Harmonies Heard: Cali Pathways Project Promotes Access to Music Education

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Cali Pathways Project students listen and engage with visiting artist David Krakauer, a world-renowned clarinetist, as part of the Immersive Residency program. (Photo courtesy of Rob Davidson Media)

She started playing trumpet in the fourth grade, but by the time she was in high school — when she thought about her future — Taymar Garlington still wasn’t sure she could pursue music as a career.

Her experience in the Cali Pathways Project led by Montclair State University (MSU), which introduces eighth grade through high school students to music education, changed everything.

Not only did the yearlong program advance Garlington’s love for music, but it also introduced her to a diverse community of talented musicians. Now Garlington is a first-year music education major studying classical trumpet at MSU.

“I just love how [MSU is] so supportive in the students’ musical journey,” says Garlington. “They do whatever they can to provide the resources for you to be where you want to be. They provided me with my instrument. They provided me with my jazz lessons, as well as some method books. I wouldn’t even have an instrument today to even major in music, really, if I wasn’t in this program.”

The Cali Pathways Project is currently in its third year and serves between 30 and 40 students annually across the U.S., primarily in New Jersey and the New York City area.

“[The initiative] seeks to support talented high school students from underserved backgrounds with a desire to pursue music in higher education and professionally,” says Tomoko Fujita, DMA, Cali Pathways director. “We create highly individualized support plans to provide financial, musical, [and] informational resources necessary to break down the barriers that might otherwise preclude these students from achieving their full potential.”

Fujita, DMA

The program offers private lessons, advising sessions, performance opportunities, activities and seminars on campus, mentoring, tuition aid for summer camps, and travel expense coverage.

Once students become high school seniors, they also have access to college preparation resources, including mock auditions, financial aid guidance, and college application assistance.

Participants are introduced to a variety of music majors offered by MSU, like music performance, education, therapy, recording arts and production, and composition. Although they are not required to attend or apply to MSU, the Cali School of Music also offers need- and merit-based scholarships.

Marc Evans Calixte and Taymar Garlington, Cali Pathways Project students, play a jazz jam for the annual December performance evaluation, a requirement which provides mid-year performance experience and the opportunity to receive
immediate feedback from a Cali School of Music professor. (Photo courtesy of Rob Davidson Media)

“We support [students] in whatever their college dreams are,” Fujita says. “We feel like that’s one of the ways in which we can level the playing field for them — not have them feel like they have just one choice, but that they have many choices [similar to] what students of more privileged backgrounds get.”

Underserved students face a number of challenges when pursuing a music education, such as a lack of representation across the field and long-standing misconceptions regarding success in music careers.

In fact, there is currently a music educator shortage and music therapy practitioners are in high demand, says Fujita. MSU currently has a 100% job placement rate for graduating students in music education. Although music performance is less of a guaranteed path, the school helps students navigate career options that meet their interests.

“There’s just so many ways to make a living in music,” says Fujita. “I think the more students [and families] are aware of that, [it goes] a long way to dispel the ‘starving artist’ idea.”

Fujita says the pathways model of the program is especially unique because it is operated by a higher education institution. Leaders further their impact by partnering with organizations focused on expanding elementary and middle school access.


“[An early start to music education] can dramatically change the trajectory of what their skill level is when they get to college,” she says. “Getting students started earlier makes it easier for things to come more naturally physically with the instrument [and] it gives them more time to develop at the same rate [as] students with more resources.”

For Garlington, her excitement extends to her future career as a teacher.

“I feel like it’s really important for minority children to be able to see themselves in their lessons and in the music,” she says. “Because music is so diverse and there’s so many different ways of expressing yourself within music, exposure to different genres is the best way to be able to reach these children and get them interested in education.”