I don't want to say the wrong thing. But these days, staying silent can be the equivalent of saying the wrong thing.
So, here goes: I'm sad, horrified, disgusted, and angry the more I learn about the pervasive, systemic racism that has shaped our country from its beginnings. I feel woefully uneducated, and ashamed to have been part of something so destructive and unfair.
As a teacher, it makes me sick to think that some of my students are at greater risk walking down the street, or might be asked if they belong somewhere, or given fewer opportunities, or any other number of injustices, simply because of the color of their skin.
And as a teacher who teaches students starting from a very young age, I'm very aware that they look up to me, copy me, and take their cues from how I respond to things. Many of my students have been with me for years and in many cases, I am their first and primary influence when it comes to understanding the music world.
Classical music is an art form that is overwhelmingly white, male, European, and deceased. While many efforts are being made to change this, they are not yet mainstream. These are the Black History Month concerts, which feature a few representative works by a Black composer, possibly a Black soloist, and then we never hear those works or see that soloist again. We have yet to see a majority of concert series present more diverse programs in months that aren't February or March.
There are many, many activists and scholars and people who can speak more knowledgeably about systemic racism in America than I can. And there are many amazing musicians who have been championing the works of composers of color and women for longer than I've been alive. I encourage you to seek these people out - on social media, in their published books, in their dissertations, in their recordings.
If the concert hall (or the Facebook Live stream, these days) is the place audiences regularly encounter new pieces of classical music, the elementary school classroom and the private teaching studio is the first place children encounter music. We teach them what music is important. And for many of us who teach using the Suzuki method, we are trying to cultivate beautiful hearts in our students, and to make global citizens, not just violinists.
But how can we do that when the repertoire in the books is almost entirely written by dead white European men?
The answer: we can't. We have to turn the "supplemental" repertoire into "core" repertoire.
How do teachers go about revising and expanding our performance teaching repertoires?
As respectfully, thoroughly, and passionately as we attended our own lessons and Suzuki trainings and pedagogy classes.
First, performers and teachers need to reflect on how and why we choose repertoire for ourselves and our students. Here are a few questions to start our reflections:
It can be intimidating to know where to start. Preparing teaching repertoire, especially, requires time and thought about how that repertoire will teach skills and fit into a student's sequence. But we have to start somewhere.
Here is a short (and not comprehensive) list of teaching repertoire that I use with my own students. I offer this as a place to start:
This is a wonderful collection of resources, including a violin repertoire book that can be integrated with Suzuki Books 1-3, a composer timeline, coloring book, and a directory of living Black composers.
This four-volume anthology starts with pieces at a Suzuki Book 1 level and goes well past the Suzuki repertoire. Professionals will want to pick up the fourth volume of pieces for themselves. Each volume contains composer biographies to help educate students about these remarkable women.
These collections of folk tunes for beginning and intermediate players include Chinese, Korean, and Mexican folk songs, fiddle tunes from both American and Irish traditions, and African American spirituals.
These two collections also include tunes from all over the world.
The link will take you to the Afghanistan National Institute of Music's site, where you can learn more about their mission. From there, you will find a link to a Dropbox site that has these folk song arrangements for free. I love that these include optional violin accompaniment parts and piano parts.
I hope the idea of discovering new music for yourself and your students energizes you. I hope I haven't said or done the wrong thing here. I hope that if my students are reading this, they are open to learning alongside me - which really, is what this is all about, anyway. Learning together, and, once we know better, doing better to bring music that is as diverse as our audiences.
Please share in the comments, any repertoire that you suggest, for growing and encouraging diversity in our field.
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