Mike Lawson • ChoralOctober 2002 • October 1, 2002

Reprinted with permission from Tempo, the official magazine of the New Jersey Music Educators Association.

The National Standards demand that we familiarize our students with diverse musical practices. Yet school bands and orchestras come from musical traditions that may not easily adapt to the music of some cultures. Besides that, available resources often focus on academic “facts about” diverse cultures rather than the musical experience itself. This article will present ways to use culturally diverse ensemble music in the traditional school ensemble setting.

Choosing Culturally Diverse Music

There are many reasons for choosing culturally diverse ensemble music. You may teach in a community with a large population from a specific culture. You may wish to make your musical selections represent your state’s cultural mosaic. You may be responding to the National Standards’ suggestion that “diverse genres and styles of music” are key to the present and future relevance of music education. Or you may simply believe that understanding culturally diverse music will make your students better musicians.

Whatever the reason, there are many resources to help you choose music. Terese Volk, an authority in multicultural ensemble music, has published several articles on the subject that are available online (www.nyssma.org/committees.cfm?subsubpage=70&subpage=68). MENC publishes resources for teaching world music (www.menc.org/publication/books/booksrch.aspx). Various music publishers have series of arrangements devoted to cross-cultural music teaching: Curnow’s National Heritage Series contains arrangements of folk music from many cultures for all levels of ensembles; Hal Leonard’s “Music Works” series includes ensemble scores and parts with a CD of authentic musical examples; Queenwood and other companies also publish culturally diverse ensemble music. Music distributor J.W. Pepper maintains multicultural lists of choral and orchestral music; at this writing, Pepper has discontinued its multicultural band list. The J.W. Pepper Web site can still be used to find culturally diverse ensemble arrangements: Enter the name of the country into the search engine to find arrangements related to that country.

Authenticity – how close the piece comes to approximating the actual music of the culture – is a concern when choosing culturally diverse ensemble music. It is important to represent the musical culture you are studying as accurately as possible. Volk has placed culturally diverse music into four hierarchical categories of authenticity. Category I includes pieces that are only connected to a culture by their title. The composition may be of a very high quality, but its music is not directly derived from the musical practice of a specific culture. Authenticity can be increased by providing students with accurate examples of that culture’s music.

Category II describes pieces that are basically traditional Western art music but incorporate melodies from specific cultures. Authenticity can again be increased by providing authentic examples.

Category III comprises pieces that incorporate melodic and rhythmic elements from music of another culture, and either use some traditional instruments or make relatively accurate instrument substitutions. Pieces in this category may also include accurate harmonic structure and timbres from the culture.

Category IV consists either of original compositions by composers from the culture or arrangements that are a close approximation of the original music of the culture.

Finding Background Information

Composers and publishers are beginning to seek out “authentic” sources when they write, and to include information about those sources in the scores. One music teacher I know gets professional time from her school district to visit a community where she can learn the culture first-hand – New York’s Chinatown, for instance, for a unit on Chinese music. There may be students or families in your school who know the musical culture first-hand. I once spent a lovely evening at the home of a family from Pakistan where I listened to and learned songs from their homeland. I then taught my students to sing and play these songs as part of a unit on Indian and Pakistani music, based on the piece “Song of Krishna,” by Robert Washburn. A word of caution – be careful not to single students out because of their cultural backgrounds. Some may not welcome such inquiries.

Teaching Approaches

Our first concern in teaching culturally diverse music must be musical. Beyond that, a director’s approach depends on his or her teaching and rehearsal style, the time available for planning and rehearsing and the goals for the ensemble. Obviously the approach of a director who sees his or her ensembles daily will differ from that of a director who sees students only once a week.

Five approaches to teaching and rehearsing culturally diverse music are described below. These approaches are not meant to be exclusive – they are merely offered for the sake of clarity. Each subsequent level requires a greater commitment on the part of the director; however, the levels also provide students with greater access to the musical practices of the represented culture. To illustrate the levels of participation, we will use the arrangement “African Sketches” by James Curnow. (Volk places this piece in her authenticity category III.) A similar approach can be used with other examples of culturally diverse ensemble music.

Traditional Approach

The first approach is the Traditional Approach. The director who is new to culturally diverse music or who has little planning and rehearsal time might begin here. With this approach, the director chooses ensemble music that represents a specific culture. Students learn to play their own part while hearing and experiencing the culture’s music as represented in the ensemble music. For directors whose ensembles don’t meet regularly, this is an easy way to increase their students’ exposure to culturally diverse music.

Modified Traditional Approach

The second approach is the Modified Traditional Approach. This approach requires little extra work for the director. In addition to choosing the piece, the director pulls out the tune(s) in the piece that are characteristic of the culture and teaches the students to sing and play them. Some arrangements, such as “African Sketches,” include this information in the students’ parts; otherwise, the teacher can create a handout with the tune transposed for the instruments in the group. All students learn the music from the culture in addition to learning their own part. If the additional tunes are included in the warm-up, this approach does not take extra rehearsal time.

Beginning Multicultural Approach

With the Beginning Multicultural Approach, the director teaches the students to sing and play additional tune(s) and/or rhythm(s) from the culture. Since this approach provides more than one example of music from the culture, students gain a larger vocabulary of songs from the culture. The emphasis here is not on authenticity, but on familiarity with music representing the culture being studied. This approach demands a bit more time on the part of the director. Related tunes may be found on the Internet, in source books related to music from the culture, or even in multicultural choral arrangements.

The composer of “African Sketches” tells us that this arrangement contains the following tunes: “Oteng’ teng” (a dance from Kenya), “Mwana Wange” (a Bugandan lullaby from Uganda) and “Zira! Zira!” (an Ethiopian war song). Knowing this, we can search the Internet for further resources.

If the tunes are transposed for instruments and included as part of the warm-up and rehearsal, this approach takes a little extra rehearsal time. In addition, students are likely to perform the piece with greater understanding.

Comprehensive Musicianship Approach

Providing authentic aural, visual and/or practical examples of music from the culture, in addition to teaching tunes from the culture, is the Comprehensive Musicianship Approach. This approach can take many forms, depending on the director’s time and the availability of resources. The purpose of this approach is to give students a clear idea of how the music is “done” in its native setting. When possible, authentic transmission (singing/playing by ear) is used to teach the music. Directors may use recordings, videos or visits from community members of the particular culture (“culture bearers”) to make the experience as musically authentic as possible. With this approach, students begin to establish an authentic vocabulary of music from the culture in addition to learning to play their part in the ensemble.

In the case of “African Sketches,” we know the origin of the tunes in the arrangement. An Internet search for “Mwana Wange” yields plenty of information about music in Uganda: The wooden xylophone used across central Africa is found in Uganda. Known as the Amadinda, it is one of the largest and is played by three men at the same time. “Mwana Wange” is traditionally played on the Amadinda.

Another piece of information retrieved on the Internet is that the music of this culture is full of complex rhythms known as “poly-rhythms.” This information can be included in a lesson about rhythm. The chart above is a simplified version of charts used to teach African rhythms when they are not transmitted aurally. This chart provides a poly-rhythmic accompaniment to the song “Mwana Wange.” One group of students reads the top line, while a second group reads the bottom line. After practicing independently, they put the two rhythms together to create poly-rhythm. The chart illustrates how the rhythms fit with the words to the song.

Interdisciplinary Approach

Standard Nine suggests that making connections with other academic disciplines is important for music education. With the Interdisciplinary Approach, the director collaborates with teachers from other disciplines to create a unit of study about the culture represented in the ensemble music. This approach provides students with an interdisciplinary vocabulary in the culture, one that combines musical understanding with other disciplines. Students may learn how the people in the culture live, where the culture exists, and more. Ideally, such a unit culminates in a multi-disciplinary celebration of the culture.

Using “African Sketches” as a starting point, such a unit might include information about art and literature from Africa. It could also include information about life in the three countries represented in the arrangement. Here are some resources for creating such a unit.

Finding Resources On The Internet

The Internet has a wealth of musical information for those willing to look for it, and much of it is free. If you are new to Web-surfing, don’t let the thought of technology intimidate you – begin with a simple search. The easiest way is to enter the name of a song (i.e., “Mwana Wange”) into the search engine. If there is specific information about that tune or the culture it comes from, it should come up in such a search. You can also enter the name of the culture or country into the search engine (i.e., “Ugandan music” or “African music”). Below is a list of Web sites that I have found helpful in researching the diverse music I use with mid-level bands.

  • www.cnmat.berkeley.edu/%7Eladzekpo/Foundation.aspx. This site provides background information on the dance/drumming practices of Ghana.
  • www.ancientfuture.com. This site gives examples of different types of African poly-rhythms and how to teach and learn them.
  • www.amadinda.fsnet.co.uk. This site contains teaching resources for Ugandan music, especially log xylophones. It features lessons related to poly-rhythms in “Mwana Wange.”
  • www.nyssma.org/committees.cfm? subsubpage=70&subpage=68. This is the URL for Terese Volk’s article about choosing culturally diverse ensemble music.

    Other Resources

  • “Making Connections: Multicultural Music and the National Standards,” edited by William M. Anderson and Marvelene Moore, from MENC publications.
  • “Multicultural Perspectives in Music Education, Second Edition,” edited by William M. Anderson and Patricia Shehan Campbell, from MENC publications.
  • “Instructional Designs for Middle/Junior High School Band, by Robert Garofalo, published by Meredith Music Publications. Both teacher’s manual and student books are available. Also available for high school band.
  • “World Music Drumming: A Cross-Cultural Curriculum,” by Will Schmid, published by Hal Leonard Publications. Includes a teacher’s edition, instructional video and student books.

    Carol Frierson-Campbell is assistant professor of music education in the department of music at William Paterson University, Wayne, N.J. Her article originally appeared in the May 2002 issue of Tempo, the New Jersey Music Educators Association journal.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!