Music Matters: The Pursuit of Inclusivity in TMC’s Music Library
This past summer, The Music Class (TMC) announced our commitment to embrace and celebrate inclusion in our classrooms and our music. We have always strived for inclusivity and diversity in our music collections with the goal of exposing children to the music of other cultures, while also honoring those cultures. Because we take our role as early childhood educators very seriously and feel that it is our duty to make Music Class a space where families of all races and ethnicities feel supported and respected, we have also challenged ourselves even further to ensure that our music was free of any songs with racist connotations and/or history. We said that we stand with our families of color, musicians, friends, and all communities, and we were determined to put action behind that statement.
So, what did we do?
First, we underwent an extensive review of the history of each of the 319 songs in our library and flagged those with possibly objectionable or racist connotations. Then we were left to determine whether those songs should stay in our curriculum, be removed and replaced with a new song, or stay in the curriculum with lyrical changes. With some songs, this call was very easy to make. With others, it was more challenging to discern. So our next step was to seek qualified experts to help with determinations like these, and that’s where the Advisory Board came in!
The Music Class was fortunate and grateful to be aided in our song review process by an advisory board of highly-qualified and musically diverse experts including Dr. Johann Buis1, Bill Doggett2 , and Dr. Oscar Petty3. Each of these musicians and educators brought their unique perspectives and nuanced considerations to the table in order to help us solidify a collection of children’s music that was culturally rich, educationally sound, and respectful. The Advisory Board guided TMC to examine the musical value of a given song alongside any cultural concerns and to not necessarily shy away from music where these forces may be in opposition. They also wisely reminded TMC to separately consider the two audiences of our music: parents and young children. In order to provide more context to parents about certain songs, they suggested TMC add songbook annotations and provide classroom teacher education. Not only do songbook annotations provide background on the cultural context and history of the songs, but they also add value to the program for parents and caregivers. The Advisory Board provided perspective on the nuance and benefits of keeping songs with a rich racial history, such as African American spirituals, in our curriculum. As an example, here is a video of Dr. Buis discussing the history and value of train songs in African and African American culture. (The Music Class has adapted several traditional train songs for use in our library.)
After consulting with the Advisory Board, TMC made our final determinations and began to alter our curriculum accordingly. We are excited to announce that this spring session featuring The Monkey Collection now includes four new songs to replace songs we felt did not reflect our stance on diversity, equity, and inclusion. In upcoming collections, expect some further changes! In addition to some brand new songs, you may also see annotations in your songbook that offer more information on songs with rich, valuable cultural backgrounds. We are ultimately very excited about this progress with our curriculum, as it allows us to ensure that everyone can truly have fun in Music Class and that we make TMC a safe space for families of all backgrounds. PLUS, it is fun to breathe new life into our collections with an infusion of new songs!
If you would like to discuss our song review methodology and/or the changes to our curriculum, please feel free to contact us via email. See you next time in Music Class!
1 Dr. Johann Buis has been a tenured professor of musicology both at the University of Georgia (1989-97) and Wheaton College (2003 – present.) Dr. Buis is an incredibly accomplished educator and during recent years, has been active in interdisciplinary scholarship integrating musicology, ethnomusicology, and cultural theory. For more about Dr. Buis’ qualifications and impressive scholarship, CLICK HERE.
2 Bill Doggett is a historian, guest lecturer, and consultant specializing in marketing and programming curation for Contemporary Black Composers. He has been named to the Artist Scholar roster for the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, and has a passion for utilizing the Arts as a vehicle for intergenerational dialogue within and across diverse communities. For more about Mr. Doggett’s qualifications and body of work uplifting the Arts, CLICK HERE.
3 Dr. Oscar Petty is currently the Director of Bands and Orchestra at Cicely Tyson High School of Performing Arts in East Orange, New Jersey, and serves as a clinician and adjudicator for World Strides Music Festivals. In addition to being an educator, he is also a professional oboe player, with an impressive list of performances all over the world. On a more fun note, Dr. Petty has also been a featured performer for The Music Class’ online free events, sharing his love of the oboe with children and their families all over the world! For more about Dr. Petty’s qualifications and impressive performances, CLICK HERE.