Marisol has a PhD in ethnomusicology, but her first education came from a childhood in her native Puerto Rico, where she was soaked in music. "I studied music academically, but the way I learned music - who sings well, what had a good rhythm - was sitting down and listening with my dad." She also credits her mother, Juanita Miranda-Berrios. "She is the encyclopedia. She knows everything about Latin rhythm and dance."
Marisol teaches in layers, one rhythm at a time. She recently completed a residency at Alki Elementary School, teaching Latin rhythms to 120 fourth and fifth graders, which culminated in a concert. "They were the best!" she says, "curious, engaged, respectful. 30 years ago, when I came to the United States and was teaching people the Clave, it was almost impossible for them to get it: the side-to-side movements that accompany the rhythm can be difficult. But these kids nowadays hear more Latin and African rhythms at a younger age, they are more exposed to world rhythms." (Clave is the Spanish word for keystone or key. A Clave rhythm is a repeated five-note pattern.)
"The interlocking rhythms and call-response singing of Latin Caribbean music have a special power to generate participation," says Marisol, who used the fellowship to share her knowledge and experience with Eckstein Middle School, taking young jazz musicians to a deeper level of Afro-Caribbean playing. She is also deeply involved with the Seattle Fandango project. "People need to get back to playing music themselves," she says, "all the generations: mamas with babies, teenagers, elders. We are community building through music making. And that's amazing."
As co-curator of the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit American Sabor, Marisol developed, in collaboration with Shannon Dudley and Michelle Habell-Pallán, a classroom curriculum, educator resources, and guided listening programs. The exhibit highlights the contributions of Latinos to popular music in the United States since World War II.
"One of my purposes is to share the joy and happiness of music and dancing," says Marisol. "This is my way to free the creative impulses in our children, so they have such intense joy in the learning and doing." Quoting Nietzsche, she says, "We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once."