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Season 2: Ep. 3: Empathy and Samba Reggae with Marcus Santos: Compassionate Music Teaching  Part 2/3


This 2nd of the Compassionate Music Teaching Series explores Afro-Centric musical traditions, Samba Reggae, and the importance of empathy in music teaching and learning with Marcus Santos.  Santos is a native of Bahia, Brazil who commits his life to the study, teaching, and performance of Afro-Brazilian music and heritage.


His network titled, Grooversity has built from traditions of Samba Reggae performance as a time-space for social change.  


As an episode of laughter, joy, and curiosity this episode explores the embodied joy and empathetic practice of Marcus Santos as is profiled by Karin Hendricks’ book Compassionate Music Teaching.

Marcus Santos is a native of Bahia, Brazil. He commits his life to the study, teaching, and performance of his hometown’s Afro-Brazilian music and heritage. He has performed with several world famous artists such as the Gypsy Kinds (Spain), Daniela Mercury (Brazil), and the Brand New Heavies (England).


He has been honored with the 2013 KOSA Recognition Award, Outstanding Arts Performer Award by the Brazilian Immigrant Center, as well as the Outstanding Percussionist Award by the Berklee College of Music. Santos is the author of the DVD Modern Approach to Pandeiro.


He has led workshops on Afro-Brazilian percussion and music for social change in festivals, universities, and conventions around the world . He is currently the artist director of the Grooversity network project .

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Discussion Questions

1. How should we go about creating the conditions of compassion, care, belonging, and hospitality that allow empathy to flourish?

2. This episode speaks to the skill of varying explanations as an empathetic practice. What kinds of practices within yourself do you identify as empathetic or compassionate that you would like to grow or develop?

3. This episode explores the wisdom of circle practices, particularly Afro-centric circle practices in cultivating musical communities of interdependence and vulnerability. How have you explored the power of circle practices within the spaces that you live and work?

4. To what extent might empathy be a skill, a trait, or a moment of connection? How do our beliefs about empathy impact our approach to cultivating empathy?

5. The end of the episode explores interconnections of vulnerability, care and self-care. How does our self-care empower the vulnerability of our fullest selves in compassionate spaces?



Batson, C. D., Lishner, D. A., & Stocks, E. L. (2015). The empathy-altruism hypothesis. In D. A. Schroeder & W. G. Graziano (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Prosocial Behavior (pp. 260-282). New York, NY : Oxford University Press.

Grooversity Website:

Hendricks, K. S. (2018). Compassionate music teaching: A framework for motivation and engagement in the 21st century. Rowman & Littlefield Press.

​Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2015). An attachment perspective on prosocial attitudes and behavior. In D. A. Schroeder & W. G. Graziano (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Prosocial Behavior (pp. 210-231). New York, NY : Oxford University Press.

Miller, J. G., & Hastings, P. D. (2019). Parenting, neurobiology, and prosocial development. In The Oxford Handbook of Parenting and Moral Development (pp. 130-144). New York, NY : Oxford University Press.


de Pontes Peebles, F. (2018). The air your breathe: A novel. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.


Santos, Marcus Website:


Marcus Santos and Grooversity - Levada

Marcus Santos at TEDx Sommerville

Samba Reggae Class with Marcus Santos



SantosPodcast - 3:5:21, 7.08 AM

Fri, 3/5 8:13AM • 37:01


music, students, santos, bahia, empathy, circle, karin, hendricks, peacebuilding, communities, brazil, belonging, teachers, musical, understand, drumming, feel, research, imagination, vulnerability


Marcus Santos, Karin Hendricks, Kevin Shorner-Johnson


Marcus Santos  00:00

At the end of the days there is a joy on seeing other people having fun, being joyful too, right? There's so so it's not only like this because they like hip hop is because they're gonna be bringing out that energy of happiness that will infect the entire room to


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  00:18

you are listening to the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music exploring intersections of peace building, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination through research and story. This is the second in a three part series exploring the book compassionate music teaching by Dr. Karen Hendricks of Boston University. In this episode, we explore the magic of empathy, Afro-centric circle practices, and the infectious joy of music educator Marcus Santos. Marcus Santos is a native of Bahia Brazil, who commits his life to the study, teaching and performance of his hometown's Afro Brazilian music and heritage. He has performed with several world famous artists such as the Gypsy kings, Daniella Mercury, and the brand new heavies. He has been honored with the 2013 Cosa Recognition Award, outstanding arts performer award by the Brazilian immigrant center, as well as the outstanding percussionist award by the Berklee College of Music. Santos is the author of the DVD modern approach to pandeiro. He has led workshops on Afro Brazilian percussion, and music for social change in festivals, universities and conventions around the world. He is currently the artist director of the group versity network project. In this conversation, I invite you to listen to the laughter, joy, and the empathetic imagination of Marcus Santos.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  02:32

So in the TED talk, you refer to this musical tradition as Bahia is the Africa outside of Africa and we're taking a look at African Diasporas music making, can you talk about to maybe some of our listeners who don't understand the richness of Bahia traditions about why you make the statement Bahia is the Africa outside of Africa.


Marcus Santos  02:54

So Bahia is a state in the Northeast of Brazil? Yeah. And and this can this fact kill the back the by numbers, and also by by, by the social environment of the state. So by numbers as in, Bahia is known, the state of Bahia is known to be to have the largest amount of folks with African descent outside of Africa, so that there is the most number of black folks outside of Africa is in the state of Bahia, right, so I'm talking about this, they're not even talking about the country of Brazil, the country, the state of Bahia, and then also can actually over number all countries in Africa, except for Nigeria. So that's, that's how, how much there how much the African diaspora has impacted the the overall look, the physical look of folks wrote from Bahia, and then I think, if I'm not wrong, I read somewhere that is over 90% of Bahian, folks have some African descent. And so that's the number side and then and then they're obviously reflected to on on, on on how how folks behave in Bahia so so so that reflects on the music The music of Bahia is unique. It's it's music that if you see it performed in other states, in Brazil and other cities in Brazil, you will be because you immigrated from Bahia to that place.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  04:43

So Karen Hendricks talks about the power of of your education in a circle and I think so but before we get to that point I want to talk about what I think I understand is Samba de Roda the this idea of Samba in the round or even the practice of capoeira, which is awesome. Done in a round. Can you talk about the power and the importance of doing things in a round in Bahian traditions?


Marcus Santos  05:09

Yeah, well, well in traditions, then we'll, yeah, we'll get there. Okay, but to get to your point, like, of maybe my classes being better in a round, it is started actually, as a necessity to be honest with you. Because the groups are so large, there were so many students, and it's hard to see all of them. And then the best, the easiest way to connect with with everybody is in a circle, you know, you can freely walk everywhere and check out each student at a time if needed to. So it was a necessity. But But yeah, it's ah, the, African are now going to the, to the culture to the music styles. In Bahia, that are done in a circle, it's it's also quite interesting that a lot of them are performed with that particular formation, you can go into religious, a religious setting in which, you know, there's, there's music, there's clapping, there's dancing, the music and the clapping, and the drumming is done by members on the circle. And the dancing with, will take turns with folks in the middle of, of, of the circle. So you have this kind of format. In a religious setting, you have this kind of format in folkloric settings, as you mentioned, capoeira, and then there's also Ma coo lai lai?? and so on. And you can also see then this kinds of, of circle settings in home parties. Okay, all of a sudden it Oh, there's a circle. Okay. All right. Well, let's let's do it. Who was gonna go in the middle? But you know, you see that in weddings as well, in the US too. Right there all of a sudden, a breakup a dance battle, and we're all in the circle, enjoying the performance.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  07:14

I asked Santos about Samba de Roda, and the magic of the circle. Because one of my favorite novels explores the magic of the Bahian circle. In the air you breathe. novelist Francis de Pontes Peebles, writes of Brazilian music in the roda. As transcending the limited egoistic I, into the connectedness of community. She writes, even the finest instruments have shortcomings, a string can only be stretched, so taut. A plank of wood carved only so thin, a sheet of metal bent only so far. But the music in our minds can do anything. It can hit any note, move at any speed, play as loudly or softly as our imaginations allow. In the deepest, purest parts of our imaginations, there is no male or female, no bad or good. No villain, or hero. No, you nor I, there is only feeling and the exhilaration of feeling.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  08:24

So you were saying that the decision to put students in a circle was out of necessity. And Karen Hendricks says not only does does this practice of putting students in a circle, establish a sense of trust within the ensemble, but it also allows Santos to help the students understand the importance of focused behavior during rehearsals. So can you talk about like, what, what else does the circle mean to you as you use it, other than it's just really easy to teach in.


Marcus Santos  08:52

It happened as a result of the necessity of the best way of using the space and then it is and it ended up being spectacular for all the reasons that Karin outlined, as you as you mentioned, you know, but but it's, it's, I feel like it's very, very, one thing about life that I feel like it's very interesting is sometimes all you all you will have to do is, is follow your heart in other ways I can feel that, feel that intuition of the ancestral knowledge that is around us. And, and, and, and and let it flow in. Like, I'm sure if I asked you how, what brought you into music. It was a series of facts that happened naturally, it wasn't something that was like, You know what, I want to be a musician. In music it was the energy around it in this series of circumstances of life that that led into that. So the the circle just felt natural and it works. One thing we needed to and two, it really feels like home really feels like most cultural activities in in Brazil are, are done within a circle format. So it felt good to do it. And and then now taking to Karen's points. It's a spectacular case it, she mentioned so many things that I never actually realized. I did it. I did it by heart, you know? And, and and it's, it makes so much sense. It's so right. She's incredible. And the way she explained. Yes, the students are more engaged, because there is a sense of accountability, because we're looking at at everybody. So we are one team, we are vibing in that kind of energy together, there is that sense of belonging there is that sense of of holding each other accountable, as I mentioned, like, there is a sense of the power system too as in like, Okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna sit next to Kevin because Kevin is a better player than me. So I can actually play with Kevin, I can follow Kevin. So there is even that level of, of, of camaraderie. That can be either Kevin next to me, or Kevin across the circle. So I have access. And plus sonically, you can not only hear, but you can also see the other members of the ensembles that are playing a different instrument, than you are so there is even that level of connectivity in the circle.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  11:44

A clip from Santos his album Batucaxe used with generous permission from Santos and his record label.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  12:08

So tell us about what are some of the major types and genres of music that you are invested in? I think I sense that you're invested in Batucada, I've heard you play a Berimbau as well. So can you tell us about some of the genres that you're invested in right now as a teacher? Oh,


Marcus Santos  12:25

oh, Kevin. l. This is this is? This is a great question. Thank you. I'm invested in in definitely in Afro-rooted music of Brazil and other countries, too. So that is my bread and butter. That's what makes my heart beat. Beat with happiness. And, and I really, I really, there's something magical that keeps you in the, that makes you go into a trance, when there is drumming, and voice that rawness of call and responses of the drums, call and responses of the voices, and maybe some clapping that super visceral music format, it's for some reason that I connect with it a lot, I really appreciate it. So that's what I'm mostly invested in. So obviously, the music of my hometown, but I also then explore with West African music, and I'm a huge fan of Afro Cuban music. That's actually what led me to the United States was to get educated in, in world, Afro world music, but especially Afro Cuban. And, and and this is what I'm mostly invested in this.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  13:58

So one of your mission statements, if we if we move to Grooversity is about music for social change. And one of the things that Karin picks up is that your philosophy seems to be that you're not, you're not going after a particular social change that you want the students to do. But you're trying, what I think I understand is you're trying to set up the condition in which social change can happen for students. Can you talk about that?


Marcus Santos  14:27

This is like, it's it's actually quite embarrassing to follow up your remarks. You just can, can we use your answer please?


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  14:38

No I want to hear it from your story as well.


Marcus Santos  14:42

Yeah, so so Grooversity then started naturally, we started writing this curriculum of for drumming ensembles and folks somehow heard about it and and contacted me and like Hey. I'd love to have my group in my city playing this particular music. And then we started developing the curriculum and spreading to different communities. And all of a sudden is like, wait, wait a minute, there is there is an opportunity here, look, we have communities in these different areas. And we can always bring that back, use the drumming as a catalyst to bring people together. But then we have this pocket of loving people. But what if we try to as, as individual communities, do something positive in our area, and then that's when I realized really fast, mental wellness has been a big thing for me for a long time. And and connecting to nature is another one. But I realized really fast that the different, that might not resonate with different communities so so that's why I leave that in an organic approach like the directors in each, The Grooversity directors in each city will decide how they want their their group their community to positively impact their community.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  16:14

Santos credits his understanding of music for social change back to Brazilian community centers within the tradition of Samba reggae. Additionally, Santos credits Rick Sanders and Somerville public schools with recognizing that a diverse musical offering, as the first class of the school day could and should reflect the diversity of the school enacting hospitality and belonging to each and every student. Karin Hendricks describes her deep respect for Santos' laughter, hospitality, joy, and welcome.


Karin Hendricks  16:53

Marcus Santos works with that flow in scaffolding and structuring lessons working with high school students first thing in the morning when they're coming in quite sleepy, and can over the course of one class period, move from disengagement to full bodied engagement with drums. And so he focuses on expression, also on student leadership. And demonstrates a lot of respect for the students. Not taking for granted what they're bringing, but treating them like, like fellow musickers, which and he also brings his own joy and passion to the music learning space. And he also talks a lot about having patience with himself, which I think is one way that he's able to continue to have that smiling face. I know for me, in early years of teaching, I would often get so frustrated that I'd wear myself down and I'd lose that smile. I think, I don't know any music teacher who got into music teaching for any reason other than that they loved music, and they love teaching. But often that burnout starts to happen. We, you know, you start to wear down and I think for many of us that has come at times when we take it so personally and we're not as patient with ourselves as we could be. My partner right now is working on some research in, in music trauma, music, teacher trauma and burnout. And we found in reading that it's remarkable how many of the music education, Music Educators journal articles on burnout ended up as checklists talking about, well, you need to do this, you need to do this, you need to do this. And it all, it ends up being shame at the very moment when we need support, when we need to be patient with ourselves. So I think Marcus is an excellent example of one who's learned to just laugh at himself and have a good time, and so he can continue to love it day after day.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  19:34

Inspired by many frameworks, Santos started a multi city drumming network called Grooveversity Santos encourages these groups to develop their own musical signatures that relate to their own regional contexts. With the flexibility of cultural collaborations, Santos described curriculum, like the work of a DJ, one who mixes and layers the tracks of diverse soundscapes.


Marcus Santos  20:01

So making a relation of comparison to a DJ, it's like it's the you start playing a track, right? And then you have a choice of bringing in the other track on your turntable, or, anyways, bring in the track, and you can you stop one you can, you can mix both you can, you can blend 60, 40 percent. And anyways, so we can do the exact same kind of have that exact same approach with the Grooversity curriculum. And then I'm an advocate of never playing the same music the same way. So you can within this curriculum, manipulate as if you were a DJ, you're the music director. If you're a DJ, you can manipulate and perform different ways at different, the same song in a different way every time.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  21:19

This podcast now turns to notions of empathy, we turn back to our conversation with Karin Hendricks.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  21:28

So as you write about empathy, I'm really fascinated by how you write about empathy, maybe being a power of imagination. And it's a power of imagination, especially in teachers that develops our ability to read people, and to reframe our language so that we speak in the language of the student. Can you talk about what empathy looks like when it's this power of imagination in the hands of a teacher.


Karin Hendricks  21:55

Without that power of imagination, we have one method. And we have one approach. And we, we may assume that that one method, one approach, you know, even if it's based on research, is the right way to do something. But the moment we start to exercise empathy, in its various ways, cognitive, affective, we, we start to understand where students are in every moment. That was something Dorothy Delay did that was remarkable was she was able not only to have a sense of where students were at with what they were comprehending, but how they were comprehending. And so she could change on a dime. And she got there because she asked so many questions, I think. But I think some of the most effective teachers are those who are able to imagine what it is like to be in someone else's feet, to be able to understand their perspective, where they're coming from, and how they're receiving what we're saying. I think that's what what makes all the difference. We think about, you know, I mentioned Marco Santos, and how even in the interview with me, he changed his approach in a moment to help me grasp something he was visualizing what I needed to understand. But then he was also considering how I was visualizing what he was saying. And that came with questioning. So yeah, it hit me as I was writing the book, so many of the participants, were talking about reading the room, reading the students, and how that is a kind of literacy for teachers, student literacy, hey, are we able to read and understand what various students are saying to us? Not necessarily with their words, but with their actions with with where they're with their setbacks? Are we able to understand what that means and what they need, and then act accordingly.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  24:13

So Karin Hendricks noted within you a particular approach to teaching that that she identifies as being very empathetic and that you're very aware of how you need to explain something like different ways for different students to help them understand something right. And so so she has this, this one example where I think she was asking you a question, and then you asked her if she was a runner or something like that. And she said, Well, I go hiking. And so you, you immediately changed your explanation to align with hiking and she thought that there was great wisdom in your ability to switch gears that quickly and I wanted to ask you, you know, is that intentional, or is that is that something that you just kind of latched on about being able to explain things in different ways for students,


Marcus Santos  25:01

Oh, wow. Oh, and once again, I'm so grateful for, for Karin, Wow, that is so nice. At the end of the day there was just feeling, feeling the energy feeling the environment. And and, and trying to adjust and go with the flow of whatever it was was happening and treating each, treating the student the way I would like to be treated, you know, bringing to the student the information in the way that is hopefully loving and hopefully resonates, the student can connect with. It is absolutely spontaneous at the moment. And hopefully, I'll get the answer that I'm looking for. Because it's something that it resonates with the other person but, but if, but if not, then we'll have to adjust and see what, what's the path that we're going to take? Does it make sense? I'm not sure.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  26:00

So something you just kind of feel your way through as you're working with students and you know, what the students respond to?


Marcus Santos  26:07

Yeah. And but but but then over the years, you start understanding like, right, you know, you start understanding like, okay, they everybody likes hip hop. So if you want to get somebody say, Okay, let me rephrase most of my students like hip hop. So, so so so then if you, if I want to get their attention, like, okay, let's start with hip hop, then then we go into something a little more obscure, or something that they haven't heard before,


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  26:39

you know, but I think that that thing that feels so natural for you, it's actually in many ways, radical for many of us in music education. And I think this is what you were talking about, we were talking about Rick Sanders, is that most of our music education had been framed from a very white Eurocentric notion of what music was. And we haven't been able to make those connections to students lives. And I do honor the fact that you're making those connections between hip hop and other kinds of music.


Marcus Santos  27:08

Oh wow, thank you. I appreciate that. Yes, yeah. And and then there is there is a joy, right. At the end of the day, there is a joy on seeing other people having having fun and being joyful too right there is. So it's not only like this, because they like hip hop it's because they're going to be bringing out that, that, that energy of happiness that will infect the entire room too.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  27:39

As I edit this podcast and reflect on these responses, I can sense just how difficult it is to intellectualize and reflect on our day to day enactment of empathy. As I reflect on this and Hendricks writings, I hold Santos ethic of empathy, as something that is ingrained within his embodied being. What really is empathy? Is it a skill, a trait? Or a moment of profound connection? Does music make us more empathetic? Or does music attract empathetic people? How do we set up the conditions for empathy, and social emotional learning?


Karin Hendricks  28:22

If we're trying to advocate our place, as music teachers by talking about how music can make us more empathetic music can help build better citizens, as people say, but instead focus on what we can do in the moment, to help foster spaces where students feel safe, where they can connect with one another, that it's a much more natural organic way of of bringing those things to pass. I also think about you know the story about the principal that I tell in the in the book about my own principal who confessed to the students that she'd been asked to mouth the words in a concert, and had hated music ever since. And I talked a little bit there, about how many of us have tried to save performances, save our programs, by making music sound a certain way or, you know, I was I, many times, I went to my administrators to the superintendent, etc. Armed with research to tell them about how music was so important. It really didn't make a difference to them in nearly the way it did when they would attend a concert and feel an experience for themselves with those connections were like, what those expressions were like. And so I guess my focus is, let's use research to help us become better teachers, more sensitive teachers, let's use what we know from research to help us make a difference, one by one with our students, as opposed to being armed with research to claim that it's, that what we're doing is good and well right now.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  30:22

notions of empathy or feeling into are complex. Research on parenting points to an understanding that empathy, empathic concern, and pro social behaviors may take deeper root when we set up conditions of love, acceptance, belonging and care within our most intimate relations. Hendricks cautions us against using research on empathy to "prove" the importance of music. We can, however, use research to reflect on how we set up the conditions of love, acceptance, belonging and care, where vulnerability and empathy may flourish. Conversely, we can also ask ourselves, when do musical practices of comparison and competition raise walls to the vulnerability needed for expression and connection? Santos' care for students, and his desire to open vulnerable musical spaces is expansive. Santos wants every child to have the opportunity to experience the musical interdependence that thrives on our mutual vulnerability.


Marcus Santos  31:36

I feel like we're kind of preaching to the choir, you know, I feel I feel that we could do better as in like, can we involve everybody from everywhere, into music making and  to have these experiences in which you are vulnerable. But then it's like sports, like your teammates will pick you up, will help you out, and you're helping out other band members.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  32:09

I also love the clip that you showed in the TED Talk where that one girl was relating her story about not wanting to be in school. And I think at first she was like, What is this drumming stuff and then she was telling her story that as she engaged herself in drumming, she felt the sense of belonging and that she, and that school was a place for her if I and if I understand what she was saying right.


Marcus Santos  32:33

 Yes, yes, she was awesome. And and she's, she's, you know, when you have those down days, and has no What am I doing? There isn't that and I just, I think of her and a couple of other students that, that is just like, this is why you do it. She and and, and but with that said too, I'd like to bring light to I failed several times. Not being able to reach out to, to, to some kids. I mean, so talking about the kid the side of the kids education. You know, it's unfortunately, I tried and and I just want to make sure that, you know, to leave it out there to like, this this problem was is it's not 100% failsafe. Unfortunately, there were some kids that did not adapt to, just were not able to fit in a school, a school format, and we re always causing more distraction. And and you know, and not creating a environment that would be best for, for students to thrive. So, so I have also a share of as there are there are examples, like you, the one you mentioned, like, like Kelly, I think I can say her name now she's she's older. So so there are examples like Kelly, but but I've also failed with, with a few other students that had to even, I wasn't unable to, to, to, to connect with and they ended up even like leaving the school. They were not able to even stay in school and had to go to other types of schools that were more regimented. No. Anyways, I want to leave that out there.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  32:44

I think I think we all as teachers wish that we could impact more.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  34:40

I think that many of us music teachers might resonate with the vulnerability of Santos' regrets about the students we don't reach. Maybe it is the expansiveness of our empathy and care that gives us a yearning to reach an impact every student. This is the place of self-care that Hendricks speaks to. When the expansiveness of our care confronts the challenge of larger systems, communities and structures. For me, the language of peacebuilding challenges me to reach and connect, and the grace to acknowledge where I fall short. That balance is a balance of self-care that fuels our ability to wake up the next morning, once again, transforming four walled rooms into sacred sites of voice, empathy, belonging, and care.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  35:56

Special thanks to Marco Santos for his time into the afro Brazil label for permissions to use tracks from his album, Batucaxe. Continued thanks to Dr. Karin Hendricks for her exploration into her book, Compassionate Music Teaching published by Rowman and Littlefield press. The next and final part of this series will explore the interplay of empathy, identity and dignity in multicultural and refugee choirs with Renae Timbie.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  36:31

This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson. At Elizabethtown College we host a master of music education with an emphasis and peacebuilding. Thinking deep. we reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at music peace

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