Engaging Diversity in Music-Making and Teaching
By Dr. Alice M. Hammel
Faculty Member – James Madison University
It is difficult to describe the numerous powerful moments we experienced as part of the “Amplify: Involvement” Opus at the 2018 NAfME National Conference. As we gathered on the first morning, it was exciting to know that behind each door in the convention center was another group of fired-up music teachers ready to experience and learn from each other. As the sessions unfolded in the “Amplify: Involvement” room, the sequencing of material and the active participation of those in attendance continued to build the meaning and inclusive spirit behind our goals.
“Amplify: Involvement” sought to examine the experiences of students who are African American in our public school music programs. The Opus also centered on the experiences of students who live in poverty and ways we can do better and be better for students in both groups. Those who attended this content strand were engaged and moved fluidly through the sessions as sometimes uncomfortable and unusual conversations took place.
To be reminded that we are all, in some way, racist and classist was among the uncomfortable, yet critical, understandings of the two days. The specific ways we move forward and push back against our natural inclinations is far more important than where we were or what we used to hold as our inherent biases. Knowing we have them is the first important step. The leaders of the sessions expertly took us through experiences to make us aware of our biases and ways to counter them in our personal and professional lives. It was a challenging and freeing experience to do this as a group of music educators!
One illuminating session was a Poverty Walk presented by a local organization. We were led through an activity that positioned us within a family with financial need. Each week, the families were required to pay their bills while events occurred causing them varying amounts of financial crisis. The result was eye-opening and exhausting as we felt we lived, for a brief moment, the lives of our students who spend their lives in poverty. This two-and-a-half-hour experience changed the perspectives of many participants as we began to see the results of generational poverty, situational poverty, as well as the resultant economic realities.
A presentation that still resonates deeply with me focused on our choices of literature and the ways we subtly demonstrate our implied biases through these choices. We participated in a series of discussions regarding the text, rhythmic and melodic choices, specific editions of arrangements, and a host of other problematic decisions we make that can demonstrate biased perceptions of which we are unaware. This awareness leads us to make more conscious and inclusive choices as we determine the material our students learn.
The final session of the two-day strand was a session titled, Welcome to Wakanda. Videos from the movie “Black Panther” were posited, and discussions regarding the similarities between the movie and our own experiences in music classrooms—both with our students and colleagues—took place. We began to think globally regarding race, culture, and class and create some specific paths forward that were unique to each of us.
In the end, our awareness of our own participation in the process of educating all students was challenged, yet affirmed. We left the two days with a renewed set of strategies to use as we seek to create more equitable learning spaces for all our students. In the future, we are heartened to know that Culturally Responsive Pedagogy will be included in more NAfME events and conferences.
- Read NAfME Immediate Past President and current Professional Development Committee Chair Denese Odegaard’s article, “Amplify the Future of Music: Opening Doors for All Students,” which looks back on the 2018 conference and into the future for music educators.
About the author:
Dr. Alice Hammel, Virginia Music Educators Association Outstanding Educator (2018), is a widely known music educator, author, and clinician whose experience in music is extraordinarily diverse. She is a member of the faculty of James Madison University, and has many years of experience teaching instrumental and choral music in public and private schools. Dr. Hammel has put these varied experiences to great use while compiling a large body of scholarly work. She is a co-author for four texts: Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Label-free Approach; Teaching Music to Students with Autism; Winding It Back: Teaching to Individual Differences in Music Classroom and Ensemble Settings; and Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Practical Resource. Dr. Hammel is President-Elect of the Council for Exceptional Children – Division for the Arts.
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