Resources for an Anti-Racist Music Classroom
Following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others at the hands of police brutality, there has been a national conversation about race and the role it plays in all aspects of society, including education. Educators, in a way that many have not previously done, are engaging in conversations to determine how, and with what resources, they can counter systemic racism, and build their classrooms into anti-racist environments where students are engaging with history and the present world in ways that are authentic, reflective, and honest.
While many may think that their work is done after eliminating some problematic folk songs, or incorporating a unit of composers from underrepresented groups in classical music, there is no temporary quick fix that will do justice to decolonizing the classroom.
To act in allyship, it’s important to recognize that it doesn’t have a destination- we never “arrive” at “being an ally”; it’s about continuous work, continuous reflection and examination, and continuous practice.
To truly be the best educators we can be, we must first consider the “why” behind what we do, and have the humility to recognize that we can always do more to make our classrooms safe, welcoming, and inclusive for all students.
I’ve learned that this work requires examination of not only myself, but also the repertoire I choose to teach, the musicians I choose to highlight, the history that I illuminate, and the credit that I choose to give.
As a white educator, I do not claim to be an expert by any means, and am aware that I have a lot of learning to do both inside and outside of the classroom. I can, however, acknowledge that when we demonstrate that we value music and voices from varying perspectives and backgrounds, our students are likely to do the same. In turn, they are exposed to and gain a better understanding of the musical world as a whole.
With the help of many colleagues, the following list was created as a resource guide for music educators to use inside and outside of the classroom. Special thanks to Brigid Finucane, Kaitlin Foley, Gabrielle Goodale, Anna DeOcampo Kain, LaRob Payton, and Lydia Lane Stout for your invaluable contributions to this list.
Dinah, Put Down Your Horn: This article names and analyzes several widely-used children’s songs and their minstrel heritage and argues for their removal from the music classroom.
2020 List of Pieces to be Reconsidered or Removed: A working list of ensemble octavos with problematic histories, with evidence to support the case for their removal from the music room.
Music Education, Multiculturalism, and Anti-Racism- Can We Talk?: Deborah Bradley argues for teaching “multicultural” music for the purpose of social justice.
The Racial Politics of Music Education: Ethan Hein makes the case that “Eurocentric music education can validate and perpetuate white supremacy, and that our responsibility is to dismantle it.”
Songs with a Questionable Past: A list of folk songs with problematic history to avoid in the music classroom with linked sources to more information.
10 Ways to Check Your Musical Bias: This list provides questions that allow educators to reflect on their musical biases, and “understand how our thoughts and environments have impacted our teaching and learning behaviors.”
The Oxford Handbook of Social Justice in Music Education: A compilation of essays about social justice as it relates to music education from a “variety of philosophical, political, social, and cultural perspectives.”
We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom: Teacher and researcher of education, author Bettina Love argues for teachers to make “sustainable change in their communities through radical civic initiatives and movements.”
The Power of Black Music: “The Power of Black Music offers a new way of listening to the music of black America, and appreciating its profound contribution to all American music.”
Finding Music Resources: Anti-Racist Pedagogy: Another source list, compiled by the Music Education program at Gettysburg College, with links to videos, articles, teaching resources, and podcasts related to anti-racism in education.
Decolonizing the Music Room: DTMR is a non-profit organization “using resource, training, and discourse to help music educators develop critical practices and challenge the established dominance of Western European and white American music, practices, and narratives.” They also have a private Facebook group, which music educators can request to join to engage in meaningful conversations.
Hearing in Color: Hearing in Color is “dedicated to exposing its community to underrepresented and diminished music, stories, and composers. Hearing in Color concerts highlight the work of emerging artists who are often overlooked in the traditional canon, and gives artistic license to people of marginalized cultures to curate and produce that work.”
Institute for Composer Diversity: An online database for composers and instrumental/vocal works for composers from historically underrepresented groups including women, composers of color, LGBTQIA2S+ composers, and disabled composers.
My People Tell Stories: An organization that provides arts services for teachers, artists, and researchers who seek to center diverse, inclusive, and equitable practices in their work. They offer music workshops for educators that actively promote “social justice in both its design and implementation.”
Music by Black Composers: A directory of many living Black composers, with links to their personal websites.
Sphinx: A non-profit organization that “transforms lives through the power of diversity in the arts.” Their website includes resources for music educators for ensemble purposes, as well as listings for fellowship and job opportunities for underrepresented populations in classical ensemble settings. It also has a link for Sphinx Kids, which features fun music games, and information about Black/Latinx composers/performers.
Black Lives Matter, Music Ed, and Current Discourse: Brandi Pace from Decolonizing the Music Room hosts a panel discussion on the “current discourse of music educators as seen through the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement and the lived-experience of the panelists.”
The Cabaret Card: “In this Jazz Night in America video short, we trace the history of the cabaret card from its racist origins to its toll on the music, and we’ll reflect on what might have been.”
1619, Episode 3: The Birth of American Music: Hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, this NYT podcast outlines how “for centuries, black music has been an expression of artistic freedom. No wonder everybody is always stealing it.”
Making Good Choices: How Can Teachers Better Research Repertoire for the Classroom?: Created by Decolonize the Music Room and presented by NAfME, this webinar addresses making informed, conscious choices about repertoire in the music classroom.
The Score: This podcast (available on Apple podcasts) provides “tips and strategies through honest discussions about their experience teaching music in an urban setting. The goal is to provide a positive and solution-based narrative to create more effective, compassionate, and culturally relevant music educators.”
Songbooks/Children’s Books for Classroom Use
Family Folk Song Project: A collection of folk songs from various cultures, compiled from a classroom teacher’s students and their families, which includes a guide on how to start a collection for your own school.
Games, Plays, Songs, and Stories from the Afro-American Heritage: Bessie Jones, a notable member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, collaborated with Bess Lomax Hawes in recording games and stories from her childhood. “Step It Down weaves together the lyrics, music, and description of traditional Afro-American children’s songs as well as Jones’s comments on their meaning and “feel.”’
Justice Choir Songbook: Songs for social and environmental justice with the goal to “engage in the empathetic, collaborative, and collective power of singing together to create change.”
20 Stunning Biographies: This website lists 20 biographies for children that showcase Black musicians. These colorfully illustrated stories detail the lives of Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and many more influential figures.
We Rise: A Movement Songbook: This compilation from Poor People’s Campaign includes “spirituals, labor songs, freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement, and music rising up from our struggles today.
Carey Crows is the K-2 General Music teacher at Lyon School in Glenview, Illinois. Prior to joining the Glenview community, Mrs. Crows taught K-5 general music and 3–5 choir in Downers Grove, IL. Mrs. Crows sings professionally in choirs throughout Chicagoland, and is an active volunteer with Musicians on Call. A native of Tampa, Florida, she received her B.M. from the University of Miami in Vocal Performance, and later earned her M.M. in Music Education at Northwestern University. She tweets at @CareyCrows.
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