EXCLUDED: Missing Musicians from the Classroom

Recently, I spoke at NAfME’s annual Hill Day Collegiate Advocacy Summit on leadership development.  I spent days, I mean DAYS, writing a speech that I ended up completely trashing (story of my life…), but after getting some much needed advice, I realized that these students were clearly already leaders and that I what I really needed to speak about was actually taking their leadership to the next level.  Anyways, this blog post isn’t about my leadership speech (although that was also INCREDIBLE!!!), but about the exclusionist nature of our field.  Much of my speech used examples of leading change to resolve some of my own anger toward our field.  My anger at the exclusionist practices of only allowing students with private teachers to audition for “top groups.”  My anger at teachers who say things like “I can’t teach these kids when they don’t speak any English…” My anger at the teachers who express relief when students drop because they couldn’t play in tune… This, our field, which has to fight constantly for our own lives… This, our profession, in constant need of rescue.  Our very existence is threatened annually, and we cry out at the inequity of the threat, and yet many continue to only value the talented ones.  You may be thinking, “This isn’t true though!” but I urge you to sit down with a big group of music educators and listen.  Listen carefully, because once your eyes and ears are open to the exclusionary trends within this field, you will notice more and more that what we often do is segregate our own students into the talented and supported versus the “untalented” and underrepresented, whether we do it intentionally or not, it is there.

Anyways, so I was reading this article today on whether or not students see themselves in the music curriculum and although I don’t think you will find it surprising, I think it is important to note that our own inequities are now documented.  Although this article does not tackle the issues of inequality within those from low income backgrounds and with little English speaking skills, it does delve into how underrepresented females are from certain disciplines.  It does reiterate the focus on white European American composers that is prevalent within our field.  So… Here are a few of the important and interesting takeaways from this article:

  • Very few female conductors are hired for Post-Secondary Institutions, but we have improved over time (well… a little bit…)
    • Between 1960 and 1968 12% of Post-Secondary conductors were female
    • Between 2010 and 2013 10% were female
    • The vast majority of those 6.10% conducted choirs and significantly fewer conducted instrumental ensembles.
  • The trend is for men to conduct ensembles
  • Females are more likely to teach music education courses than to conduct an ensemble
  • Programming of music by female composers was also suggested to be rare
    • Between 1960 and 1968 10% of compositions performed in mainstream concerts were written by female composers
    • Between 2010 and 2013 74% of compositions performed in mainstream concerts were written by female composers
  • Programming of female composers was much more likely on Choral Concerts

It is somewhat shocking that in spite of such an emphasis on equality in and around the field of music education, there is still so little action to include female and composers outside of the traditional European American background.

The article did not go into details regarding inclusion of “multicultural” composers except to say that after the project, they did see an increase to 30% of programming to include multicultural composers.

I find these articles simultaneously depressing and exciting.  It is depressing to think that we continue to do this to ourselves (I definitely am part of the problem too…) but exciting to see more studies encouraging us to move toward inclusive practices.

As I think about this problem, I realize why I struggle with my own programming sometimes:

Female & Non-Euro-American Composers –

  1. There just aren’t as many… I know that this is a super lame excuse and that I should be flagged for my lazy ways, but when I look through JW Pepper for pieces of music for my own students, so few of the available works feature female composers and so it can be hard to find them…
  2. Because we weren’t trained to know prominent female composers and we did not spend much time studying composers from other cultures, so we just don’t know about as many. Again, lazy girl here… But seriously, if I am to program more female and multicultural works (as I SHOULD), I really need to do some research to find composers that have works suitable for my students.
  3. Fewer (if any) recordings available. When I see a piece of music I am interested in programming for my musicians, I immediately look up recordings.  Again, LAZY LAZY LAZY…. But that’s what I do and I believe this is what most people do.  But because female composers especially are not as prominent, there often isn’t even a recording of the pieces.  And so, I am left assuming it will sound good without actually hearing it (even though looking at the score will allow me to hear it in my head, assuming that my own silent sight-singing/reading audiation is on (which it mostly is 😉 ).

So, you have heard all of my lazy excuses… Now, let us propose a solution…

  1. I think it would be incredible for Music Ed programs especially to require students to take an “Underrepresented Composer Literature” course for their discipline.
    1. How awesome would it be if we could familiarize our students with composers from these backgrounds so that when they go out to teach, they know exactly how to find some sense of equality and variety for their programming?
  2. Institutions of Higher Education should really work to have composers do more to arrange underrepresented composers and actually submit them for publication!
  3. Professional Development needs to focus on including composers from these backgrounds so that music educators everywhere can gain awareness and increase equality.

Alright, so in conclusion… Big problem… Tiny solution, but let’s get to work now and make enough regular tiny changes to make a big impact ❤

Peters, G. “Do students see themselves in the music curriculum?: A project to encourage inclusion.” Music Educators Journal 102, No 4, (2016): 22 – 29.

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