Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to teach and work with students and colleagues from several different backgrounds and cultures. Texas Woman’s University is ranked as one of the most diverse in the nation and is designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution, so I work with students from all over the world on a regular basis. In addition, I teach a large private studio in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Over the years I have worked with numerous students who identify as Hispanic, Asian, Indian, Dreamers, refugees, BIPOC, and several other demographics including students who were just learning English or were the only English speakers in their family. These interactions have created many memorable learning experiences for me, but also taught me about the necessity of being culturally sensitive, building a studio atmosphere where all feel welcome and appreciated, and creating opportunities for historically underrepresented individuals and groups.
One thing I realized as I was working with my students was that students learn best when they identify with the music. If I can find repertoire that resonates with them, they will be more willing to practice it. This might mean that the “standards” I was instructed on might not be the best fit for every student. Learning to adapt my curriculum to fit the needs and background of the student has led to higher success, retention, and (most importantly) enjoyment for my students in lessons. To expand on this, I designed and implemented a project with my trombone quartet, The Coal Hill Quartet, to find chamber music from other cultures (specifically trombone quartets) that we could use to teach our students about diversity. Through this process we found or commissioned works that could be used to engage students at all playing levels. We then took what we had learned during this process and created a presentation on how to create similar projects for educators who are interested in using chamber ensembles to expand their diversity programming. From here the plan is to expand this project to include works by/representing other minorities and LGBTQ+ individuals as well as including repertoire for other instruments.
The Coal Hill chamber music project grew out of my programming practices with the TWU trombone choir. Each concert cycle I program at least one piece that represents a minority or underrepresented culture. This provides a not only an opportunity for us to discuss who and what the piece represents but to draw parallels between what the students are familiar with and the new piece. By making the music seem more approachable, students feel more confident trying unfamiliar music; this also models for them how to incorporate and teach diversity into their own programs when they become educators. As an example, this past semester the trombone choir worked on music by, arranged by, or honoring women, including two compositions written specifically for the TWU trombone choir. This concert program was performed this summer at the International Women’s Brass Conference (Denton, TX) and the 2022 International Trombone Festival (Conway, AR).
Seeing the interest students have in learning about other cultures and noticing the lack of world music offerings in our catalog – particularly for non-majors – I applied for and was accepted to TWU’s Building Global Perspectives Fellowship. This program was designed for teachers from different departments on campus to workshop ways to teach diversity by providing experiential learning opportunities, utilizing the pedagogic tools necessary to approach social issues respectfully and thoughtfully, and developing ways to connect with the community.
As part of this fellowship, I designed and had approved a course entitled Asian Music and Cultures. I chose Asian music because many of our TWU students identify as Asian and wanted to learn more about these cultures. It was also developed during a time of increased Asian hate crimes in the Dallas area, and it was my hope this course could be a way to not only let the Asian students know they were valued but to provide students a way to directly get involved with the impacted communities and provide understanding and context that would perhaps help push against the rising violence. The course requires students to interact one on one with Asian cultures through performing Asian music (gamelan ensemble) and outreach projects with local Asian communities and musicians. My goal is to use this course as a template to create additional courses emphasizing other musical cultures such as Hispanic and Middle Eastern.
As someone who identifies with an underrepresented group, I understand how hard it can be to be on the outside looking in. Because of this, I want to create an environment where every student feels welcomed, valued, and respected for who they are and what they can contribute. I have on occasion inadvertently made missteps when working with other groups and cultures and I am grateful to patient friends and mentors who have corrected and guided me. I strive to constantly learn more and improve my approach and understanding in order to be a better teacher, role model, and person for my students. Ultimately my hope is that my students will leave my classroom with an appreciation for the richness and beauty that diversity creates and the desire to share that understanding with those around them throughout their lives.