A class I took for my first summer of grad school required me to pick a topic to write a paper. I decided on “The Importance of Going Beyond Holidays and Awareness Months in the Music Classroom.”

I posted in my Instagram stories and a few people asked if they could see my finished paper. You can read below if you’re interested!

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 77% of the teacher population is female and 80% of the teacher population is white (NCES). Because the teaching population is skewed in representing one main perspective (white female), it is important that music educators look critically at how they choose and present material in their classes. If music educators simply stop at holidays and awareness months, they end up “trivializing multicultural education and conveying the idea that diversity issues come into play only during celebratory moments with foods, fun, and festivals” (Ladson-Billings, 1994). In order for music education to be truly inclusive and equitable, music educators must work to go beyond the surface level of holidays and awareness months and work towards a comprehensive, representative music education.

Representation is important; students must have an opportunity to see themselves in the classes they attend each day. Tuchman defined symbolic annihilation as “the way cultural production and media representations ignore, exclude, marginalize, or trivialize a particular group” and by doing so, the media portrays what society deems normal in terms of looks, cultural norms, values, actions, etc. (Klein and Shiffman). A study by Klein and Schiffman found in their study about representation in cartoons that only 16.4% of the cartoon characters were female, 8.7% of the cartoon characters were in the racial minority, and .03% of the cartoon characters were LGBT (2009). If students do not see themselves represented regularly in music classes beyond special events like holiday celebrations and awareness months, they may begin to think they aren’t “normal” simply because of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their disability, or anything else that may be considered “other” by what is being portrayed in the classroom.

Bishop explained that students must experience windows (experiences to see others’ cultures), mirrors (experiences to see their own cultures), and sliding glass doors (experiences that allow them to step into and understand another perspective) (1990). Mirrors are especially important for youth of color and other marginalized youth because . In order to fight symbolic annihilation and move towards comprehensive representation, music educators should look critically at the content they present to ensure it includes windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. For example, instead of waiting to feature African-American during Black History Month, music educators should work to include composers such as William Grant Still or conductors such as Jeri Lynn Johnson throughout the year.

One way music educators can ensure their classroom is inclusive and equitable is through culturally responsive teaching. This pedagogical approach “recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning” (Lind and McCoy, 2016). Culturally responsive teaching consists of six important factors: it should be “(a) validating, (b) comprehensive, (c) multidimensional, (d) empowering, (e) transformative, and (f) emancipatory” (Lind and McCoy, 17, 2016). In one study on culturally responsive teaching, three themes were discovered through the analysis of student interviews which included “developing sociocultural competence, expanding cultural horizons, and enhancing cultural validity” and students recognized their teacher’s socially responsive teaching as “honoring their own cultural backgrounds while also expanding their cultural and intellectual horizons” (Shaw, 2016). If music educators limit certain musical experiences to holidays and awareness months, they will not necessarily have the time to create experiences that are comprehensive and multidimensional. These limitations may prevent students from reaching the depth that culturally responsive teaching requires.

Social justice falls under the umbrella of culturally responsive teaching and is defined as (cite). By reflecting on social justice, teachers work towards being able to recognize and consider “all forms of oppression that students face in their daily lives and work to challenge them through our classroom environments, teaching strategies, and even the repertoire we select to teach” (Hess, 2017). Many branches exist under social justice such as racial justice, LGBTQIAA+ justice, feminism, mental health justice, and persons with disabilities justice. In order for music educators to go beyond the surface level of holidays and awareness months, they must explore the implications of of each branch in their classroom.

Racial justice calls on teachers that it is not enough for them to be passively non-racist, but rather teachers must be anti-racist (Plumiato and Russell, 2018). By ignoring race and remaining “neutral,” nothing will change and music educators will only continue to perpetuate the harmful implications of being “color blind.” For example, the band piece Overture on a Minstrel Tune by Pierre La Plante not only appears on several festival/MPA lists, including NC, but also appears in Teaching Music Through Performance in Band #4 (cite). No matter how “well” the music was written or how perfectly the music fits the current band instrumentation, music educators must consider the implications of including a piece of music that is based on a minstrel song. The action of not programming a piece of music is not enough; if music educators aim to seek real change, they must speak out against music such as this being placed on state MPA lists when there is plenty of high quality literature written by other composers without racist implications. This is not to say music like this should be erased from history and that there is no time and place to talk about the historical impacts of minstrel songs. However, a class spent on the harm of minstrel songs versus an entire semester playing a piece based on a minstrel song can communicate two very different messages to students, especially if the only other time music teachers talk about musicians of color is during Black History Month.

4% to 10% of the student population belongs to the LGBTQIAA+ community and among those students, 84.6% reported verbal harassment, 40.1% reported physical harassment because of their sexual orientation, and those students are 4 times more likely to commit suicide (Garrett 2012). It is important for music educators to create “a positive learning environment for students who already value the subject matter” because it can lead to an increase in “opportunities for inclusion and success” (Garrett 2012). Even if teachers show their support for LGBT Pride Month, it often occurs when many students are already finished with school so it is important for music educators to go beyond this in their classrooms. Music educators can work towards equity and justice for LGBTQIAA+ students and families by putting parent/guardian 1/parent/guardian 2 instead of mother and father on information forms, including musical examples from LGBT based choirs, bands, and orchestras, and creating a safe learning environment for these students despite any personal beliefs.

In 2016, 25% of all doctorate conducting degrees were awarded to females but only 11% of the conductors in the US were female and only one of the top 24 highest budget orchestras has a female conductor (Groen, 2016). Groen offers in her article that “in order for more women to reach the podium, more women need to reach the podium” (2016). While that solution seems overly simplified, representation can be a powerful when it comes to recruiting (Groen, 2016). For example, Groen references a 2005 study which shows if a female is elected to a prominent political position, more women begin entering the political sphere at lower levels (2016). If the imbalance of women in music is to be fixed, music educators must start at the K-12 level with representation outside of Women’s History Month. Music educators must work to program band pieces written by women, show examples of women in various music careers, and ensure that the women portrayed in class are diverse themselves, going beyond white females who already account for the majority of the teaching population.

If music educators seek to give students the highest quality music education, they must look critically at what they choose to include and exclude from their classes each day. By only representing voices outside of the majority during holidays or awareness months, we continue to perpetuate the idea that their contributions are only valuable during a certain time. By consciously choosing to go beyond the surface level, music educators show students that their perspective is valued. In doing so, music educators must ask themselves what voices are missing in my curriculum? What voices are not being heard? What voices are being misrepresented? Some may say that it is exhausting or it is not possible to consider all of the perspectives of their students. However, often these teachers may not live in world where they are not represented. The work for deep, meaningful, and inclusive music education may not be an easy path but for our students, we cannot expect anything less as a profession.


Bishop, Rudine Sims. (1990). “Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3).

Garrett, M. L. (2012). The LGBTQ component of 21st-century music teacher training. Update: Applications Of Research In Music Education, 31(1), 55-62.

Groen, D. (2016, December 19). Why are there so few female conductors. Retrieved July 18, 2018, from https://thewalrus.ca/why-are-there-so-few-female-conductors/

Hess, J. (2017). Equity in Music Education: Why Equity and Social Justice in Music Education?. Music Educators Journal, 104(1), 71. doi:10.1177/0027432117714737

Klein, H., & Shiffman, K. S. (2009). Underrepresentation and Symbolic Annihilation of Socially Disenfranchised Groups (“Out Groups”) in Animated Cartoons. Howard Journal of Communications, 20(1), 55-72. doi:10.1080/10646170802665208

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). What we can learn from multicultural education research. Educating for Diversity, 51(8), 22-26. Retrieved July 20, 2018, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may94/vol51/num08/What-We-Can-Learn-from-Multicultural-Education-Research.aspx

Lind, V., & McKoy, C. (2016). Culturally responsive teaching in music education : From understanding to application. New York: Routledge.

McFarland, J., Hussar, B., Wang, X., Zhang, J., Wang, K., Rathbun, A., Barmer, A., Forrest Cataldi, E., and Bullock Mann, F. (2018). The Condition of Education 2018 (NCES 2018-144). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo. asp?pubid=2018144.

Pepper, J. (n.d.). Overture on a Minstrel Tune by Pierre La Plante| J.W. Pepper Sheet Music. Retrieved from https://www.jwpepper.com/2069375.item#/submit

Shaw, J. T. (2016). “The music I was meant to sing”: Adolescent choral students’ perceptions of culturally responsive pedagogy. Journal Of Research In Music Education, 64(1), 45-70.

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