School of Music

As the Executive Director of the Tucson Girls Chorus, University of Arizona alumna Dr. Marcela Molina wants to engage with the community to remove barriers to music for schoolchildren in Southern Arizona. 

“I had great mentors that really make the world a better place. Dr. Betsy Schauer was one of my mentors and she was great about showing by example things that she would care about. I’ve always been inspired by her love to better the world”” – Marcela Molilna

When Molina (DMA 2013, Choral Conducting) was completing her studies as a doctoral student at the Fred Fox School of Music, she joined the Tucson Girls Chorus (TGC) as artistic director in 2006. 

She became the executive director in 2011. Under her leadership, the Tucson Girls Chorus has made it a priority to create access to inclusive programming for youth. That priority has resulted in several collaborations with Title I schools, teaching students the power of singing, providing music education.

In 2019, the TGC earned a CORE grant from the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. At a grant presentation, Molina met Jen McCormack. She was then the Senior Director of Development and Research for Native American Advancement Foundation (NAAF) in the GuVo District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. The NAAF earned a CORE grant too.

Molina and McCormack admired each other’s effort in the community and began a conversation about potential collaborative projects. 

Three years later, a youth program blossomed that gives students in the GuVo District the opportunity to use their voices and connect with their Tohono O’odham identity.

Alumna Molina works to remove barriers to music education

What began with a four-week pilot program turned into a 10-week cycle of the entire curriculum, that aimed to include music literacy and  O’odham  language. However, when problems like internet connectivity arose, the layout of the lessons changed. The goal of the lesson turned into making it a “joyful hour” in which students could simply sing.

Alumna Molina works to remove barriers to music education
A program developed by the Tucson Girls Chorus and the Native American Advancement Foundation to serve students in the GuVo District of the Tohono O’odham Nation shares lessons about centering relationship-building and community-centered collaboration.

Molina has been devoted to creating the best experience for the children through collaboration. To Molina, working in a partnership to serve a community means having conversations and garnering perspectives and ideas from everyone–especially when you are in a position of leadership.

“You can’t do things alone,” Molina says. “You need to lead with people because that is the only way that you can get things done that will really be transformative. Fireworks can happen when you work with people.”

Students in the program have a voice and agency through student leaders who facilitate what occurs in the meeting and communicate questions, concerns, and ideas. 

“I wanted the students to be involved in the building of the curriculum.  I wanted the elders to approve it. I really wanted to set the tone that this program was theirs and we would be their guests,” says Molina.

Along with clear communication and active participation, program leaders have been dedicated to making a positive impact through indigenous research methods, asking questions like, Is this project going to promote a good life? Is it going to hold for seven generations? Does this heal trauma from the past?

Alumna Molina works to remove barriers to music education
The Native American Advancement Foundation serves students in the GuVo District of the Tohono O’odham Nation with programs including an afterschool program, summer camps, and the music education partnership with the Tucson Girls Chorus.

Through this process and the trial and error of the initial zoom meetings, Molina and her partners, — including program facilitator and Fred Fox School of Music instructor Nicky Manlove (MM 2020, Choral Conducting) — established that the main goal of this program was simply to allow the children to heal through the magic of singing. While they would like to hold live performances in the future, in which students can share their voices with family and friends, Molina deems the weekly Zoom meetings a success for the time being.

Not all collaborations work. But Molina takes heart lessons learned from each effort. She points out a past project that didn’t work, and she takes responsibility, saying it was due to her “youth” and “naivety.” However, through this, Molina has learned the lesson that failure is what can create the best long-term results.

Not all collaborations work

“I have been fearless in trying a lot of things,” she said. “Not everything has worked, but at least I tried, and now I know I can revisit this because now I know how to do it better.

These lessons learned over time have proven beneficial for the schoolchildren in the GuVo District of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

“It bloomed into something awesome,” said NAAF Director of Student Support Services Monica Cleveland. “We wanted to see this music be a part of the healing process for everything that our kids have been through … We need to take time to heal, and this music program is doing that for our kids.”

Molina is elated to finally see the program in action and the students thriving. 

“It’s beautiful.”

“It’s beautiful. When something is in your head and then you see it crystallized, it’s just a beautiful thing. And it’s not because of me. It is because there is a team of people really working hard to make this happen. There’s nothing better than building good relationships. The power of community starts by us role modeling that to our younger generations.”

  • Last spring, the Tucson Girls Chorus received a grant from Chorus America’s Music Education Partnership Grants program. The organization plans to use the funds to further develop this collaborative program during the 2022-23 school year. 
  • This fall Chorus America, a national advocacy group in the choral field, highlighted the collaborative partnership in its magazine with a 5,600-word piece written by Lucy Caplan, an assistant director of studies, history and literature at Harvard University.

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