In your studio
Prof. Steven Banks
Professor of Saxophone
“Keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront of your mind and consistently work to implement actionable ideas that will push the world of music education ever-closer to being equitable. ”
In a segment that addresses diversity and inclusion, I would like to begin by acknowledging that discussing these issues is never absolute. It is impossible for one person to represent or fully understand the perspective of an entire group of people. I also find it necessary to say that this segment is not trying to convince the reader that diversity and inclusion are important. Luckily, we are living in a time in which most people in the music education field are aware of the benefits of being inclusive. I am writing to the saxophone teacher that says “what can I actually do to help on a daily basis?” The thoughts that you will find below are offerings of ideas for you to consider or potentially implement as we all continue to strive to create a more welcoming and just environment for our students.
BE WILLING TO PUT IN EXTRA WORK TO FIND MUSIC FOR YOUR STUDENTS AND FOR YOUR OWN PROGRAMMING
Choosing repertoire is not, and should not, be easy. There is such a wide range of reasons that someone might program music for a concert or choose repertoire for a student to play.
Below, you will find just a few potential reasons for choosing repertoire. This short list does not in any way claim to be exhaustive. I only include it to begin opening your mind to the vast potential of selecting music purposefully.
● To work on a specific technique or approach to playing
● To celebrate someone’s life or memory
● To support a friend or colleague
● To challenge the performer in some way
● Simply because we like the music!
● To familiarize a student or audience with a specific composer
● To create a specific concert experience for the audience
● Limited rehearsal or practice time
● To fulfill requirements for a grant proposal or scholarship
● To celebrate or memorialize an event
Being inclusive of female and minority composers, performers, and audiences absolutely needs to be on this list for you and should be a major part of your decision-making process. It is crucial for so many reasons. However, as promised, I will skip trying to convince you that this is important and assume that you understand the socio-cultural benefits of diversity!
There are so many opinions out there about the best way to be inclusive in your programming. Rather than telling you what is right, I will just suggest two things for you to do regularly to make sure that you are being purposeful and value-based in choosing music. Trying to “fill time” or “check boxes” is the only true enemy of thoughtful programming.
1. Consistently search for and listen deeply to music by female composers and composers of color.
2. Consistently reevaluate your priorities and approach to choosing music for yourself and for your students. Ask yourself if these priorities reflect the best of your personal values.
ACKNOWLEDGE HOLIDAYS AND TRADITIONS THAT
ARE MEANINGFUL FOR YOUR STUDENTS
While it may seem small, being mindful and respectful of celebratory traditions and holidays that are important to your students is a small step that you can take toward creating an inclusive environment. Remember that people of backgrounds different from yours may truly have different customs than you do or just place more importance on another set of traditions. Some of these may even include things that you are totally unfamiliar with. There are many religious holidays, for example, that academic calendars do not actually account for. Be open to allowing students to stay true to their cultures and upbringings in your studio or class.
As their teacher, it’s important to remember that your students are going to feel pressured to say yes to any suggestions you make. So, when you schedule an extra coaching on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it is difficult for a student to speak up and say that they would really prefer to use the full day to honor his life with their family and friends. Students may feel this same pressure about other religious holidays or cultural celebrations.
Be proactive about this and ask students at the beginning of the year or semester if they know of special accommodations that they would like to request. This way, you can both plan accordingly, ensuring that all lessons are covered and that they do not get behind in any way. Some teachers may feel that this openness could be abused at times, but when thoughtful plans are made in advance, the chances of this are slim.
It can be really powerful to ensure that you are encouraging and supporting these students publicly when appropriate. For example, you want to be sure that your university celebrates black history month in some way. If it doesn’t, take the initiative to do something yourself or with a group of interested students. Something small is better than nothing at all. Learn from your students and be respectful and celebratory of their different ways of life.
SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE FEMALE COMPOSITION STUDENTS
AND STUDENT COMPOSERS OF COLOR
New music is at the heart of the concert saxophone community. We are constantly commissioning and premiering new works to bolster the repertoire of our relatively young instrument.
We know that the saxophone world needs more repertoire written by female composers and composers of color. There are great student composers from these communities in most of our music institutions today. Taking the time to identify and commission these students is valuable for everyone involved.
While professional performers are often looking to work with high-profile, experienced composers, it can be even more rewarding to have a collaborative commissioning experience with exceptional student composers that you genuinely believe in. As someone in a leadership role, you are showing that student that you find value in their music, giving them the opportunity to collaborate with and have their music played by a professional, and setting them on a path to continue writing for the saxophone in the future. As a performer, having this collaborative experience with a composer is always rewarding, and students can often have a sense of wonder and possibility that is both refreshing and invigorating.
Be thoughtful about how you approach this idea. No student wants to feel that they were chosen for an opportunity solely because of their race or gender. Go to new music concerts and composition recitals. Look for opportunities to experience the output of the composers at your institution. Speak with composition students when you see them in class or in the hallway. Learn their stories. You will naturally find student composers that you believe in. Putting in some extra time in these ways will make the entire experience more organic and thoughtful.
I hope that you have found something helpful or interesting that you can use in your own institution or studio. Regardless, I implore you to keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront of your mind and consistently work to implement actionable ideas that will push the world of music education ever-closer to being equitable. I will make my best effort to do the same.
- Steven Banks