This is a sample Article from The Recorder which is the quarterly journal of the OMEA.


Advocating for Under-Represented Voices in the Music Classroom

Lauren Simmons

Editor’s Note: this is the first in a multi-part series of short articles which were generated by the participants at our Advocacy Retreat last fall.

As we work to advocate for quality music programs, it’s also extremely important for us to consider who these programs traditionally fail to serve. At the recent OMEA Advocacy Retreat (Orillia, October 2019), the following were identified as groups that might be underrepresented in our conventional music programs:

  • Urban students
  • Indigenous, Metis and Inuit students
  • Low income students
  • Black students
  • Students of colour
  • LGBTQ+ students
  • Students for whom English is a second language
  • Racialized students
  • Disabled students
  • Students with learning differences
  • Students from rural communities
  • Students without previous music instruction
  • Students who transfer between schools mid-year or mid-semester
  • Students who borrow school instruments
  • Students who are new to Canada

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is representative of many voices we feel aren’t heard as loudly in our classrooms. Importantly, this is also a list of groups that are generally underrepresented in the teaching profession, and in the music teaching profession in Ontario.

What steps can we take to reach out to these student groups, and to make our classrooms more welcoming for all learners? There is much work being done on this topic across the province, but here are just a few strategies:

    • Including Student Voice in our programs. This can include student-directed performance goals, performing groups, jamming, improvising, composition, student-selected repertoire, student choice in research projects and more.
  • Performing diverse repertoire. Music can open doorways to understanding for our students and ourselves. With a clear focus on authentic performance and avoiding appropriation, we can use the piece we play to expand our students’ horizons, knowledge, and understanding of cultural/historical topics.
  • Using the principles of UDL. Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, ensures that classrooms are inclusive spaces and that materials are accessible for all. A quick Google search produces a number of resources that can be applied to the music classroom to make our spaces truly safe and accessible for all learners.
  • Use social justice. Many of today’s youth are intimately connected to social justice causes in their communities. From studying protest music to having students write environmental songs, we can use social justice to make our classrooms more inclusive and more progressive places.

Acknowledge relationships of privilege and power, and work to combat them. The work of anti-racism can be awkward and painful, forcing us to confront the privileges we’ve had in our experience of the world. But if we cannot acknowledge the fact that music education, and education in general, remains a world dominated by white folks, cis folks, middle and upper class folks, university-educated folks, neurotypical folks, and others who benefit from privilege, then we cannot work to break down the barriers. Owning our privilege openly, and indeed with our students, can go a long way to building a new path forward to inclusion.