Jan Magray

Sound Bites: A Q&A with Music Educator, Entrepreneur Jan Magray

In MfP Stories, Teaching Music Improv by jan_mfp

After retiring as a hospital chaplain in 2009, Jan Magray responded to a chance opportunity to bring music to children via an afterschool program in St. Petersburg’s underserved Midtown neighborhood. From her first visit to the now-famous renovated Quonset hut (originally home to the Royal Theater, an African American movie house, during the 1950s and ‘60s), she was challenged to find ways to engage and organize the students. 

“They didn’t have a choir or a band, and there was only one small room for classes, taken up by a broken drum set and a rickety, old piano,” recalls the Florida resident, noting that the afterschool program lacked funding, teachers and support materials. “Attendance was sporadic. Forming any kind of group was like herding cats.”

The program may have been deficient, administratively speaking, but it provided grist for innovation—specifically, a new mode of music-based learning platforms for primary grade students.

Now known as Class Action Learning, Magray founded the learning system with teachers in mind. “It promotes integrative learning as well as multi-sensory expression and input, interactive participation, and whole-child learning that is adaptable to students of multiple ages and abilities,” says Magray, who earned a bachelor’s degree in education from The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, an advanced certificate in Kodaly methodology from the New England Conservatory of Music and a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Boston College. 

Jan Magray filming Class Action Learning.

Jan Magray films a video for her Class Action Learning project. A graduate of the Musicianship and Leadership Program, she has been involved with Music for People for more than 30 years.

Class Action Learning also reflects Magray’s 30-year involvement with Music for People (MfP). A graduate of its Musicianship and Leadership Program, the former New Englander credits MfP for changing her approach to teaching and living. “I am immersed in the value of improvisation, playing from the heart, listening to others, and, most importantly, understanding that there are ‘no wrong notes,'” she says.

How does Class Action Learning work?
The website features seven short videos, each of which tells a story, set to carefully composed music tracks that accompany children’s games and songs. The parent or teacher is invited to download the videos, music tracks and instruction.

The videos are played for students who, through multiple listening opportunities, determine the basic components of the actions, tunes, games or stories to be reenacted. Once the students become proficient at learning their roles, words and actions, they recreate the story or game with the music track as their guide. 

The video does all the heavy lifting, presenting the concepts and demonstrating the who, what, where, when and how of the learning experience.

Magray credits MfP for giving her the confidence to create a framework in which children can flourish in a safe environment.

Has it always been a website?
The website has been created to meet the needs of the current situation [the coronavirus pandemic], in which students are doing so much learning online. The original program was a DVD of videos and music tracks, along with a companion book called “Adventures in Integrative Education.”

Due to the pandemic and the resultant challenge of children learning from home and complaints from parents about their children being limited in peer interaction and bored sitting in their seats, the need for interactive, healthy, child-friendly activities truly became apparent. 

How has the pandemic affected you?
The pandemic has forced me to go back to work, bringing the whole program of Class Action Learning to its fullest expression. It also has provided time for quiet, introspective, mental processing, necessary for me to categorize, explain and promote this new mode of content presentation and engagement to all learners, regardless of their situation.

How has Music for People shaped your career?
MfP has taught me to be ready for whenever the spirit beckons. It also has shown me that by carefully listening to the essence, or true meaning, of what is expressed, one can tune into and play with the spheres as well as other musicians.

Thanks to MfP, I have the confidence to create a framework in which children can have fun, play with others and discover their own sounds within a safe environment.

What else are you doing?  
I am working with behavioral therapists to support the concept of multi-sensory expression with special needs students.

Author: Robert Enslin