Toward a Multicultural Music-Education Curriculum1

Portia K. Maultsby

In the 1950s and 1960s, when I attended public schools in Orlando, Florida, the system was segregated. I graduated from Jones High School, the city's all-Black high school—the only one that accepted Black students. Yet, the educational system prepared me well to pursue undergraduate and graduate music degrees in predominantly white institutions.

This experience was not unique to me. Of the approximately 10,000 Black students participating in Florida's then-segregated music programs, many developed professional careers as outstanding performers, music educators, and scholars in the jazz, classical, popular, and folk idioms. I attribute the direction of my career as a performing musician, music educator and ethnomusicologist to the quality of the curriculum and the instruction during my K-12 years, and to the vision and dedication of my music teachers at these levels. The piano instruction my music teacher provided, and the experience I gained as accompanist for the high-school choir, prepared me to enter and graduate from college with a major in piano performance/theory-composition; the musical guidance and innovative pedagogical methods of my high-school band-director influenced my secondary career as songwriter, arranger, producer, and studio conductor of commercial recordings; and the discipline and patience I developed during my rebellious junior-high years resulted from my mother's refusal to let me drop piano lessons. She was an elementary-school teacher, and had veteran powers of persuasion.

My K-12 music education was multicultural in focus. The curriculum exposed me to the instrumental and vocal traditions of both Western Europe and Black America. My fascination with the aesthetic differences between the two traditions sparked my interest in the study of music as a world phenomenon, rather than an entity built on Western European principles; and it led to my graduate studies in ethnomusicology.

As music educators aspiring to achieve a successful mating of music professional training and the realities of American society in the last decade of the 20th century, we have the responsibility to maintain the quality of the music curriculum, to meet society's new educational goals, and to pioneer innovative approaches to music education. These approaches must implement a multicultural agenda. The rationale for such an agenda is the same used centuries ago to structure national curricula—curricula that bathe in the cultural wash of Northwest Europeans, the nation's first immigrants and long-standing dominant group.

Since the 1960s, the face of American society has changed profoundly. It has become more racially and culturally diverse, in part from an influx of immigrants from Third-World countries. These countries no longer stand as isolated entities; they function as parts of the global whole. In meeting the challenges of the 21st century, Americans must move beyond the insular, to develop a global view. We must also recognize the need to redefine our educational goals, and to restructure our curricula in ways that reflect the multiethnic composition of American society and America's changing relationship with the rest of the world.

Over the past two decades, many Americans have had some exposure to traditions of non-Western cultures. Many now understand that the ideals and traditions of these cultures emerge from and reflect cultural values that differ from those that predominate in the United States. Others have noticed the many contributions these cultures have made to the rest of the world, including the West. Within academic settings, a few scholars have expanded the scope of their research to include topics on non-Western cultures, and some educators have used traditions from these cultures to encourage creativity, and to broaden students' world views.

Mirroring society, the student body of many schools is no longer racially or culturally homogeneous. Mandated school desegregation, plus the immigration of people from Third World countries, brought students from varied ethnic backgrounds together in the classroom. In this setting, ethnic minorities quickly realized that the majority had little understanding of their customs, values, cultural products, and modes of communication. They also discovered that their cultural heritage had to stand outside the academic curriculum. These and other factors, including the lack of minority teachers and administrators to serve as role models, have adversely affected the academic performance and the participation of ethnic minorities. As music educators, we must consider the roles we can play in creating a multicultural environment in the classroom—and what we can do to encourage minority involvement in music programs.

For many centuries, the arts have served as a primary diplomatic tool to foster the appreciation of cultural characteristics. Cultural exchanges between America, its allies, and adversaries highlight the arts, and music is often the center of these exchanges. Similarly, music has proven to be an effective tool for uniting people, by promoting familiarity with the diversity of the cultures that make up American society.

In 1967, at the Tanglewood Music Symposium, music educators acknowledged the potential benefit of a multicultural curriculum. At the end of the symposium they issued The Tanglewood Declaration, which includes this statement: "Music of all periods, styles, forms, and cultures belongs to the curriculum." In 1972, the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), which sets minimum standards for the granting of degrees and other credentials, revised its criteria "to include a non-Western requirement for programs leading to a baccalaureate degree in music. Though the ruling does not specify a recommended amount of non-Western or folk music, it states that `each institution has the responsibility of ensuring comprehensiveness of music repertory in the total curriculum.' This ruling has been little enforced, and compliance, where it exists, is largely voluntary" (Report of the Society for Ethnomusicology's Education Committee, 1986).

Since the Tanglewood symposium and NASM's revised criteria, there have been few curricular changes in this direction. Many K-12 and college music programs continue to exclude serious studies of American music traditions, and of most non-Western world traditions. I believe the major reasons for this exclusion are: (1) non-Western musics have not entered the curriculum of music education programs in colleges and universities; (2) our artistic evaluation of non-Western musics often reflects the aesthetic standards of Western Europe, rather than those of the producing culture; and (3) educators think a multicultural approach to education would require more classroom time and money.

In most minority cultures, music is integral parts of everyday life. Children grow up participating in a variety of musical activities. This interest in music, however, does not carry over into the K-12 classroom. Few minority students participate in the band, orchestra, and choral programs, and few major in music at the college level. There are several reasons for this. The major one is that general-music classes and performing-music programs maintain the traditions of Western Europe. Thus, the music curriculum does not confirm the artistic value of non-Western cultures, nor does it consider the musical talents minority students bring to the classroom. On a basic level, the music curriculum does not instill a sense of cultural pride or self-worth, nor does it foster a sense of belonging.

Educators can encourage minority involvement in music programs by simply expanding the curriculum to include the traditions of minority groups represented in a given school. I encourage the integrated, rather than the isolated, approach. One method is to use the music styles of selected minority cultures alongside Western traditions, to teach the fundamentals of music and the diversity of music traditions. Teachers can cover the elements of music, for example, by using a Black or Latin-American music style to teach rhythm, a classical composition to teach harmony, an Asian or Native American piece to teach melody, American folk music to teach aesthetics, form, and structure--and so on. Using music styles from two or more cultures makes a more comprehensive method, because it enables students to accept the validity of differences in the ways various cultures employ and interpret the elements of music.

This method has many advantages. A multicultural perspective broadens the musical horizons of all students; it encourages the understanding of music as a world phenomenon; it instills a sense of pride and belonging among minority students; and it fosters an understanding of cultural similarities and differences in the pluralistic classroom environment. The integration of non-Western content in the curriculum solves the "lack-of-time problem," which some of us believe limits our ability to add new content to the curriculum.

Performing ensembles provide yet another avenue for structuring a multicultural curriculum, and an opportunity for minority students to develop and display their talents. Expanding the repertoire of existing ensembles to include the music of non-Western cultures is one way to encourage the participation of minority students. The use of a multicultural repertoire can expose students and their audiences to a wide range of music literature, performance styles, musical aesthetics, and concepts related to the music-making process.

The addition of non-Western ensembles is still another way to achieve multicultural programming. The curricular coexistence of Western and non-Western ensembles can serve to introduce a broad range of musical concepts to all students, and thus to broaden the base for creative exploration. Over the past two decades, for example, some composers have sought inspiration in non-Western music traditions. The growing interest in the music of non-Western cultures shows that in future decades this practice will become more common.

Music educators must recognize external factors that affect the ability of minority students to participate in music programs. Discriminatory practices in American society have hit minority groups hard, mainly by undercutting their economic security. This factor limits the ability of many minorities at the K-12 level to purchase musical instruments, to study privately, and to pay fees often required to participate in music programs. Most minority students are bused several miles to school. Therefore, when music activities take place after school hours, transportation becomes a problem.

One way to address these factors is to provide students with instruments, waive fees, and set up the means for transportation. Another approach is to work with organizations and institutions in the ethnic community. We must not penalize minority students for the past mistakes of America's policy-makers, nor should we follow policies that will create problems for the future generations of minority students and society at large.

So far, I have addressed what we as music educators can do to encourage minority involvement in the music programs, and what role we can play in creating a multicultural environment in the classroom. Now, I will turn to the issue of teacher preparation and training.

Many teachers are willing to employ a multicultural approach to music education. The 1986 report of the Society for Ethnomusicology's Educational Committee states "it receives many inquiries from K-12 teachers who seek ways to incorporate ethnic and non-Western musics in their curricula." The problem teachers face is the lack of training in non-Western music traditions, and the lack of time to research, prepare, and assemble teaching-materials.

We can overcome these obstacles in a variety of ways. One is to enlist the aid of local musicians from various ethnic communities. My experiences prove that such musicians are willing to volunteer their talents by participating as lecturers and performers in the classroom, and by helping set up non-Western performing ensembles. Many local musicians have priceless knowledge about a given tradition's recordings, instruments, and music styles; and thus, they are important human resources. Their participation in the school program has other merits: among minority students, it fosters a sense of pride and belonging; additionally, between students and ethnic populations, it forges invaluable links, which can promote community participation in the learning process.

Cooperative efforts between the Society for Ethnomusicology, the College Music Society, and national and state associations of music educators, can also facilitate the establishment of a multicultural curriculum, and the development of training programs for teachers. Music educators, for example, can learn about various world-music traditions by attending regional and national meetings of the Society for Ethnomusicology, plus summer institutes specifically designed for music educators of every level, hosted by universities, or scheduled in conjunction with local ethnic museums. Some college music departments make a strong commitment to ethnomusicology; their course-offerings can provide a multicultural foundation for teachers. Additionally, local ethnomusicologists, and the staff-members of ethnic museums and state folklore institutions, are often willing to help schools develop a multicultural curriculum, and to offer guidance on acquiring resource materials.

To help bring about changes at the elementary and secondary instructional levels, several ethnomusicologists are working with music educators and textbook publishers, to develop teaching materials on the music traditions of various cultures for use in the K-12 classroom. These materials focus on the music of a particular culture group or geographic area, and on cross-cultural themes. The education committee of the Society for Ethnomusicology has proposed that printed materials include audio-visual materials, a guide and lesson-plans, readings on music and culture, suggested classroom activities, and instructions for elementary composition and performance.

Professional music societies can play a key role in exposing teachers to non-Western music traditions by inaugurating and continuing multicultural programming at all annual conferences and at all regional and local in-service training workshops. Such programming will provide teachers the opportunity to gain confidence in their ability to learn and teach new music traditions. A multicultural curriculum should extend beyond the classroom into the performance requirements of local, district, and state competitions. The repertoire and performance styles of competing groups should include the music of selected non-Western cultures.

On another level, committees assigned to set up eligibility guidelines and to select adjudicators for these competitions should include African American and other minority members. These educators should also serve as clinicians for conferences and in-service training workshops, and as directors for all-state ensembles.

We must put forth every effort to involve minority students in music programs. The investment we make today will pay off tomorrow. We are experiencing a shortage of minority teachers in the classroom, and a declining enrollment of minority students at the college level. At the same time, the United States is witnessing rapid growth in the population of Third-World immigrants.

Reminiscing on my experiences while growing up in Orlando, I recall clearly the pride the African American community displayed in the multicultural musical achievements of its youth. The music curriculum in my high school was indeed the pride and joy of the community. Parents and community members actively participated in all activities and programs sponsored by the music department. They even organized festive occasions where the entire African American community paid tribute to the choral and band directors who dedicated their careers to developing raw talent.

Since the mid-1960s, this picture has changed dramatically. African American choral and band directors, and other minority teachers have become scarce, while formally trained Black musicians are fast becoming an extinct group. Thus, Black and other minority communities no longer have musical achievements to recognize or celebrate. As educators, we can change this situation. We should begin by: (1) increasing the number of minority teachers in schools with a sizeable minority enrollment; (2) ensuring the proper representation of minority cultures in the educational curriculum; (3) involving minority communities in the cultural programming of schools; (4) sponsoring college-credit summer institutes on ethnic musics for K-12 teachers; (5) acknowledging the contributions minority groups have made to the rich and diverse legacy of the American society; and (6) encouraging minority students to use their cultural backgrounds for creative exploration.

The challenge to all of us in the music profession is to continue our efforts to set up a multicultural approach to music education at every level. Our commitment to this goal is an imperative, dictated by our role as music educators in a culturally diverse society.


1An early version of this paper was delivered as the keynote address at the Florida Music Educators Association 43rd Annual Clinic-Conference, held in Tampa, Florida, January 8-10, 1987.