Dive into the Multicultural Melting Pot

“The primary goal in performing multicultural music should be an enhanced understanding that encompasses the character of the culture and accurately represents the music itself.”  — MENC member Clayton Parr

Parr advocates having a musical belief system and performing multicultural music with integrity. Below are his first four simple rules for performing and practicing music of the world’s traditions.

Connect with Culture

  • Make contact with a native of the culture in question who can give first hand information about the music, language, and cultural context of the piece. Invite someone from the culture/country of origin to give a human face to the information your choral singers are learning.
  • Prepare for the arrival of your guest with your students. It can be good motivation for your choir to be psyched about the project and process of learning multicultural music.
  • Use video conferencing, the Internet, and other technical methods to bring images, sounds and information from cultural sources across the distance barriers when you can’t find a personal representative from that culture to be present.

Focus on a limited number of Styles

  • Focus on music of only a few cultures at a time. To do something authentically and honestly takes time, experience, and sustained effort. Most conductors have only limited time. If you do five pieces from one country, it will give you and the singers a better understanding of that culture than if you were to perform one piece from each of five different countries/cultures.
  • Consider cultural sensitivity when building a concert program with world music. Be clear about the goals you wish to achieve in making the presentation of multicultural music. Avoid making the cultural pieces “novelty” pieces in the performance program.

Listen Widely, Deeply and Repeatedly

  • Apply the principle of spiral study. Classical conductors study other works by the same composer, and similar works by other composers of the same time period or genre to learn more deeply about the music they’re preparing. Try this approach in your study of world music. Listen to performances by several different groups and styles from the cultural tradition you’re targeting; you will gain a better understanding of the music to be performed.
  • Listen many times to the same piece. Repeated listening helps you perceive nuances of choral technique, tuning and other factors that make a culture’s vocal music distinctive.

Provide the Context

  • Share background information about the music (translation, circumstances of traditional performance, accompanying movement, or activity) with your performers during rehearsals.
  • Share this same information with the audience at the performance. Choral publishers are including more of this in their arrangements, but conductors need to go even further in their research to enrich their understanding of the music’s context.Adapted from “Eight Simple Rules for Singing Multicultural Music”, Clayton Parr, director of choral activities at DePaul University, Chicago; Music Educators Journal, September 2006

    NEXT WEEK: Simple Rules # 5 – 8: Resources and Ideas!

    –Sue Rarus, February 24, 2010, © National Association for Music Education