diversity statement-
inclusive excellence

The Challenge of Music Programs in Academia

Over the past twenty years, I have worked as a private lesson instructor, assistant band director, applied professor, and clinician with students from over one hundred different schools located all over the country. Through these experiences, I have been privileged to work with a diverse group of students. Racial, gender, emotional, cognitive, economic, and cultural diversity can be found in even a small, localized group, and it is paramount that educators recognize and embrace the nuanced differences that each student possesses as they transition to the university classroom. Treating these differences as if they exist in a vacuum is insufficient, however, especially when dealing with diverse learners in the academic discipline of music. Arts (music in particular) carries with it a unique set of challenges. For music faculty to foster inclusive excellence, first they need to understand how the inherent challenges directly affect students.


Music does not easily fit into the same framework as other degree programs, and the rigorous nature of the curriculum will push students to their limits (sometimes beyond). Most undergraduate degree programs are roughly 120 credits and comprised of mostly three-credit courses. In contrast, music students often take well above the 120 required credits (some as many as 150-160 credits), and many of the courses within the degree program count for only one or two credits. Additionally, music students must practice on top of traditional academic homework, which adds to the daily workload. Furthermore, performances (which function in a similar manner to exams or tests) occur at times outside of class meetings, which adds to the total time obligations that music students should expect. These factors create a vastly different balance between classroom obligations, homework/practice, and ‘free’ time from what traditional university students experience.

Music as a field of study also presents significant socio-economic challenges. Higher quality equipment such as instruments and recording equipment, private instruction, and increased access to enrichment programs all contribute to a level of inequality that is built into the framework of the industry itself. Students playing high quality instruments, attending music festivals over the summer, and taking lessons as early as middle school have a significant advantage over their economically less fortunate counterparts. These disparities are not limited only to factors of financial stability. From a social perspective, some families prioritize enrichment opportunities to give their children every possible advantage, while other families adopt a scarcity mindset of survival. Some kids need to work, which means less time for extracurricular activities. I would also hypothesize that communities with higher median income are correlated with beginning band programs that are more robust (meet five days a week, private instructors for lessons, ability level classes at younger ages, etc.) which could serve as a more nuanced advantage of socioeconomic privilege. Students from less abundant situations might be managing economic stress in a more subtle way as they struggle through their college program.

If a college student is faced with economic hardship, food insecurity, or the burden of having to work while attending school, the time available to them for homework and practice can become extremely difficult to find. This can add tremendous stress and if the student is already at risk for anxiety or depression, the likelihood of this stress becoming a stifling challenge for their academic success is significantly increased. There is further evidence that suggests people of lower socioeconomic status that are suffering from depression and anxiety are less likely to be accurately diagnosed. The logic being the stress associated with scarcity is congruent with feelings of hopelessness and resignation compared to the incongruence of feeling such despair when there is no overt reason that can be attributed to socioeconomic environment. In other words, if a student is coming from a life of significant economic hardship, they might attribute their depression or anxiety to a ‘normal’ result of their circumstance and see no need to seek treatment. The added academic and financial challenge brought on by a university music degree program will only intensify this challenge.

For further reading about food insecurity, click on the following links:

                      Sept 2020 Article from NPR.                      Food Insecurity Searchable maps.                      Sept 2022 Info on USDA Website

 

Neurological Considerations-

The Diversity of Biology through Scarcity and Motivation

Mental health is a complex, multi-faceted, and multi-generational challenge that lives within our environments, our pedagogy, and even our own DNA. Every aspect of being a successful music student, especially many of the aspects currently examined through the lens of diversity and inclusive excellence, has deep roots that often extend beyond the scope of where we look to improve equity and inclusion. When evaluating student achievement, it is important to consider both the level of achievement as well as the trajectory of growth that a student exhibits. Too often students are evaluated only by level of achievement, and this level is usually viewed as static and out of context. If we are going to balance the field of opportunity, we must first examine factors that cause such a wide disparity of achievement. One helpful way to examine this context is through physical/neurological development and the potential factors that create inequality from a biological perspective.

It is well-documented that malnutrition and stress during pregnancy can adversely affect fetal development. The “Dutch Hunger Winter” studies carefully examined elderly subjects who were unborn fetuses (or infants) during WWII. There was a window of roughly five years where most of the population in Holland were exposed to starvation due to limited food availability. Several studies have examined subjects who were infants or in utero during this period and compared their health with subjects who were born five years before/after (with normal food distribution and relative prosperity). Even though subjects were in their 50’s and 60’s when examined, significant differences in cognitive function and cardiovascular health were still evident in the subjects who endured WWII as a malnourished infant or fetus. Other studies have shown significant differences across populations of wealthy nations in cardiovascular health. Subjects who economically fare the worst within a prosperous nation carry a disproportionate amount of the cardiovascular issues within that population. This paradox is significant enough to skew results such that prosperous nations on the whole have been shown to possess greater rates of cardiovascular issues- a systemic problem with the majority of the burden carried by the poor within a nation.

Critical periods of development have been examined through several streams of research (cortical, metabolic, behavioral, etc.) and the evidence suggests that development can be hindered or enhanced disproportionately during this period of time. Though multiple critical periods may exist for different aspects of our development, the evidence suggests a strong association between scarcity and less optimal development in a multitude of ways for humans and animals. Since many institutions largely serve their local communities, institutions situated in more food insecure locations are more likely to have food-insecure students. In some cases, this insecurity has been multi-generational. One’s ability to develop motor skills, learn information, or manage stress in general may have epigenetic factors that were in place before these students were born, and these factors will contribute to their struggle with the rigor of a university music program, particularly one as labor-intensive as music.

For more information on the Dutch Hunger Winter, as well as nutritional effects on pre-natal development, please click on the following links:

 

 

 

 

 

Systemic Racism and the Scars of Slavery

Recent research contributions by Dr. Joy DeGruy have examined the systemic and multi-generational effects of slavery, particularly as it relates to adaptive survival behaviors learned across hundreds of years of systemic slavery and racism among the African American community. The data are presented in a theory of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and suggest significant differences in how African Americans who come from families brought up in slavery in the United States behave. The most notable differences include self-efficacy, lack of primary esteem from parents and close relatives, feelings of hopelessness, lack of trust for others, and destructive behaviors. Dr. DeGruy uses as an example a slave mother avoiding opportunities to praise her children in the fields for fear that her child will be transferred to other work assignments or sold. As a means of protecting the child, the mother downplays the strength and skill of her child in an effort to convince a slave owner that the child is not as valuable as perceived. Those children then grow up socially trained to downplay their children’s achievements, which in turn diminishes a child’s self-efficacy toward learning and skill acquisition. With this social entrainment being reinforced over several generations, Dr. DeGruy’s research suggests that survivalist behaviors by slaves have been passed down through generations and can still be found empirically across large populations today. We must acknowledge that these factors may be contributing to the challenges of our under-served student population, particularly within our African-American community.  

For further reading on Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome-related research, please click on the following icons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who is Responsible Moving Forward?

Many musicians are incredibly specialized within their respective domain, and this specialization takes a lifetime of focus which has left little room for broadening beyond the scope of their professional areas. With the exception of some general education requirements in undergraduate study or anecdotal experience gained through students and colleagues, many musicians simply do not have the time to dive into extensive study of subjects like neuroscience, biology, or social psychology. Connections between these disciplines and music have yet to matriculate fully into mainstream pedagogy. Instead, the onus is placed upon the individual to find ways to ‘rise above’ rather than a more comprehensive approach that includes understanding the development of the systems and their environments as an impetus for change. If we can help to create more awareness with this perspective, we have a chance at making a real difference in our diversity and inclusion. Systemic awareness of the broad and nuanced factors that may be contributing to inequality is a crucial first step forward.

Arts as a Driver of IE- Beyond Lip Service

Many college campuses turn to their arts programs to illustrate participation from mixed races, gender equality, and a safe space for LGBTQA students to have a voice of expression, however, the industry of academic music is engrained with a canon of repertoire and pedagogy that promotes predominantly white European male traditions. Many programs have only rebranded their efforts to include ‘21st-Century landscape’ buzz words while still holding on to an academic framework that supports a racist/sexist history. Even the traditional instrumentation of our ensembles (typically bands, orchestras, jazz bands, and choirs) and the heavy reliance on Western European theory and history reflects a narrow scope of music and still makes up a significant portion of curricula among accredited music programs in the United States, and yet we do not fully communicate the context for why this practice continues.

Inclusive excellence demands that we step back, look directly at these challenges, and ask difficult questions for the betterment of creating an environment that is both welcoming and challenging for our students. As an applied teacher, I have the privilege of working with students and embracing a more significant mentorship role in a one-on-one setting. I also have the opportunity to mentor through the studio as well as chamber music. Through a combination of these settings, the I have a unique opportunity to shape the culture of the studio and it is imperative that we applied faculty coordinate our efforts (at least broadly) with our administrations to evolve the culture of programs holistically. There are several ways in which I have personally worked toward creating a culture that supports IE within the studio itself.

Implementation

Anyone can play a musical instrument. Everyone is an artist. Therefore, everyone deserves a chance to invest time and energy to develop their skills. To allow bias to cloud one’s judgment of potential would rob not only an individual of potentially finding their voice as an artist, but would also potentially rob the world of their art. As an educator, I have worked in a wide range of environments- Title I schools, BOA grand national championship bands, rural community colleges, privileged upper class communities, conservatories, etc. I have seen great potential blossom in the most uncommon of places and I have seen students completely waste every advantage that was handed to them. I have learned that the two ingredients crucial to thrive as an artist are GRIT and CREATIVITY. One needs grit to handle the rigor of the busy unforgiving lifestyle, the daily practice, etc. One also needs creativity to adapt to the evolving landscape- whether it is a new challenge in the practice room or a job market that is constantly shifting. A teacher cannot (and will not) have all the answers to everything, and students need to develop creativity in order to continue to navigate challenges that are impossible to predict. This basic concept of dismissing the misconception of talent within our pedagogy and embracing the two pragmatic concepts of grit and creativity, both of which are highly trainable, is a great first step toward creating an environment where inclusive excellence can thrive.

 

Recruitment


As a studio teacher, I welcome the opportunity to develop a culture of excellence within the studio. For recruitment, I am less concerned with how a prospective student plays and more concerned with how they respond to finding out that we pride ourselves on excellence. “We work very smart. We work very hard. We take pride in being excellent”. This helps control for avoiding short-term gains (accomplished high school players with no drive) that may be more of a byproduct of diverse circumstances in students’ lives before college. Instead, long-term potential can be developed slowly over time and with great investment.

Applied Curriculum

Over the years I have found great benefit from offering both individual and group applied instruction. In my current institution, 30-minute lessons (a full load of 24 students) is the standard practice and poses several challenges pedagogically. I often work with students who have never taken private lessons and have a number of deficiencies that need to be addressed in order to develop a solid foundation of technique. Additionally these students need life coaching and guidance (many are first-generation college students who are learning effective study and practice habits) and 30 minutes is already challenging to address their additional needs. To help meet the needs of my students, I have restructured my teaching schedule to include 4 group lessons of 50 minutes (6 students in each group), which leaves me with 16 x 30-minute lessons per week. My non-major students are not required to take additional 30-minute private lessons, and my majors can benefit from both the hour-long group lessons (which focus on technique and chamber music) as well as the 30-minute individual lessons (which focus on individual advisement and repertoire coaching). Group lessons can be divided by level of technique, and as students level up, they can participate in the group that most accurately represents their technical abilities. This can work two-fold in that non-majors who play well and level up can gain the self efficacy to consider becoming a music major (offering opportunities to nurture students who initially showed technical deficiencies when arriving to the program) and majors who are not developing can gauge their progress by the technical development of others within the studio.

This model could be adapted to accommodate a larger number of applied students, which could give applied teachers the opportunity to take on students that may show deficiencies in their auditions. Using the typical structure of 18 applied students in a full-time teaching load (typical NASM applied teaching load), the following structures can be compared:

Typical Applied Structure

18 students, each receiving a 50-minute (hour) lesson- a total of 18 hours of teaching                             ​

Student #1-(First year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week                                                                  

Student #2-(First year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #3-(First year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #4-(First year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #5-(First year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #6-(2nd year-major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #7-(2nd year-major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #8-(2nd year-major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #9-(2nd year-major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #10-(3rd year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #11-(3rd year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #12-(3rd year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #13-(3rd year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #14-(4th year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #15-(4th year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #16-(4th year- major)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #17-(Graduate Student)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Student #18-(Graduate Student)- One 50-minute lesson per week

Hybrid private/Group lessons

Student #1-(undergrad- non-major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                                           

Student #2-(undergrad- non-major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                                            Student #3-(undergrad- non-major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                     

Student #4-(undergrad- non-major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                                           

Student #5-(undergrad- non-major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                                           

Student #6-(undergrad- non-major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique

Student #7-(1st year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                                                 

Student #8-(1st year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                                                 

Student #9-(1st year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                                                 

Student #10-(1st year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                                                 

Student #11-(1st year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                                                  

Student #12-(1st year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 1 Technique                                                                

Student #13-(1st year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 2 Technique                                                                  

Student #14-(1st year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 2 Technique 

Student #15-(1st year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 2 Technique 

Student #16-(undergrad- non- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 2 Technique 

Student #17-(undergrad- non- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 2 Technique

Student #18-(2nd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 2 Technique

Student #19-(2nd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 2 Technique

Student #20-(2nd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 2 Technique

Student #21-(2nd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 2 Technique

Student #22-(undergrad- non- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 3 Technique

Student #23-(1st year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 3 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #24-(2nd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 3 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #25-(2nd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 3 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #26-(3rd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 3 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #27-(4th year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 3 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #28-(2nd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 4 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #29-(2nd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 4 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #30-(3rd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 4 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #31-(3rd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 4 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #32-(3rd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 4 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #33-(4th year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 4 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #34-(3rd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 5 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #35-(3rd year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 5 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #36-(4th year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 5 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #37-(4th year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 5 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #38-(graduate student)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 5 Technique, one 50-minute private lesson per week

Student #39-(graduate student)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 5 Technique, one 50-minute private lesson per week

Student #40-(4th year- major)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 5 Technique, one 30-minute private lesson per week

Student #41-(graduate student)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 6 Technique, one 50-minute private lesson per week

Student #42-(graduate student)- one 50-minute group lesson per week- Level 6 Technique, one 50-minute private lesson per week

Applied teacher teaches 6 group lessons (Lvl 1, Lvl 2, Lvl 3, Lvl 4, Lvl 5, Lvl 6), 4 x 50-minute private lessons to 4 graduate students, 16-30-minute lessons to undergraduate music majors above level 2 technique for a total of 18 teaching hours (same as the above traditional structure).

All music majors at the level 3 technique or above receive both a 50-minute group lesson as well as a 30-minute private repertoire coaching session.

This collaborative structure gives students the opportunity to develop their technique and create a strong foundation of skills in a group setting and have a clear indication of where they are in their development relative to their peers. Additionally, it offers lots of opportunities for students to enter the program who may have circumstances that have contributed to less skill development at the pre-college level. Some non-majors may develop and eventually switch majors into the program, and majors who are not applying themselves adequately will quickly notice and self-select out before investing too far in a degree map that they are ill-suited for. There are also rich opportunities for graduate students to teach private lessons to non-majors, lower-division music majors, and group lessons (which will prepare their studio and trombone ensemble chops). Music Education students learning trombone can join the level 1 technique class and audit higher level group lessons. Advanced undergraduate students get the opportunity to collaborate from graduate students in higher-level technique group lessons. This model is capable to be expanded to accommodate more non-major and entry-level students thus giving more opportunity to students consistent with a policy of Inclusive Excellence.

Repertoire Selection

For repertoire selection, I believe that trombonists need to embrace a wide range of styles that covers modern, contemporary, electro-acoustic, and jazz in addition to the more traditional canon. Giving students a fair amount of autonomy in choosing solos and chamber music to perform can help foster diversity within the repertoire that the studio acclimates to as ‘normal’. Student recitals should include at least one piece that was completely investigated by the student and should be new to the studio. This gives students an opportunity to bring aspects of their culture and tastes into the fore in addition to giving the studio an opportunity to show value and respect for diversity through repertoire. To aid in exposing students to different repertoire, I give a solo recital every year and try to introduce a balance of familiar and novel repertoire to the audience. This past year I performed Minstrel Man by T.J. Anderson, which portrays the life of a minstrel performer. I created a 30-minute multi-media production that included interview clips with the composer, media examples of minstrelsy, and live performance. This piece was meant to bring awareness to the social issue of racial inequality in the industry of live music performance throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. Additionally, I have worked in collaboration with our university library and created a shared database of music requests for acquisition. It is common for our library to have unused funds each year that is allocated for faculty requests. I have cultivated a great working relationship with our library staff and provided them with purchase information for hundreds of solos, etude books, duet books, and chamber pieces. I have also worked with Diversify the Stand and created this list with a specific goal to balance our available repertoire with living composers of various genders and ethnicities. Through a collaboration with one of our service organizations, Tau Beta Sigma, we were able to propagate a fundraiser with several TBS chapters to fund Diversify The Stand's most recent book of trombone repertoire by under-represented composers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Support Services


In order to promote mentally healthy students within the studio and accommodate those with diverse emotional dispositions, I must be fully aware of all of the resources that are available to students so I may point them in the right direction when they need additional help. Counseling, academic advisement, study resources, and student life initiatives are examples of areas where I may serve as a first point of contact, and the more understanding I have of the infrastructure that exists at the university, the better equipped I will be to help shepherd my students through potentially stressful times within their journey. In the past I have shared meditation and relaxation techniques with students in an effort to help their playing through a more emotionally grounded state. Additionally I have started developing a relationship with the creators of the White Flag App in the hopes that our music program will forge a partnership, similar to the partnerships they have created with various sports teams at other institutions. It is my belief that performing arts programs can benefit from the community of peer-to-peer support that could exist with expanded participation across institutions.

 

White Flag App

 

 

Physical Wellness

One of the most common byproducts I have observed with students dealing with the challenges of diverse circumstances is the physical manifestation of stress. Poor posture leading to repetitive stress injuries or a lack of confidence leading to performance anxiety can cripple a student’s academic progress in similar ways. Over the past fifteen years I have broadened my own studies to include kinesiology, health/wellness, and injury prevention so I may be better equipped to detect potential issues with students and offer starting points of rehabilitation. It has changed my playing, my confidence, and my teaching for the better. I respect and embrace a holistic approach to educational philosophy and look forward to potentially contributing to this effort for the betterment of the school. I have worked with Gaelen McCormick at the Eastman School of Music as part of their "Live.Grow.Thrive" program at Eastman to offer off-instrument warm-up classes via zoom. Eastman is one of the front-runners in offering resources to promote health and wellness among their students, and other institutions can be well-served by studying their model of support. 

Live.Grow.Thrive at Eastman

Inclusive excellence is a complex issue that deals with many facets including race, gender, socioeconomic status, cognitive/emotional development, and cultural differences. We as a discipline should celebrate this diversity in our communities and keep working to create a more inclusive system that supports the development of all who wish to commit to the formal study of music.

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