Mentors Muse on Multicultural Meanings

“Do you consider a Latin Mass to be multicultural?” From a simple question, MENC received insightful feedback from the choral mentors on multicultural choral music.

We asked: If you teach high school chorus (or have had experience at the high school level) – any thoughts on repertoire that would be considered “multicultural”? Do you consider singing a Latin Mass (for example) “multicultural”? Do high school kids respond as enthusiastically to songs from other countries as perhaps younger singers do?

Choral mentor Ken Tucker  replied: “Today, the term “multicultural” has taken on a very different meaning. It used to mean singing something from Brazil or in Swahili. But I’ve taken on the philosophy that everything we sing is ‘multicultural’; Spirituals, Early American music, classics by Mozart or Brahms as well as the occasional African or Chinese piece.”

Choral mentor Mary Jennings shared that she does not believe a Latin mass is multicultural. Her take is that “multicultural music” is music of another culture, that is not our own. “Multicultural music has to be from an indigenous cultural group, from a different area of the world.”

Jennings believes that teaching music from another culture has to happen logically, in the context of the culture, and as an extension of the curriculum. She adds, “Because music teachers are forced to justify what we do, it is good to teach multicultural music, as it allows you to bring in cross-disciplinary learning (history, social studies, languages).”

“If you have kids from other cultures in your classroom, invite them to share their music, teach the language. In the best of all possible worlds, try bringing in diversity, but don’t force it. You may not have resources to buy music, etc. Just show acceptance, dignity and respect for all cultures. We can’t always have all types of music represented, but we can be accepting of and have dignity for cultural differences.”

Choral mentor James Reddan responded: “There is a great deal of repertoire available that is multicultural. That being said, there are many different ways to look at that word.”

“Don’t be afraid to try something a bit different. Performing multicultural works really open your students up to a wonderful richness that is choral music! Seek out various resources, as many are available for all different levels of choirs, and from a variety or reputable sources.”

“As far as what I consider multicultural, it is a bit of a loaded term. A Latin mass, for example, may be multicultural to a student who has never had that experience and knows nothing about it. Program a variety of pieces from various cultures — variety keeps your, the students’, and the audience’s attention!”

–Sue Rarus, March 10, 2010, © National Association for Music Education