Ten Things You Can Do to Diversify Your Studio
Foreword by Artina McCain
I am honored to be the editor for a column that will highlight voices of change in our musical community. If you are looking to be a part of the solution and an ally for diversity in piano education, we strive to help you achieve that goal.
In the midst of racial turmoil in America, many piano teachers are wondering what impact they can make in their own studios and communities to help create resolutions. Although there is not one single answer that will resolve the racial injustices we continue to see, we can start with making small, yet significant, changes in our part of the world—the world of piano pedagogy. Below is a comprehensive list of action steps that all piano teachers can take right now to create a studio that incorporates greater representation and diversity.
One of the greatest ways to begin diversifying a piano studio is by incorporating more diversity in the teaching repertoire. When pedagogues continue to only teach music by dead white males, we only continue to exacerbate the lie that classical music is reserved for and created by an elitist demographic. Please consider adding the following anthologies to your studio:
• Black Women Composers: A Century of Piano Music edited by Helen Walker-Hill (Hildegard Publishing)
• Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora compiled by William Chapman Nyaho (Oxford University Press)
When listening to music or discussing a topic like phrase structure, mood, character, dynamics etc., consider sharing a piano piece performed by a person of color. This simple gesture helps to normalize that classical music can be performed by artists of color on the concert stage. A few suggested YouTube channels: Leon Bates, Awadagin Pratt, Mohamed Shams, Samantha Ege, Leonard Hayes, Artina McCain, Desireé González-Miller, and Leah Claiborne.
Consider making deliberate efforts to reach out to neighborhoods with higher populations of Black and Brown people for recruitment. A great place to recruit would be local churches, schools, and community after-school programs within Black, Brown, or other minority communities near you.
Be open to students and parents about why it is important to incorporate more representation in classical music within your studio. Use piano literature as a means to experience the great dimensions of culture, history, and traditions from many different voices in the world.
5. START EARLY:
The earlier your young students see how diverse classical music is, the wider their lens will be for appreciating what classical music can look and sound like. This also means that in later stages of their development, we as pedagogues are not backtracking to "un-teach" the stereotypes of classical music.
6. PROVIDE SCHOLARSHIPS:
Piano teaching is a business. It must also be a business of compassion for talented students in need.
7. CALL OUT RACISM:
Do not be afraid to address the politically incorrect materials in your method books. After seeing the insensitive Native American caricatures displayed in a method book, I had a student bring in his Tabla drum to demonstrate his own "Indian Drum." He then decided to put a picture of his family on the page to cover and give dignity to the image.
8. STUDENT ENSEMBLES:
Encourage students from different cultures to do ensemble work together as a great stepping stone to intimately understand and embrace cultural diversity.
9. EXPANDING NETWORKS:
Make deliberate efforts to expand your own teaching network by bringing in diverse artists outside of music for workshops. Don't be afraid to think outside of the box here! Invite a dance instructor to comment on a recital of music inspired by dance, or invite a spoken word poet to enhance programmatic repertoire. These are creative ways to expose your studio to other art forms to enhance their creativity.
10. DON'T STOP:
Constantly be thinking of ways to open doors for more voices to be represented in classical music. When the media coverage of social unrest is gone, what will you choose to continue to do in your part of the world to make a change?