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The Intersection of Music Education and Cultural Diversity

By Joel Maki, Lower School Music Teacher and Music Department Chair

I believe that music is a universal language that transcends boundaries and connects people across cultures. As Stevie Wonder famously said, “Music is a world within itself; it’s a language we all understand.” I see the students in my classroom as citizens of the world and consider facilitating their musical journey a privilege. When we as music educators embrace and celebrate cultural diversity, it can enrich the lives of students and creates a more inclusive musical society. Harbor Day School has a diverse cultural society, growing more so every year. Each family brings unique perspectives and musical traditions to our community. Music education that embraces the diversity of its community promotes inclusivity and representation. By featuring music from various cultures, music education provides opportunities for students from different backgrounds to share their musical experiences and traditions, fostering a sense of belonging and cultural equity.
Windows and Mirrors
When students see their cultural heritage reflected in the curriculum, they develop a sense of pride and validation. By incorporating diverse musical traditions, students are exposed to how music is shared around the world. Incorporating musical activities in which students see glimpses of themselves (their backgrounds, identities, and interests) as well as learning about others creates both “windows and mirrors1.” These activities are designed to help students deepen their understanding of themselves and the world around them. There are times when a student may be approaching another musical identity as a window, but when the lighting conditions are just right—the window becomes a mirror that reflects a shared musical identity. It is then that students begin to approach multicultural music education by finding similarities rather than differences.
Ethnomusicology/World Music Pedagogy
Beginning in Kindergarten, students at Harbor Day School become young ethnomusicologists. By learning about instruments from around the world, singing folk songs in other languages, and researching how music is expressed in other cultures, the students learn the social power of music and its ability to connect our school community to people and cultures around the world. World Music Pedagogy can be divided into the following five dimensions2:

  1. Attentive Listening: Directed and focused through the teacher’s questions
  2. Engaged Listening: participatory listening, or active participation by singing/playing along
  3. Enactive Listening: Accurately re-creating the music through intensive listening
  4. Creating World Music: Students invent new music in the cultural style honoring the source while also opening themselves to the making of a personal musical experience
  5. Integrating World Music: Connecting the music to the students' personal lives
Music is Who We Are
One of my favorite activities to do with students is have them create musical playlists that represent their musical identity. Quite often, these songs are chosen because of the family traditions they are attached to. The students share these playlists in class, and our communal playlist becomes even more diverse. It is a constant reminder that music can bring us all together to not only experience and learn about each other, but come together in song.
1 Style, E. (1996). Curriculum as window and mirror. Social science record, 33(2), 21-28.

2 Campbell, P. S. (2016). World music pedagogy. Teaching general music: Approaches, issues, and viewpoints, 89-111.

Harbor Day School

3443 Pacific View Drive
Corona del Mar, CA 92625 Phone<title><script type="mce-text/javascript"> (function(a,e,c,f,g,h,b,d){var k={ak:"984895077",cl:"EfBCCP-Fv3UQ5ZzR1QM"};a[c]=a[c]||function(){(a[c].q=a[c].q||[]).push(arguments)};a[g]||(a[g]=k.ak);b=e.createElement(h);b.async=1;b.src="//www.gstatic.com/wcm/loader.js";d=e.getElementsByTagName(h)[0];d.parentNode.insertBefore(b,d);a[f]=function(b,d,e){a[c](2,b,k,d,null,new Date,e)};a[f]()})(window,document,"_googWcmImpl","_googWcmGet","_googWcmAk","script"); </script><head><body>1-949-640-1410<html></html></body></head><br><br><br>
Harbor Day School is a co-educational private independent K-8 school established in 1952.