Song of the Week
Building a Vetted and Diverse Teaching Repertoire
By Naomi Fernandez, Programs Liaison Supervisor, sponsored by Education Through Music
When Education Through Music (ETM) began the very necessary work of “decolonizing” our music repertoire last year, I was so eager to start the process. As the work went on and I discovered the questionable roots and misappropriation of content from songs and sources I had incorporated for years, I couldn’t help but grieve over my own ignorance, the students who may have been negatively impacted by my music choices, and the loss of resources I had come to rely on.
As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, do better.” So, I decided to get to work.
As I combed through ETM’s repertoire, I became wary of every piece I was considering using in my class or highlighting to ETM’s music teachers: Would I choose “incorrectly”? Would I inadvertently cause harm to students with my choice? I just felt frozen, and I wasn’t sure how to move forward. Focusing on what music not to do wasn’t fueling my creativity or inspiring curriculum planning. So, instead, I decided to focus on all the songs and cultures whose music we could highlight and thus, the “Song of the Week” initiative was born!
ETM focuses on being both responsive and inclusive, and we aim to highlight a wide variety of music that both educates and represents our student populations. One way we do this is by providing diversified resources for our music teachers to implement in their classrooms. Our “Song of the Week” initiative seeks to do just that. Each week, ETM’s Curriculum Working Group (of which I’m a member) shares a vetted “teaching song” for grade bands K-2 or 3-5. The aim is to provide a “teaching song” that teachers can incorporate into their music classroom lessons and games.
Our “Song Guide” includes music specifics, cultural/historical background, benchmarks that can be addressed, social emotional learning (SEL) & social justice (SJ) standards that can be highlighted, suggested activities, recommended accommodations and extensions, as well as assessments that the teacher can use in their classroom.
Because we each bring our own biases and positionalities to the process, each “Song of the Week” is vetted thoroughly by our Programs staff. We also include outside resources to make sure that we are respecting the authenticity of the composer, the song, and the culture it represents.
Sometimes this is easy, and sometimes this is more difficult.
In one instance, I was hoping to highlight a ghost dance song, specifically “We Circle Around,” a song indigenous to the Arapaho tribe. When I asked for feedback, one of my Curriculum Working Group colleagues shared that it is a respectful practice to seek permission from Tribal Elders before using Native American songs. I contacted an Arapaho Tribe Elder, who shared that ghost dance songs are ceremonial songs only, and it would be disrespectful to sing one outside of a ceremony. Instead, he directed me to round dances and said that he gave us permission to perform any of those.
So far this year, “Song of the Week” has enabled us to share folk repertoire from Cambodia, the Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Greece, India, Iraq, the Iroquois Tribe, and an Afro-fusion pop song. Both our teachers and the principals with whom we partner have responded positively to the initiative. In fact, we not only share the songs with them, we also ask them to share songs, languages, and/or cultures they would like us to highlight so our work is representative of them and their school’s student population.
Most powerfully for me, the “Song of the Week” initiative has been an opportunity to grow my knowledge and repertoire, and is making my own classrooms more diverse and inclusive. And I hope it can do the same for you! Start your own “Song of the Week” or “Song of the Month” in your school or classroom! In this way, we will continue to develop our own understanding of the wider world of music, and we will model the process for our students as well.
At Education Through Music, we’re always looking for talented educators to help us serve our students. We offer generous sign-on and referral bonuses, as well as supporting pathways to certification. If you’d like to join us, please check out our current openings here.
About the author:
Naomi Fernandez brings to ETM 18+ years of education experience in teaching and leadership roles. After receiving her Bachelor’s degree in K-12 Music Education from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, Naomi went on to obtain her Master’s of Music Education through Boston University. Prior to working at ETM, Naomi has taught grades K-12 in public and private schools in Oregon, Nebraska, and California, including a wide range of ensembles such as concert band, hand bells, choir, show choir, steel drums, and group piano lessons. Naomi views music as a core subject that is a right for every student. “All students deserve the opportunity to explore and learn music in school. It should not be an elitist subject,” she says. “I believe that music should be both fun and productive. I believe in the value of humor to educate and manage. And, I believe music brings the opportunity for unity in diversity.”
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November 30, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)