Social Justice in Choral Music Education | Kent State Online Master of Music in Music Education

Social Justice in Choral Music Education


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Shannon: Alrighty. So I chose to do a literature review for my capstone. The — my decision to do a literature review — as I mentioned before, I had been, for a very long time, very set on doing a professional development project, and after speaking to my advisor for quite a bit and talking about my topic and what I was, you know, thinking of doing, we decided that if I was going to do a professional development, I really needed to have a better grasp of what I was trying to tackle. And that’s why eventually we settled on a literature review, because I could get the research done. I had some research done in the research course prior, but getting the research done, having a really kind of, you know, meat and potatoes kind of document that I could pull from if I were to turn it into a professional development presentation. So coming to a topical literature review was a bit of a process, but in the end, um, it’s on — the topic is social justice in choral music education.

And the purpose of the review was to examine current literature that was concerned with the teaching and learning of choral music through the lens of social justice. The main areas of the topic that I chose was — were the relationship between choral music education and social justice, the possible benefits of incorporating issues of social justice into choral curriculum for students and educators alike, and an examination of current efforts that were being made towards more socially just music education, specifically choral music education. My main reason for pursuing this topic, as I mentioned in the introductory section, was inspired by my students and what I’ve experienced already as a teacher. In my current position, I have seen many of my students kind of — they’ve encountered some pretty significant barriers to their musical success, um, whether it’s personal circumstances at home, um, even policies put in place by the school, or just the kind of general idea of music education curricula that a lot of America subscribes to.

My students, they themselves are often prohibited from participating in ensembles, especially instrumental, even though I focus on choral, but even instrumental, because of the cost of renting or owning instruments or, um, you know, going on trips or festivals and things like that. Also the scheduling of ensemble rehearsals in my district conflicted with in and after school study halls, pull-out services for individual education plans and extra help hours, and what it did was it forced many of my students to choose between excelling in academics and participating in the ensemble program. And I know a lot of what I just said, it doesn’t sound very much like social justice in the context that a lot of people think about it, but, um, you know, things like students lacking reliable transportation because of unstable home lives or disinterested parents, caretakers that work multiple jobs, um, you know, that started to get into the more like considering the socio-economic and the ethnic identity of my students, and the biggest thing that hit me and that made me decide on this subject was my students expressed that they didn’t really feel that their cultural or personal or even their generational music practices were represented in their choir experiences, and their music class experiences, to some extent.

Our district pretty heavily emphasizes reading music notation, just — it’s actually in our school’s charter that musical competency is one of our three main goals. The ironic — maybe not ironic, but the funny thing is for the last seven years every year I’m asked to define musical competency, and every year I’m able to give them a different answer. So it was something I considered as well but, you know, the music that I’m asked to perform for my students is traditionally, you know, Western, Canon classical music, and most of my students do not come from that world. Educating — you know, engaging my students in the music and in the practices in choir was pretty difficult because I’ve been educated in a different musical traditional than them, my teaching actually gravitated in that direction, and because of these experiences I’ve kind of realized that I was teaching a school full of children whose background and culture was vastly different from my own, and life experiences were vastly different, and understanding where they were coming from was not an easy thing for me.
So I thought by examining the subject of social justice, you know, equity and cultural relevance, and it kind of all fell under the umbrella of social justice just for the purposes of my paper. And seeking out my own task towards socially just education, those were my first steps in becoming more informed and ultimately becoming a better teacher for my students. And it’s something that I really wanted to share with my colleagues and the profession in general. I had mentioned that there was a really specific event that made me realize that this was — this was my path, and I’m just scanning my — I’m actually scanning my introductory essay on my capstone as I tell this to you, and there was an event. I went to — as I mentioned, I worked at my state’s central district and then the all-state level, um, ensemble — I worked actually chaperone of the choir for Massachusetts all-state high school choir this year, and after seeing central districts, which is all the center of Massachusetts, including [unintelligible 00:47:03] and the south near Connecticut, and the north near New Hampshire, seeing the ethic and the — just the general population of the choir, I was pretty stunned to see that in a region of our state, which is incredibly diverse, my school itself is 40% West African, children of immigrants from West Africa, the other 40% is made up of Hispanic or Latino students, with 20%, quite literally 20%, being white or of Asian descent and other ethnicities.

I was very surprised to see, um, one African American child in the choir, uh, at the district level, and I think, um, maybe, I would say maybe a dozen in the all-state choir. And for me that spoke a lot because I come from a school where many of my students are African American, and it’s just — it’s a very different culture, um, for me coming from rural Vermont, where I grew up. But it was very different, and I was kind of wondering, why am I not seeing, you know, if we’re talking about the centre of Massachusetts, the entire central region, and the district choir, the high school district choir, all the high schools in central Massachusetts, I know these high schools. You know, I know these areas, and I know these colleagues, why are we not seeing many of these children there? All of the kids I see, they look the same. You know, to be completely frank, they are all white, or, in orchestra, they are all Asian. From certain parts of the state, you know, there’s a lot of a certain population, and I know that these are uncomfortable questions to ask, they’re uncomfortable observations to make, and what I wanted to do with my capstone was make those uncomfortable inquiries and look at why are we not having these students in these programs?

What is keeping, you know, certain students from accessing music education? Again, I specifically focused on choral, because that’s my world, but I could’ve written an entire second capstone on what I’ve observed from my instrumental colleagues and what they’ve said to me. So that was my main inspiration for my capstone. I’m actually waiting to hear back — I know I mentioned that I wanted to do this as a professional development, I’d actually — after some thought I had — I actually applied to run a session at the Massachusetts all-state conference next year. Rather than chaperone the choir I’m going to try and run a conference session on this topic and bring some of these more uncomfortable questions to the surface. It’s something I’m very passionate about and I’m very excited to have made this decision. I feel like it’s one of those kind of true life calling moments where you realize, wow, okay, this is what I — this is my mission. This is why I’m doing this right now. And making music more accessible, making it more of a presence, um, in the lives of our — of all of our students, no matter where they come from, no matter their backgrounds or their ethnicity, or their income, or whatnot. That was something that really spoke to me and that is why, um, I decided to do social justice in choral music education.

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