Expanding ensemble repertoire for diversity and inclusion

composers, composing, Contemporary Issues, curriculum, music education, socio-cultural IssuesNo Comments

You Are Here:, composing, Contemporary Issues, curriculum, music education, socio-cultural IssuesExpanding ensemble repertoire for diversity and inclusion

Phrases such as “the repertoire is the curriculum” have a sense of truth (though I think this is an extremely limited way of conceputalizing curriculum). Here I’m talking about the hidden curriculum, that which students learn through their engagement in school but that educators or schools do not make explicit in written or spoken form. A quick scan through an ensemble program’s repertoire can reveal much about the hidden curriculum that students experience.

One way of thinking about the hidden curriculum of ensemble repertoire is by considering the message sent about who is or can be a composer. Music education often faces the perennial problem of focusing almost exclusively on the music of dead White men from Eastern Europe. This is evidenced in ways ranging from the ubiquitous “great composers” posters on music classroom walls to the repertoire performed over the course of a year or possibly the four or eight years a student is in an ensemble.

Many music educators are addressing this issue head on by thinking in terms of diverse and inclusive repertoire. NPR recently reported on how the music educators and music program at Spring Lake Park High School make curricular decisions to acknowledge that the diversity of people throughout the world compose music. As NPR reports:

The bulletin board isn’t new, it’s there every year. What’s new are the faces: Instead of primarily white men, there are faces of women and composers of color.

This is intentional. The band directors at Spring Lake, outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, have pledged to include at least one piece by a female composer and one by a composer of color in each concert, for each of the school’s bands.

Listen to the story on NPR:

In the NPR story, a student of color discusses her perspective on curriculum and her engagement with school. We might consider how our curricular decisions (whether formal or hidden) can impact who enrolls or does not enroll in our programs. We know that the demographics of secondary music ensemble programs across the Unites States are primarily White and Middle class. Elpus and Abril (2011) found that

Certain groups of students, including those who are male, English language learners, Hispanic, children of parents holding a high school diploma or less, and in the lowest SES quartile, were significantly underrepresented in music programs across the United States. In contrast, white students were significantly overrepresented among music students, as were students from higher SES backgrounds, native English speakers, students in the highest standardized test score quartiles, children of parents holding advanced postsecondary degrees, and students with GPAs ranging from 3.01 to 4.0. Findings indicate that music students are not a representative subset of the population of U.S. high school students.

How might our curricular decisions relate to issues of equity and inclusion in music programs or society?

How are you addressing issues of equity and inclusion in your music programs?

  • Consider exploring the hidden curriculum of your music program.
  • Consider including music by composers of all genders, races, ethnicities, and cultures.
  • Consider including students in identifying, researching, and obtaining the most diverse and inclusive music library for your program.
  • Consider commissioning new music from the widest range of living composers.







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