Changing Music Ed With “The Beth and Kelly Show”


Beth Fortune & Kelly Clingan photo by Daniel Sheehan


In the summer of 2020, well into pandemic lockdown with no end in sight, music educators Beth Fortune and Kelly Clingan shared a realization: “The kids were not okay.”

Furthermore, “The teachers were not okay.”

Fortune, 47, and Clingan, 45, spent eight years as coworkers at Washington Middle School, teaching music in the venerable program formerly led by Robert E. Knatt. Through that job and others – Fortune would move on to Ballard High School, Clingan to Seattle JazzED – they gained experience, callouses, and firsthand insight regarding the shortcomings of both Seattle-area and national music education. Seeking community as the pandemic wore on, Fortune and Clingan decided to host a public conversation about their careers on Facebook Live.

Four years on, these conversations continue under a podcast titled The Beth and Kelly Show,” shortly wrapping up its fourth season and nearly 100th episode. “Collaborative and supportive approaches are not common among music educators,” says Fortune, who specializes in stringed instruments. “There’s often just one of you in your building. So there’s an intense isolation that comes with the job.”

With “The Beth and Kelly Show,” Fortune and Clingan have created a platform to “give voice to intuitions that [music educators] often tamp down, that they’re scared to share.” The show’s guests represent a multitude of teaching talent, from local standouts such as Kate Olson and Jovino Santos Neto to national educators like Roxy Coss and Erica von Kleist.

“Change is critical,” says Clingan, a trombonist. “We’ve got to look at setting up some different structures.”

Clingan and Fortune considered the pandemic a prime opportunity to realign music schooling. But lockdown ebbed and they found an educational environment resting on its laurels. “Particularly in the Pacific Northwest,” says Clingan, “The [music] scene is celebrated for the status quo. We’re not super interested in that.”

Clingan and Fortune keep the podcast as improvisatory as a jazz solo. No outline, no notes. Just a guest – sometimes more than one – a couple webcams, and their built-in computer microphones. The episodes continue to air on Facebook Live. Clingan and Fortune say they’ve improved as on-air personalities. Otherwise, the show is fundamentally unchanged after four years. As in early episodes, talking points gravitate toward a related (yet complex) series of pitfalls in music education. Namely, says Fortune, “The hallmarks of white supremacy culture are closely aligned with many of our problems [in music instruction]. Perfectionism. One right way to play. I’m like, oh my God, this describes my entire education.”

“This project has helped us come to terms with our early years of teaching,” says Fortune. “I think that, earlier, we were upholding some really damaging structures ourselves.”

Over their first few podcasts, these realizations took form in stories about Washington Middle School, then one of the most diverse student bodies in Seattle. Clingan and Fortune looked around the jazz department and saw a haven for white Advanced Placement students, “savvy families who know that music will look good on a kid’s resume.” This undercut the program’s demographic aim. Clingan and Fortune yearned to pull a wider population into their classrooms. But progress was slow.

“I’d like to ball up and throw away that first year of teaching,” Fortune said on their initial episode. “Maybe the first few years.”

Clingan and Fortune are creative talkers who navigate their discussions with freewheeling, humoristic flair. They’re not afraid to pose large, thorny questions, even when inroads seem limited. “I love pushback,” says Clingan. “I love tough conversations.”

Based on their guest’s particular line of expertise, Clingan and Fortune chart very different paths around the teaching experience. For their 25th episode, they brought on four musicians – Joe Craven, Ari Joshua, Matt Hopper, and Ricky Gene Powell – with connections to the Grateful Dead scene, and asked how jam music might form a pedagogical stepping stone to improvisatory jazz performance. This led to fascinating discussions about art elitism, a pronounced gender misbalance in jam bands, and the proper way to talk with kids about drug use in historic musical environments.

Speaking with pianist, arranger, and composer Annie Booth in August 2023, Clingan and Fortune covered the launch of Brava Jazz Publishing, an outfit that only publishes big band charts composed and arranged by women. In May of this year – season four of the show – they spoke with USC’s William Coppola, author of the upcoming Egotism, Elitism, and the Ethics of Musical Humility. In response to a winding, thoughtful denunciation of musical privilege from Coppola, Clingan said, “That’s a lot. And I’m here for all of it.”

Fortune and Clingan posit that today’s young musicians are judged on their ability to “play fancy music,” while greater importance should be placed on “the experience of learning, creating, and appreciating music. Of seeing yourself as an artist.” If their guests are any indication, many in the music world agree. Fortune and Clingan are using “The Beth and Kelly Show” to root themselves in a national discussion about education – not just in jazz music, but in all creative fields. “Once you know better,” says Fortune, reciting a motto of sorts, “do better. Let’s just start now. There are practical tools and easily implementable ideas.”

Clingan and Fortune have teamed up to build a platform for these ideas, and for the educators who are pursuing them. “A lot of our guests are doing the same work as us,” says Fortune, “but from a different angle.”

Clingan says that the podcast has generated positive feedback in teaching circles. With their connections to music foundations like Wintergrass, the American String Teachers Association, and the Washington Music Educators Association, they’ve been gathering fans through word of mouth and a regular publishing schedule. They’ve also recorded a number of live shows. Podcast upkeep is generally split down the middle, and they utilize a wide array of networks to find potential guests. “Neither of us is afraid to ask anyone,” says Clingan. She throws out a couple dream names: Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal and principal Baltimore Symphony oboist Katherine Needleman.

“Students are our future,” says Fortune. “Ultimately, we’re going to be out of the game, and they’re going to make the changes. Music isn’t just about going out and being a kickass professional trumpet player. Today, every musician is an educator.”

Clingan agrees. “Our guests share our values,” she says. “We’re all here because music changed our lives.”



Posted on

June 27, 2024