Meet the New Early Childhood Department Chair: Dr. Nita Baxani

Nita Baxani

Experienced educator and performer, Dr. Nita Baxani, is bringing her passion for Early Childhood and commitment to arts education to her new role as the Early Childhood Chair.

The Community School is proud to welcome Dr. Nita Baxani to the Colburn community. She is taking over the Early Childhood Chair from Christine Martin, who recently retired after 20 years of service to the school. Ready to take on the mantle of leadership, we recently spoke with Dr. Baxani to dive deep into her passion for music, her love of performance, her education, and everything she is looking forward to at Colburn.

Why Colburn? What attracted you to the organization?
There are two main aspects that attracted me to Colburn. I was very impressed with the Colburn School’s mission of providing the highest quality performing arts education at all levels of development and its dedication to providing equitable access to excellence in performing arts education. My own research and practical work in early childhood music education reinforced for me the importance of fostering music development for all children. I am very passionate about this, and I am so elated to have the opportunity to serve and be part of the Colburn community.

Secondly, I was especially attracted to what the Early Childhood program offers to the community, a curriculum pathway that is inclusive of very young learners with quality content that supports young children’s musical development. This pathway is led by accomplished early childhood faculty who prioritize the child’s interests and skill development to inform individual pathways of learning.

What is your vision for the Early Childhood Music Program?
My vision is to music joyfully as a community. “Musicking” (Small, 1999) refers to the act of making music an action, or verb, thus “to music” is a social action. Offering an environment for young learners and their families to feel they have something to contribute and that they have a voice aligns with the Community School of Performing Arts’ commitment to making music education accessible to everyone who has a passion and curiosity for music. I believe that all people should be able to engage in music as they wish; whether at home, school, or in Colburnland, music is a social act, one that is deeply entwined within the idea of community.

The previous chair, Christine Martin, has big shoes to fill! What is number one on your agenda to step into this role at Colburn?
Christine Martin created a rich program, and she has impacted the lives of many individuals, both students and their families, as well as the faculty and staff at Colburn. I am truly humbled to continue this work. My priority lies in working closely with our early childhood faculty, staff, and families so that I may continue to not only honor Ms. Martin’s work, but to find my place in this special community so that I can support and contribute meaningfully towards Ms. Martin’s legacy.

What are you most excited about for this upcoming year?
I’m so delighted to be working at such a highly regarded institution as Colburn School where Music is so valued in early childhood. I am even more grateful to be working alongside distinguished colleagues who are knowledgeable and passionate about their craft. The idea of engaging in productive discussions of best practices for children at Colburn School, based on research and real time experience in the classroom, is so thrilling for me. However, I must say that I am most excited about musicking with the students and their families and being part of the Colburn community experience.

Why is Early Childhood education important to you and what inspired you to study and work in Early Childhood music education?
Song was an artifact of culture that helped me to acclimate into a new environment as an immigrant to the US at a very young age. I recall singing all the time as a child. In fact, my earliest memories are of singing spontaneous songs and listening to recordings of Disney songs in Chinese. Song offered comfort in the new setting—in this case, being unfamiliar with my new surroundings and not yet being able to communicate with others in English. Song served as an object of transition into this new world.

I didn’t have the opportunity to engage in any type of formal music training through most of my adolescence because we were not able to afford lessons. I danced and sang informally in the privacy of my own room or in the shower (best acoustics ever!), and when around my family and friends, I sang for them. I wish I had had the opportunity to take part in music classes when I was very young and to be part of something musical in a community setting.

From my perspective, working with very young children taught me to see the world differently—to hear their music. The arts can offer various pathways for communication and expression. Early childhood is an important time of development, and my own experiences revealed to me that children, including babies, have musical agency. When I work with young children, I learn more about myself. It is an honor for me to be able to partner with faculty and with families in providing musical spaces for children.

As far as what inspired me to study and work in Early Childhood music education, it was actually a surprise to me. At Teachers College, Columbia University, I met two incredible mentors, Dr. Lori Custodero and Dr. Susan Recchia. With both their expertise and guidance, I was provided the opportunity to work within an early childhood center that is inclusive and provides culturally responsive care for young children and their families. Engaging in music with children from ages three months and above brought so much joy to my life, and I realized quickly that that area of study would be so rewarding and enjoyable to experience. I became part of this magical community—and music revealed itself in various forms in our music classes and outside of it. Once I was captivated by these children, there was no going back!

It is evident that you not only bring your experience as a performer and educator, but as an academic as well. How will your education and your research inform your work at Colburn?
My experience at Teachers College was such a transformative experience. I inquired further into what a music facilitator in a student-centered environment really means, being aware that children have agency. My own research on examining the functions of infant musicality within a community setting allowed me to not only analyze data from the lenses of the parents/caregivers and teachers, but I also had the amazing opportunity to provide my own lens from two perspectives: the music teacher and the researcher.

Other research projects that I have been involved in emphasize the importance of hearing the individual child’s music and allowing those cues to be part of a collaboration that is respectful, inclusive, and mutually fulfilling. I am inspired by the music behaviors of young children both in and out of music class. Information that I collected outside of music class was valuable information, as it provided insight and informed how I might make music with these already musical beings. Being in partnership with families is an important part of this experience.

I like to be updated on what’s out there in research and to continue writing to really get intimate with data that I’ve gathered. I enjoy attending and presenting at conferences. These platforms provide opportunities to connect with individuals in the field, and I enjoy meeting and sharing experiences and insights with other researchers and practitioners. Research informs practice, and as I learn more, I refine and develop my own ideas accordingly. I also discuss these ideas with my colleagues and look at the ways [they] can inform and shape our practice going forward.

You were also a performer. Do you still perform?
I feel so fortunate because as a performing artist, I have met and continue to meet some incredible people in the arts with amazing ideas for artistic expression. From my own viewpoint, I feel that for me to be a music educator, I need the music. I practice my craft on a regular basis, as that’s what it takes to keep the skills intact and strong. Should a meaningful performance opportunity arise, I am able to express myself in an artful way. Communication and expression for me are released through singing/performance. That is a part of me, and it is my voice.

The music educator is the other part of me—when asked as a young child what I wanted to be when I grew up, without a pause I said, “a teacher.” I’ve come to realize that both the performer and the educator live together in me, and it’s very difficult for me to live as one without the other. For me, the reciprocal exchange of making music with others in the music class is just as fulfilling as the partnership of being a performer in the moment with other musicians, as well as in the exchange with the audience.

The Community School of Performing Arts is exactly that, a community. What does this mean to you?
Ever since I started teaching, I have been passionate in my commitment to engaging students through collaboration in music making, maximizing individual student musical potential that instills a sense of self-worth, inspiring students of all ages “to music” together. I have dedicated my career to these pursuits, and I will continue to advocate for music in the community. I’m looking forward to engaging with Colburn’s community of young children and their families. I have so much respect for the individuality of each child while learning about their interests and passions so that I might gain entry into their musical space. The musical space for young children affords a sense of community where children are the social actors. I also look forward to connecting with the wider Colburn community.

Anything else you want to share with our Colburn community?
I love singing, I love teaching, and I especially LOVE music in early childhood.

Having the opportunity to join Colburn’s Early Childhood program is like a dream come true for me. Thank you for welcoming me into your community.

Learn More

Learn more about the Early Childhood Music Program.

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Small, C. (1999). Musicking—the meanings of performing and listening. A lecture. Music education research, 1(1), 9-22.