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Choosing Multicultural Repertoire
By Stacy Winn, NW ACDA Ethnic & Multicultural Perspectives R&S Chair

winnWhen choosing multicultural repertoire for your choirs, there are several things to consider. Many of the ideas in this article will be common sense to most of you, but hopefully you will gain some new insights from my experiences in teaching and as the Northwest Ethnic and Multicultural Perspectives Repertoire and Standards Chair.

Please note that in writing this article I am including the assumption that we all choose music based on the ranges, age, musicianship, and experience levels of our singers.

As a regional R&S chair, I receive multicultural music from a number of publishers for consideration for reading sessions. This can be good and bad. It is great to receive such a variety of multicultural selections, but it also makes it difficult to find the quality among the quantity!

The greatest goal seems to be choosing music that is “authentic.” What exactly does this mean? How do I know what really is authentic? I am not an ethnomusicologist, nor have I traveled the world extensively. I think deciding whether something is authentic is the most difficult part of choosing multicultural music. I will tell you what I do, and please feel free to email me with suggestions about what you do and with your thoughts on my strategies.

The first thing I do when choosing music for my singers, is consider the singers themselves. I always try to have at least one piece per year that reflects the cultural background of some of my singers. This is valuable because you can use your own choir members and their families as vital resources in your study.

I also try to choose music that the singers can relate to. For example, I recently came across an Iraqi Peace Song (arr. Kari Iveland, Knut Reiersrud & Lori Tennenhouse – SBMP 794). This is particularly timely right now as many of my students have family members currently serving in the military. I also have some students whose families are from the Middle East.

Furthermore, younger singers relate to different subject matter than older singers, and this is something to consider when choosing multicultural music for your choir. Subject matter can also be a tool in studying cultures and how they are different from or similar to our own.

If the singers come from the same cultural background as the music or can relate to the subject matter, they will be more engaged in the study of the culture and the piece and will therefore perform it with more sincere expression.

I have to admit; I love publishers who put a lot of information inside the front cover of a piece. This cuts down on my research time tremendously. However, just because they put a lot of information about the piece, doesn’t necessarily make it an authentic arrangement. It does, however, make it easier to teach to my students.

One of the things I do look for is instrumentation. If there is another instrument required in the arrangement, I try to include that in my performance if at all possible. Usually, I can play through a piece and listen to that other instrument and my ear will tell me whether it sounds authentic. I am finding that more often than not, if it includes another instrument it is more representative of the originating culture.

Most cultures outside the traditional Western European music world do not use just voices and piano! However, there is a lot of authentic multicultural music out there that does not include another instrument. In these cases, I often try to add instruments if possible.

I am not a professional arranger, but am usually successful in adding at least percussion parts if I feel they are needed. Furthermore, there are a number of cultures around the world in which the main performance medium is a cappella singing.

Another factor I think about is language. I personally prefer world music to be performed in its original language. I have come across some good arrangements that have been translated or partially translated into English. However, there’s just something about the native language that really makes the music sing!

As in choosing any repertoire for my choirs, I try to make sure to include a variety of cultures in our study. I’ve noticed that I have my favorites and have to be careful to include cultures and pieces that are new to me as well. It is easy to teach music that I love, but I need to make sure I am focusing on what is best for my students: variety. The pieces I choose may not be directly from my experiences in another culture, but hopefully with a little research I will be able to expose my students to some valuable cultural experiences that will enhance their understanding of each other and the world around them.

As a member of ACDA, I always get some of my best music in reading sessions at conventions and workshops around the region. I am finding that more and more reading sessions in all areas are including multicultural music. I am so grateful for ACDA for providing such an intelligent network of choral directors for me to hobnob with and glean knowledge from.

I am passionate about my membership with ACDA and encourage you all to spread the word about the great things going in this outstanding organization and especially in the Northwest region. I have become a better teacher and choral director through my affiliation with ACDA and would love to see more directors become involved.

The more we participate in ACDA, the more we gain from ACDA!


Get Involved!

bwinny Stacy Winn, Multi-cultural music, R & S Chair

I am a middle school choir director. I am passionate about middle school students and about music. I love my work as a public school educator, but I am also a musician myself. My work as a performer feeds my work as an educator. It gives me a place to explore high-level music making while keeping my own instrument in good shape. Performing under various directors also gives me new ideas on rehearsal planning, vocal exercises and conducting technique. Furthermore, it shows my students that I practice what I preach.

In my first year of teaching, my love for performance brought me to audition for and join the Opus 7 vocal ensemble in Seattle. On my first day of rehearsal, the director placed me next to one of his strongest voices, Twyla Brunson.

If you know Twyla, you know that this was the best thing that could ever happen to a brand new middle school choir director! Twyla was in her final year of teaching before “retiring” from middle school education. She is one of the finest choral directors I have met. Furthermore, she is one of the strongest advocates for ACDA that I know. Twyla happened to live near my school and volunteered to come into my classroom to help this new teacher. She gave me tips on classroom management, helped me work with my male singers, and gave me some much-needed encouragement that I was actually doing some things right! Not only was Twyla a huge help to my career and me personally, she got me involved in ACDA.

I was already a member of ACDA, but wasn’t very active. I didn’t even read the Choral Journal! Twyla would always ask me, “Hey, did you read the article about _____ in the Choral Journal this month?” I would always say no, and then she would tell me what a great article it was and how I absolutely had to read it. I would go read the article, and sure enough, I’d learn something new or get some great tips from it.

The most important message I got from Twyla about ACDA was about the people. She would always say that working on the board was a great experience because of the incredible people you would get to work with. She talked about their professionalism, high quality of their own work, and how fun and caring everyone was. This all sounded great to me, but I just figured they were way out of my league.

With Twyla’s inspiration, I began seeking out small ways to get involved with ACDA, from simply attending conferences and talking with people, to helping out at the registration table. I began to find that what Twyla said was true, these were some of the nicest, most helpful people I’d ever met. Furthermore, these were some amazing choir directors! I just wanted to be near them, hoping something good would rub off on me! I began truly enjoying this networking thing. My confidence grew, and I would just walk up to people I wanted to meet and introduce myself. I got to pick the brains of some of the best choir directors in our region. In my first few years of teaching, I knew I would learn a lot and improve greatly, but with ACDA involvement, my skills grew exponentially. Also, my network grew with each ACDA encounter.

I began to see the benefits of networking. Most of us at some point are in charge of a festival or choral event. When my time came to run our district’s festival, I felt like I knew who to call on for advice or to be an adjudicator. When I needed another adjudicator, I knew who to ask for a new list of names. Also, I now had a group of folks I could call upon when I needed help with repertoire or other issues in my own teaching.

I was enjoying my first taste of ACDA involvement, but it was Twyla who made sure I got on the board. She knew I had done my masters work in multicultural music and heard about an opening in that R & S area. She connected me with the division president and I was invited to join the board. I felt completely incompetent, but I was willing to learn. I cannot tell you how incredible it has been to serve ACDA in this capacity. I have participated in national conferences and met some of the most influential people in choral music today. I am now able to learn about and advocate for a genre that I have great passion for. I have worked with experts in multicultural music and some of the most amazing choral directors in the world. All of these connections result in improvements in my teaching and the ultimate outcome of better student learning, achievement and positive experiences in choral singing. As you know, no one person can be the best choral director by him or herself. Almost everything I do I learned from someone else. With ACDA, those folks I learn from happen to be the very best in their field.

In my own experience, ACDA has given me networking skills, teaching skills, performing skills, and has put me in the same room with some amazing folks. Networking with ACDA has even gotten me a new job! I have always said that joining Opus 7 in my first year of teaching was the best career decision I’ve ever made. This is all because of Twyla and ACDA.

My charge to you is to do what I did and get involved! If you have not yet participated actively in ACDA, find a small way to get started. Email your favorite board member and ask if there is a small way to be involved in the upcoming conference. Talk about ACDA with your colleagues and find out what they like best about the organization. Check out the new and immensely improved ACDA National website.

Email any board member with suggestions about how ACDA could serve you better. I hope to see you all at the conference in Seattle, March 10-13, 2010! Make sure your students are involved with the honor choirs. At the conference, make a point to meet someone new and pick their brain. You’ll be amazed at the experience!



Your Own Multicultural Choir
By Stacy Winn, R&S Chair for Multicultural Music

In so many ways, I feel unqualified for this title of Multicultural R & S Chair. However, one strength I do have is that I see the multicultural in each of my students. Culture can be described in many ways. Culture can be found in the foods we eat, the language we speak, the holidays we celebrate and the activities we enjoy. As a study, I asked my students to write about their own family culture.

When describing culture in this way, my students showed me what each of their families represent. Some families rally around sports and outdoor activities, some fill their lives with religious traditions and some identify with a particular nationality. I discovered that multicultural is about more than just countries of the world.

Growing up, I often felt like I had “no culture,” since my family came from a mix of European countries and we didn’t really practice any of those traditions anyway. However, we did value family and music. When I started to learn about other countries and cultures, I was able to relate those activities to my own family.

There are many cultures of the world in which a celebration requires specific foods and music. For example, my family always gathers (from near and far) for weddings and funerals, eats certain foods, and makes music together. The more we can learn about our students’ family traditions, the more we can help them relate to the music and cultures we study in choir.

One way to create a truly multicultural education for you and your students is to tap into the resources you have among your choir. Ask them to write about their culture. You will be amazed at what you discover! Once you know where your students are coming from, it is easier to help them relate to each other, as well as to other peoples around the world.

For example, I discovered that some of my students grew up in a Japanese home. When studying music from Japan, these students could share personal stories about the foods, language, and tradition within their own family. This brings on a new kind of learning environment, where students begin to value learning from each other. Furthermore, each student feels he or she has something valuable to share with the class. I’m sure you know what this kind of shining moment can do for a student’s confidence and achievement.

When students share about their own culture, you also discover what valuable resources their parents are. I have found some parents who would love to come into my class to discuss the meaning of a particular folk song or text. (I have yet to actually get a parent in the classroom, however! I have talked to several over the phone about certain pieces, though.) Especially if they have lived in the country being studied, parents can bring so much more to the lesson than I could, based on some last-minute internet research! Parents can also be wonderful pronunciation guides. There are so many languages and dialects out there that we didn’t study in my college diction course!

(Side note: Although it requires some extra communication and organization, getting families involved is a great way to enhance the multicultural education in your choir room. When family members contribute to the choir program, it improves student confidence in participation and heightens focus in class. When parents and families are involved in the music program, their students feel empowered to accomplish great goals. Students tend to work harder when they know their parent is also working hard for them. It may seem like a lot of work up front, but parent involvement has made my life as a teacher much easier!)

Learning about the cultures present among your own students is also a great way to choose literature. If you are anything like me, you have this pile of great pieces you’ve gotten from reading sessions and are looking for ways to narrow it down to a more manageable-sized pile! Polling your students helps you choose countries and parts of the world to study.

In middle school, many students are just starting to become interested in their own cultural heritage and get pretty excited when a piece we study in choir comes from their family’s heritage. At the end of my multicultural study, I put on a “world tour” concert with my choirs. Involving the students and their parents in the multicultural education truly showed in their enthusiastic performance. Of course, this is a great way to impress administrators as well!

Many of you may already be doing these kinds of things in your choirs, and more. I am always looking for new ideas and ways to include authentic multicultural experiences for my students and would love to hear what you are doing!

If you are someone who is not sure where to start, I encourage you to start with your own students. If nothing else, it will strengthen the sense of community within your choir… Sing on!

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