Teaching Artist Profile: Let’s Go Traveling with Magpie

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We wish all students, teachers, and parents a warm welcome back to school! We are excited to mark the start of the 2017-18 school year by adding a new feature to the Inner City-Inner Child blog: from time to time, we will profile the extraordinary teaching artists, early childhood teachers, and partner organizations that make our early childhood development programs a success.

We begin with Magpie, the husband and wife team of Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner, who have been an integral part of Inner City-Inner Child’s teaching artist team since the inception of our Dancing With Books classroom residency program.

 

Childhood Years: “If You Weren’t Singing, You Weren’t Breathing”

The couple met when Terry was a student at Kent State University in Ohio, and Greg was a local resident who happened to live on the same street as Terry. After performing separately at a folk music festival at Kent State, they sought to form a band with a third musician. The trio did not materialize, but Terry and Greg combined their talents and have performed as a dynamic voice, guitar, and songwriting duo since 1973.

The two have similar backgrounds: both are from Ohio, grew up in socially conscious families, and have had deep engagement with music since childhood. Terry was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s marches as a child. Her grandfather played multiple instruments and everyone in her family—and her mother’s large family before her—sang. As Terry describes it: “If you weren’t singing, you weren’t breathing.”

Greg started playing guitar in fourth grade. He drew inspiration from his father, who worked for the National Urban League. By the time he and Terry met in Kent, both were serious, content-oriented musicians who were active in the civil rights movement.

 

Music with a Purpose

From the start of their career, Terry and Greg have been committed to making music with a purpose. Their music covers a vast range of social issues, including Civil War and civil rights history, environmental stewardship, and the labor movement. As talented singers, instrumentalists, and lyricists, they work comfortably across a wide spectrum of music genres, such as folk, blues, and jazz. Through the years, they have worked with luminaries such as the SNCC Freedom Singers and Pete Seeger. They have also performed the music of singer-songwriter legend Phil Ochs, and have worked closely with his sister, Sonny Ochs.

With a group name like Magpie, it is not surprising that Terry and Greg are fond of birds, and that the magpie bird is, in fact, the inspiration for their name. Magpie birds have many of the characteristics that describe the pair’s personalities, and their approach to music and life. These birds are loquacious; have iridescent feathers that reflect the spectrum of the rainbow (much like broad spectrum of Terry and Greg’s music); build domed nests with shiny objects (which Terry and Greg liken to their “shiny” songs and stories); leave their nests for others to use when they are finished (in the same way that Terry and Greg seek to leave a legacy to younger generations through their music); and are celebrated in folk tales around the world as intelligent keepers of the past, present, and future. The Magpie moniker is also much quicker and easier to say and remember than Terry and Greg’s often mispronounced last names.

Magpie’s lifestyle is a strong testament to their commitment to music with a purpose. They spend weeks at a time on the road, performing their music in concert halls, coffeehouses, classrooms, and other venues around the country. When they are not performing, they are often hard at work writing songs, plays, and education programs. A vacation for them is spending time at home in their mountainside residence in upstate New York.

 

Imaginary Journeys

The effect of Magpie’s music on classrooms that participate in Inner City-Inner Child’s early childhood development program Dancing With Books is magical. As children like Mateo know, Magpie delivers riveting performances that bring picture books to life through an inspired layering of lyrics, voices, string arrangements, choreography, and passion—passion for teaching young children, enhancing education, and promoting their vision of a better world through the art of music.

A vivid example of this is Dancing With Books’ Imaginary Journeys residency, in which Magpie amplifies Stella Blackstone’s Bear on a Bike picture book through an original song, “Let’s Go Traveling.” This upbeat tune, which encourages children to use their imagination to travel to far destinations like Cuba and Ghana, showcases Magpie’s remarkable ability to transport listeners to a distant time and place through their music.

Whether performing alone or in vibrant collaboration with the African drummers, vocalists, and other teaching artists on Inner City-Inner Child’s team, Magpie’s presence in the classroom is transformative. Teachers repeatedly tell us how Magpie’s music unlocks hard to reach children, and takes children like Kayla, Madison and Mateo on a phenomenal journey that allows them to reach a new level of self-expression. Children and teachers miss Magpie when their classroom residency ends, but they are left with the enduring gift of re-imagining what it means to engage with a book.

 

An Invitation to You

No blog can fully capture the extraordinary effect of Magpie and the rest of Inner City-Inner Child’s teaching artist team on the children in our programs. We invite you to watch our video and click here if you’d like to learn more about how to support our work. Let’s go traveling!

 

For more than two decades, Inner City-Inner Child (ICIC) has supported early childhood education in Washington, DC through arts education programs and early childhood development training. We provide quality arts integration and early childhood development programs that serve low-income families in DC. ICIC also provides arts-focused professional development programs for teachers who work in early childhood centers and school-based early childhood education programs in DC. In addition, we engage low-income DC parents in child development activities that help them create learning experiences at home.