What do you do when your school adminstration wants you to address MultiCulturalism?

Most teachers are well aware that multiculturalism is a requirement of many curriculum documents around the world today. Music, because of its very nature is asked to cover this by curriculum writers, because we’re one of the subjects that CAN do this – I mean you can’t exactly address multiculturalism in Math or Science, can you?

That is the starting point for today’s Q and A question, which comes from Denae in Minnesota, USA:

β€œMy admin wants me to address Multi-cultural music every day in the music classroom. How do I address two different cultural elements of music in each lesson?”

Now this is not an uncommon question, and not just from the USA, as I’m aware that this is a big issue in my own country of Australia right now.

So, here are my thoughts on video, and we would love your input on this topic, just by filling in the comments box below.

Resources and Links Mentioned in Video

Articles and Tools for downloading YouTube Videos:

Templates for Listening

Agencies who provide visiting musicians for schools:

  • Musica Viva in Schools Fantastic agency in Australia who provide visiting performers for schools
  • Please let us know via the comments box below if you know of others who provide these services


  • By Dr. Joe Peters Reply

    Dear Janice, Multiculturalism in the classroom curricula needs re-laying and urgent reform. I have said this at ISME for a number of decades and nothing moves. Ir is because we have got into a grove where teachers take material randomly and show them to the class without any real input from experts. I did think about this quite a bit and began pursuing something know as timeline music annotation where instruction about any piece of music can be done directly at the timeline of the actually sound. And children can then add or do their own projects. Could you take a look at the blog site were I presented this not as classroom teaching and learning, but as ethnomusicology research and documentation. I have set up servers to work on my material and will soon open these to some professionals. UTube is fine but there must be a way for professionals to earn from their work. You have suggested even downloading and copying material from UTube. There should be another way without doing this. Bye for now. Joe Peters

  • By Maryanne Reply

    Some ideas for multiculturalism
    1. Sing Folk songs from different countries
    2. Teach students dances from different countries
    3. Find out the cultural backgrounds of students in the class and have them bring a song or dance from home if their family know any.
    4.Invite parents/grandparents from the school community to come into the classroom and teach/perform a song/dance.
    5.Substitute words from other languages into songs the children know.eg hello/greeting songs: sing “hello” in another language. eg counting songs: sing the numbers in another language
    6.Invest in some instruments from other cultures. There are many percussion instruments which aren’t too expensive.
    7.Encourage children that travel overseas on holidays to bring in any souvenirs. They often buy musical instruments that are decorated with traditional paintings/colours/scenes.

  • By Sheri Harrington Reply

    I teach instrumental music from grades four to eight, and the music books we use contain musical selections from many different countries. The students also learn where the country is located on the map.

  • By Diane Lichtenberger Reply

    Hello, Have most enjoyed receiving your messages! On a daily basis I have used all seven of Maryanne’s suggestions. My answer to Multiculturalism in the classroom was to create lessons about holidays from major cultures to be used between the American Thanksgiving and Christmas as a way to also teach tolerance. Even created worksheets for each holiday as a way to also help classroom teachers prepare students for upcoming tests. These were not celebrations of the holidays, just study of their culture. Very interesting to note the similarities: family, music, food, and often candles or lights. The cultures studied are Hindu (Diwali), Islam (Ramadan), Judaism (Chanukah), Buddhism (Lunar New Year), African American (Kwanzaa), Christian (Christmas). I created a picture book of the origins for each holiday, read this book to each class, we played and sang songs from each, and if we had time, we completed a worksheet or journal page for each. Would announce this unit to all, including parents, and if there were any who did not wish to participate, they were given activities at the computer in the music room. There were very few who could not or wished not to participate. They were never treated with anything but care and support.

  • By Cheri Reply

    I have designed a short curriculum for my 6th grade music classes that correlate with their Social Studies curriculum. When the students are studying Asia, I teach music/instruments of China and India. When the students study Africa, I then do the same. I find that “Music From Around the World,” by Brad Shank, is a great resource. I also supplement with lots of examples from YouTube. I am discovering that my students are becoming better critical music listeners through this unit. Purchasing instruments from the countries allows the students to experiment with sounds and rhythms and gets them involved in making music!

  • By David Mills Reply

    Music fundamentals are universal. It is acutally quite easy to find songs that have global stories to tell. Examples: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was written by Solomon Linda, a South African Zulu, in 1920 when Nelson Mandella was 2-years-old living in a “peaceful village.” Solomon Linda’s a cappella men’s group established the style for others, such as, Lady Smith Black Mambazo. “The Sloop John B” was written circa 1900 and was put into a book of folk songs by Carl Sandburg, the great American poet. When one of the Beach Boys brought it into a recording session, other members of the group questioned performing a folk song, but once they started singing it, the magic came out, and they finished their biggest hit in that one session. ..and so on. One of the most interesting songs I work with is “Vande Mataram” from India — it has a complicated story you can read on DavidMillsMusic.com With a modicum of research we can find an interesting story behind each and every popular song from all around the world.

  • By Susan Hamilton Reply

    I rely a lot on Music Express by John Jacobson. In the bi-monthly magazine, a particular country is featured with a song and movement to go with it. My students love it. I think this is a very inexpensive way to bring multiculturalism into the class.

    • By Janice Reply

      Love it Susan! Great resource tip and love the affordability factor – thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  • By Darrin Patterson Reply

    I like all the ideas which have been offered so far and I can foresee myself using some of them when I have the budget to make minor investments in musical instruments, as well as published sheet music, etc … This is my first year teaching MS chorus at my school. We are a public charter school in Rock Hill SC in the US and multi-culturalism is big in the states and sometimes takes priority In previous years I have taught Theater (3rd year this year), Careers, Computer Ed., and Personal Skills. Now that I teaching what I am certified for I am finding that I am calling on the practices from many years ago when I taught elementary music at a K-5 Catholic school and led a church choir of upper elementary and MS level children. For our Christmas concert we are singing some traditional songs in different languages. For the next semester, my idea is to continue this and beyond that I am not sure so I will gage it based on how well we do with this concert as well as the group of students I have later this year.

    • By Janice Reply

      Sounds wonderful Darrin. So glad your now teaching what you’re certified for and please keep in contact with your progress with your MS chorus- sounds like it’s all coming together quickly for you πŸ™‚

  • By Susie Reply

    A simple yet effective strategy is to plan to teach either a song or to present a listening activity from each of the 6 continents. (I’m not aware of music indigenous to Antarctica, but I could be wrong.) By placing a sticky note on your classroom map identifying the music by location, children can visually track not only what they have studied, but what other grade levels have also studied. Use a different color for each grade level. Your children will be curious and motivated to hear what other grade levels have studied. This activity will also stretch you as a teacher . . . and you will enjoy the results!

    • By Janice Reply

      Love it Susie! A musical trip around the world. Beautiful visual idea- thanks so much for sharing it with us πŸ™‚

  • By Madelaine Morris Reply

    Every year in mid October, we have our annual Social Studies night. We open the evening with a musical presentation, and it usually is themed around our American history. This year, we are doing the history of American music. We love sharing our American heritage with our friends from other countries. Our student body of 300 has students from 44 different countries! It’s interesting how much of our American music has been influenced by the music of Africa, the native Americans, and Europe. Our promenade is “God Bless America,” and the oldest students will be holding the flags from the 44 countries represented at our school. We printed the flags off the computer, laminated, and got paint sticks donated from Wallmart for flag “poles.”
    This year, in our closing song, we address our school’s multiculturalism. We are singing “Love in Any Language” by Sandi Patti, but we are only singing the chorus. Instead of singing the verses, our upper elementary students who speak an additional language at home (and some are fluent in 3 languages), say the words “I love you” in their family’s language. We have mics, and all is timed with the music. We just rehearsed it, and it is really lovely. In addition to singing the chorus, I’ve added sign language to accompany the singing. The kids LOVE this! At the very end, I count to 3, and the entire elementary shouts “I love you” in English. A grand finale for sure.

    • By Janice Reply

      Just beautiful Madelaine! Amazing you’ve implemented the topic into a full production and celebration of multiculturism and the influences on your school students. Couldn’t get more relevant than that – thanks so much for sharing it with us all πŸ™‚

  • By Michelle Reply

    Like the previous responses. I look at the calender to see what event take place when that deal with my country and countries/cultures from around the world. Then I go through the various textbooks that I have along with Music Express Mag. and try to find something relevant and obtainable for my students. Next I use You Tube! (We’ve been given the OK!) I have found a lot so far this year to go along with Hispanic Heritage Month! A short 3-5 min. blip into the music & sounds of various Hispanic countries has been an eye opener to my students.
    If there are books or videos in our Media Center I also bring in these resources as well. Now, not every grade level I teach sees the same thing or gets the same thing it has to be on “their level”. My little ones are loving singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” in Spanish and in English. They even get to make their own spider.
    In the Spring we have a huge Multi-Cultural event in which students will see & hear this year Scottish Bagpipes, Japanese Drummers, various dancers, & songs from other countries.
    I also invite students that are fluent in other languages to teach me and the class various words.
    We sing songs in both English and in their original languages.

    • By Janice Reply

      You are well and tuly onto it Michelle! You’ve got some great ideas there and thanks so much for sharing them with us all. You make it look so easy and well prepared in looking ahead like that to make it all time relevant too πŸ™‚

  • By Joyce Eggerth Reply

    I do believe it is hard to do in every single music class! I have a curriculum map that I follow and multiculturalism is a section of my teaching, but not an every day event!

    In Phoenix, there is the Musical Instrument Museum, (mim.org). Instruments from all over the globe have been collected. There are educator resources available on their website, if you are unable to take a school trip there!

    I do some of the same things Maryanne does. We have students with relatives in other countries. I have had students bring in a cd with the music they listen to. I have also had students, and/or parents bring in instruments specific to their countries and they have played them in class. We’ve had Irish music, and Middle Eastern music, and African music. The parents, students and myself have such a great time in those classes!

    If that is not possible, certainly YouTube would be a great resource for videos to show.

    • By Janice Reply

      Two fantastic ideas there Joyce.I’m so glad that we all share a main consensus that incorporating multiculturalism in every single music class is too much. Your ideas are great ways to incorporate the curricula requirements. Thanks so much for sharing they are great fun πŸ™‚

  • By James Thomson Reply

    My emphasis in elementary school music class is singing and learning to look at and read music. Doing this on a once a week basis is a tall order but I try to keep a very skills oriented and singing skills oriented and applied music theory track that builds upon itself from week to week. Naturally, there is multiculturalism creeping in all the time with the occurrence of music from different languages and lands but I don’t feel there is time to emphasize a necessarily multicultural curriculum. Even my listening and video exposures are heavily based on formal classicism whether it is Renaissance to 20th Century and beyond modern. I prefer to pick a quarter grading period and focus on popular music around then world in a short and intentional period in one elementary grade level, though it’s a rather low priority for me still in the complicated building of skills-based hands-on singers curriculum so I haven’t yet fully developed this ……. I love checking out the weekly offerings from Janice Tuck and Fun Music Company.

    • By Janice Reply

      Aww- thanks for being so lovely James. I’m so glad you are enjoying our offerings every week. Thanks for your absolute honesty with the time factor. I feel the same- with a strong emphasis on the foundations that are needed at elementary level, multiculuralism definately happens through the music naturally.There are so many pressures on teachers to have to continually incorporate more πŸ™‚

  • By Sylvia Martin Reply

    After reading the previous responses, I use many of the techniques others have shared.

    To force”multi-cultural” education trivializes the concept. It would be like an auto-shop class having a multicultural focus if they work on Toyotas.

    Respect for all people, for their cultural traditions, and ethnic diversity is the true base for educating children who are citizens of a common planet.

    • By Janice Reply

      Very true Sylvia- living as a respectful, understanding person who listens is certianly a big step towards “educating children on our common planet” – Love your quote! Thanks so much for adding to this discussion πŸ™‚

  • By Elaine Reply

    Is this for real? 2 multicultural links in every lesson? Get a grip. Do they want you to teach music or multiculturalism? Where it fits in, great but not for its own sake.

    • By Janice Reply

      I know Elaine- our newest local curriculum is asking a lot more when it comes to multiculturalism in the music class and I know other curricula do as well. I do agree on foundations first too- so much pressure on teachers to incorporate all this! Thanks for being real and having the reaction many of us feel πŸ™‚

  • By Linda Reply

    First of all, I would like to note that differences in culture is not an issue in my small country. However as an educator, I think that it is important for students to know and appreciate the differences in types and styles of music that exist whether or not it is a part of their culture. So in a general classroom atmosphere they can discuss different genres etc.

    I would not however do the same for religion even as a part of our culture. A person’s religious beliefs must be respected, and so I would divide the classes into religious groupings and teach material that does not go against the grain of their religious beliefs but instead use examples that are in sync with what they are taught to believe. Different groups would have their own specific class time. (I see religion as a part of one’s culture)

    • By Janice Reply

      So true Linda- it really creates more understanding when we can look at differences in types and styles of music around the world. I’m definately with you when you talk about respect for religion. Thanks for your thoughtful input on this πŸ™‚

  • By Bob Ventura Reply

    Hello – I teach General Music K-8 at an Indian Reservation, so I have used various materials to do with the Native American Indians, and their music as well.

    UTube is an excellent source which I have also used, but since the school will not upgrade to a higher broad band system it is I believe called, so that when one accesses it, the video usually has an error, and cannot be viewed in full.

    As someone said before, it is not an everyday event, but I believe it can be used effectively at various times during the year.

    • By Janice Reply

      Hi Bob- Have you tried the links below the video yet? I used them for an ensemble I was working with recently where there was no internet connection whatsoever and it worked really well. I did all the background work at home and then I could just access the video I wanted off my iPad when I wanted it for my ensemble. I was so surprised that it worked so well πŸ™‚

  • By Lyndsey Reply

    In my 8th grade Strum and Drum class I teach the following drumming ensembles: African (from World Music Drumming book by Schmid), Japanese, Native American, Caribbean, and Latin American. Along with learning the musical/drumming styles of these countries I have mini presentations on facts of the countries (geo, population, etc.).

    In choir, I try to ensure that EACH choir receives at least ONE multicultural piece to learn at each concert. Whether it is a foreign language or not we discuss the history of the country, song, etc. My students are very open to learning new langauges and are very proud of their accomplishments when we perform them for an audience!

    • By Janice Reply

      Fantastic way of making multiculturism come to life in practical playing. Thanks so much for sharing your resource and vast experiences in this area Lyndsey πŸ™‚

  • By Linda Reply

    Our Kindergarten class just finished a their Who We Are Unit and their central idea was Who We Are determine what we celebrate, so in my music class we looked at the different celebrations around the world and the elements of celebration, and we chose the music and singing element of celebrations.

    We learned and sang songs from different parts of the world. our school is an American school based in Ghana so we sang loads of Ghanaian celebration songs

    I noticed twelve different nationalities were represented in the KG class and everyone of them celebrates birthdays, so we learned how to sing the birthday song in twelve different languages.

    • By Janice Reply

      Using celebrations which different cultures of the world- I love it!! You have certianly achieved a huge amount in muticulturalism when you can sing Happy Birthday in 12 languages. Thanks for sharing Linda πŸ™‚

  • By Jacinta Reply

    I use instruments from all over the world and when necessary I dress up in the garments so the children have a visual of the country—ie, Spain I wear the head comb and lace cover and skirt and jewelry, I introduce the castanets –one is a boy called Macho and the other is a girl called Hembre. They talk to each other and sometimes are emotional—I display this in the castanets playing to each other. We go to Africa/Austrailia/Portugal/Ireland etc….

    • By Janice Reply

      What a fun teacher you are Jacinta with immersion of the culture being the key. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and how you do it πŸ™‚

  • By Maria Reply

    Throughout the 1990’s as I was teaching in local preschools and daycares, I became increasingly interested in the music of other countries. Along with the magnificent compositions and divergent styles of the music of these countries, I found that children who were given the opportunity to experience cultural diversity at an early age did not build up the mental barriers against other languages and customs which is seen all too often in later years. They just accepted the song or dance and enjoyed it for what it was, an opportunity to play a new game or dance a new dance. I saw a world where our future generations showed total respect for all ethnicity, seeing the peoples of the planet as pieces of a puzzle with themselves as part of the whole. There would ensue an absence of fear, the fear of colour, race or creed which is largely responsible for the conflict and hostility throughout the globe. In this type of environment it would be almost impossible for wars to develop or any planetary strife to fester due to this absence of fear.

    With that in mind, I contacted the Multi-cultural Association of Nova Scotia to find people who spoke the language I was interested in at the time. I would then get in touch with that person, explaining who I was, what I did and ask if they would be interested in helping me find a children’s song or musical game from their native country. I would then meet with them, record the song, spoken words and music, and proceed to learn it.

    If anyone is interested in learning more about this work, they can contact me via http://www.doremeandmaria.com

    • By Janice Reply

      Beautiful insight into your journey with setting up your website and with teaching multiculturalism in class Maria. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

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