August 23, 2022

MSM’s Summer English Study (SES) program teaches English as a second language to new MSM students

This summer, nearly 90 students took part in the eight-week intensive SES immersion program to improve their English language skills in preparation for a successful start to life as new students at MSM.

The SES program ran from June 27 to August 19 this year and was headed up by Hannah DeBlock with coordinating assistance from MSM alumnus and current doctoral student Julie Lee (MM ’20).

This summer, Hannah became director of MSM’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program, which runs the SES initiative. This followed many years of leadership from recently retired program founder John Hagen who started the SES initiative at MSM in 2008, designing it especially for musicians; the program has a primary focus on teaching the English language as it is used in music.

Four teaching assistants took part in this year’s SES session, giving English language support on topics such as the fundamentals of writing and the essentials of English. The incoming students also connected with Campus Health, the Counseling Center, the Student Success Center, and the new Center for Career Readiness & Community Impact (formerly the CME).

SES students also had the opportunity to be introduced to top MSM leadership such as Dean of Students Monica Christensen, Provost Joyce Griggs (who hosted a special bubble tea event), and President James Gandre. President Gandre celebrated the conclusion of the program by hosting a lunch for SES students in the Peter Jay Sharp Residence.

Hannah speaks to us about the program and why it’s so important for many incoming MSM students.

Tell us about the program.

Hannah: The SES Program is designed to support our non-native English speakers and help them maximize their potential for a successful and enriching experience at MSM. The students study aspects of English to prepare them for their fall semester, settle into a new city, and adjust to a new culture and environment.

We have about 89 SES students this summer from various countries including China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Russia, and France. We have four large classroom teachers and nine semi-private tutorial teachers.

Everyone takes four large classes and one to two tutorial classes daily. On Fridays, SES students meet with our SES Fellows for “casual conversation” practice. This is great for our continuing students too!

The SES program kicked off in Miller Recital Hall.

Why is this program needed?

Hannah: All of our students are outstanding musicians, but their level of English at the time of application was insufficient to succeed in our regular academic courses in the fall. The SES Program is an intensive English-learning program which primes music students with the terminology, conversational skills, cultural norms, and confidence to attend and thrive in the fall semester. During SES, students take classes covering the English language basics of music history, music theory, humanities, and college writing.

While many of our students may be familiar with these subjects in their own language, they lack the familiarity and comfort level to discuss these crucial subjects in English at the conservatory level.

This is particularly important for ESL students who attend MSM with aspirations of one day pursuing their Doctorate of Musical Arts. The daily semi-private tutorial classes give students space to work on individual areas of growth and other key aspects of English, such as pronunciation and grammar.


SES students take part in a voice master class held by MSM Dean of Vocal Arts Carleen Graham.

Tell us about a typical day during the SES program

Hannah: On a typical day, approximately half of the students have their two large, 80-minute classes in the morning, an hour for lunch, and then independent study time and tutorial classes in the afternoon. The other half of students have a similar schedule, but with the morning and afternoon in reverse. After 4:30 pm, they are free to enjoy their time however they want, whether having dinner outside, hanging out with new friends, practicing their instrument, or exploring New York City.

During the week, SES resident assistants (RAs) host fun events in the Andersen Hall dorm every Tuesday night. On weekends, the SES RAs plan exciting Saturday excursions for the SES students to discover new and exciting events and activities throughout the five boroughs of New York City.

MSM President James Gandre meets with SES students in the MSM Cafeteria

Tell us about the kick-off to the program that took place earlier this summer.

Hannah: Each year on the first day of SES, we have an opening celebration and welcome party where the new SES students are able to meet our SES team, as well as have their first opportunity to introduce themselves to us and each other.

We were delighted this year to be joined by MSM President James Gandre to welcome the students into the MSM Community as valued participants. After the opening celebration, the ESL department hosted the welcome lunch party for all SES students, staff, and faculty.

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