The SMTD & Our Own Thing Piano Partnership Program (EXCEL Prize ‘18) provides free weekly piano lessons to Ypsilanti students and was created to address the lack of diversity and representation in the field of classical piano. The EXCEL Prize allowed the program to supply students with keyboards for practice, give additional training for instructors, and support guest artist workshops.

Dr. Leah Claiborne (MM ‘15, DMA ‘18), was our 2018 EXCEL Prize Winner for her project, Our Own Thing Piano Partnership. In addition to the EXCEL Prize, Leah was also awarded the University of Michigan’s MLK Spirit Award for creating OOTPP. 

Leah said the most important aspect when forming the program was communicating that the reason for doing it was genuine. She did this by speaking to parents and the community and showing them that she was sincere, as well as making sure that all of the team facilitating the program was on the same page. Students were recruited for the program through her church in Ypsilanti, where she served as Music Director, and other affiliated churches in the area.

Leah is now the Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of the District of Columbia, where she teaches piano, coordinates Keyboard Studies, and teaches African American Music History. She is in the process of forming a new piano studies program with the same model as OOTPP at U of D.C.

Our Own Thing Piano Partnership continues to thrive at SMTD, with a new group of students beginning this month.

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