Talented teacher turns middle schoolers into recording artists


Eighth graders from the New School for Leadership and Arts’ (NSLA, M.S. 244) jazz band can add “recording artist” to their resumes.

As cameras rolled in the BronxNet studios on May 22 and bright studio lights shone down, students performed jazz classics like “Wade in the Water,” “Sir Duke” and “Superstition.” A series of microphones surrounded the band, hooked up to a soundboard that sent the sound through to a recording application on a laptop.

Along with appearing on “Giant Steps from the Bronx,” a collaboration between Lehman College and BronxNet showcasing music education in the borough, each student will receive a CD with recordings of the studio session. The band’s performances also streamed live online during the recording process. They will air on BronxNet this summer.

NSLA band teacher Uma Karkala said while many of the students only started playing last year, they were ready to record.  

“These kids are really special, and it was something I wanted to do for them. They’ve never had an experience like this before,” said Ms. Karkala, 34, who also teaches strings and woodwinds graduate classes at Lehman College.

When she arrived at NSLA four years ago, after student teaching at Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music, the school did not have a band program.

“I pretty much started it from the bottom,” said Ms. Karkala.

At first, the band had only six students. Now, 40 students participate in the band; the band’s 11 eighth graders were present during the recording on Thursday.

A lifelong musician from the town of New Paltz, Ms. Karkala received a bachelor’s degree in performance from the New School, where she played jazz flute. After graduating, she freelanced around the city and went on to Lehman College, where she received her Master’s degree in music education. Along with her two teaching jobs, she plays with Lehman’s band, as well as various groups around the city.

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