This curriculum unit seeks to broaden the repertoire and pedagogical techniques utilized in directing middle school orchestra. It aims to do this by rethinking dominant pedagogical approaches, and reexamining which narratives are presented in the classroom and for what purpose. If the curriculum is successful, it will firstly help the teacher include counter-narratives in instruction in a seamless manner and provide a framework for restructuring instruction moving forward. In that way, this is not really a curricular unit as much as a way to rethink what, how and why we teach a performance class like orchestra. By introducing counter-narratives, the teacher reaches and motivates a more diverse student body and opens doors to dialog with students about history in a way that would not be possible without the inclusion of counter-narratives. This curriculum also encourages a different approach for teaching basics like rhythm decoding using the South Indian syllabic system called solkattu. When we present culturally diverse solutions to teaching the basics of music performance, we expand our students’ awareness of the world and offer them different ways of solving a problem. The curriculum also presents ways to structure orchestral rehearsals in a more collaborative way which not only encourages trust and teamwork between students, but also gives them agency over the final performance of the material. As a culmination of the curriculum, the final unit includes five original arrangements for the middle school orchestra, including a score with all parts and files related to each arrangement. The five pieces include two Civil Rights era anthems, a spiritual from the Bahamas, a South African Zulu folksong, and a popular song of community/fellowship. The teaching of all these pieces will ultimately help to present counter-narratives, open dialog, and develop trust and a sense of personal investment while broadening the repertoire of the orchestra.
Before coming to classroom teaching three years ago, I made my living for over 20 years as a professional double bassist and taught at the college-level. I hold a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies and a second Master’s degree in Music Education. It is this broad professional experience that has helped me to see the need for diversifying middle school orchestra curriculum with regards to concert preparation, repertoire and general pedagogy. Three years ago, I began teaching orchestra at an urban public middle school in New Haven, CT. Early on, it became apparent to me that I was reaching students much more efficiently by rethinking the program that I had inherited, which was parochial and exclusive with regards to repertoire and presentation of narratives. It is my belief that it is our responsibility as teachers to reflect the very diverse world that we and our students are living in, to make sure that our students are reflected in the curriculum that we are teaching. This curriculum unit is a timestamp of my journey towards fulfilling that belief.