us, as your teachers, so very much.

DH: Are there any big events coming down the pipeline that the community might be interested in?

Cassedy: Absolutely! The LHS Music Department has our largest music performances, LHS POPS, coming up on Saturday, May 20 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, May 21 at 2:00 pm here in the LHS Gymnasium! All large ensembles will be performing an array of familiar and contemporary pieces for the community’s enjoyment and light refreshments are available for purchase. Folks can purchase either table or bleacher tickets for each night at!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Darren Huang and Ella Bilge

Interns with FOLMADS (Friends of Lexington’s Music, Art and Drama Students)

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