Sacred vs. Secular Repertoire Wranglings

Are you wrangling with repertoire for the holidays? If so, take a minute to weigh in on the December Poll of the Month.

Nearly every year, NAfME (MENC) has asked members about this issue, as it’s a perennial one. The conflict over performing or studying music with religious themes has morphed over time to include music that may be offensive for any number of reasons.

As a refresher for those who haven’t been following, here’s a classic example from 2007 that is still relevant today:

NAfME member Dan Hays of Nebraska was already thinking about his school’s holiday concert the summer prior. Dan wrote to NAfME (then MENC) to say: “I would like to do the “Hallelujah Chorus” on our winter concert. It was a long-standing tradition before I came, but now I would simply like to be able to do it once every four years, so every student will have performed it at least once in high school. Now, my administration is saying I must provide evidence that this is a piece of music that has educational merit and would be found on accepted or standard repertoire lists in different states.”

To help out, NAfME wrote to state leaders and others, and generally received the “thumbs up” on this piece of music. “Band Guy” from Illinois even wrote: “The entire Messiah stands as a monument to the Baroque period.”

How do you choose music for your Christmas/Holiday/Winter or Non-holiday/December concert?

The New York State School Music Association lists these guidelines**

1.  Music chosen should be high-quality literature that has clear educational value:
musical, historical, and cultural.
2.  Selection of music should be based on the developmental level of the students and
the overall curriculum goals of the music program.
3.  Music should be appropriate for performance.
4.  Music should be reflective of and enhance student awareness and appreciation of
various cultures.
5.  Teachers should present the music in a sensitive manner, emphasizing the educational
and multicultural value of the music, rather than any religious/seasonal aspect.

You can find member comments, ideas, suggestions and opinions in the articles listed below, and in the NAfME Choral discussion forums.


December Dilemma: December holiday guidelines for public schools 

NAfME Music with a Sacred Text position statement 

**Marschilok, Edward, (1991). Decisions of the New York Commissioner of Education Relating to Music Education. School Music News, 54(6).

Sue Rarus, December 1, 2011 © National Association for Music Education