+ We call for every student in every city in America to have access to a robust and active music life.

Every student in every school in America deserves opportunities to make and learn music. A student’s access to an active music life should not be dependent on zip code, socioeconomic status, racial or ethnic background, country of birth, or language spoken at home.

There are schools in which students do not have access to music-making opportunities. This is particularly pronounced in America’s cities. Systemic inequities deprive students of their social, cultural, and educational rights as human beings. City students deserve the right to the same music education and music-making that their suburban and more affluent counterparts enjoy. We call for every student in every city in America to have access to a robust and active music life.

An active music life means creating, performing, and responding to music in a variety of settings. It is characterized by:

  • Accessible, sequential, and robust music instruction in schools
  • Outside-of-school opportunities that provide services that schools do not provide
  • Informal music-making (at home, at places of worship, with family and friends, etc.)

An active music life requires all three contexts. Many students in city schools enjoy rich informal music lives but are not offered sequential music instruction in their schools or substantial out-of-school music opportunities. We aim to ensure that every student in America’s city schools has access to the full range of opportunities that comprise an active music life.

+ This call is animated by the values of dignity and inclusion.

We propose a humanitarian justification for music-making, one that is rooted in the inherent dignity of each and every person.

“[T]he inherent dignity... of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”¹

– Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

Dignity is the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.² It is grounded in the concepts of worth, respect, affirmation of value, and self-esteem, although its meaning extends to the very definition of the human being. All humans possess inherent dignity based solely on the fact that they are human beings.

To be a human being is not a status conferred upon me by anyone. Nor is this a status that I, nor anybody else, can confer upon others ... These are facts of recognition, of acknowledgment, constituting the very beings we are, and that we take for granted in what we do. We are not “instructed” in these truths, they become part of us in the process of being alive and aware as human beings. Let me acknowledge these facts as bedrock truth.³

– Teresa Iglesia, philosopher and ethicist

Innate human dignity implies innate human rights. The right to enjoy and participate in society and culture is a natural extension of this relationship.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • Article 22: Everyone, as a member of society ... is entitled to realization ... of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
  • Article 27: Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
  • Article 26: Everyone has the right to education. ... Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship....

Each person deserves opportunities to participate in social, cultural, and educational spaces and to develop as an individual. An active music life exists at the intersection of social, educational, and cultural rights, rooted in the inherent dignity of each person.

But when human dignity and its attending rights are disregarded or violated, communities and individuals experience exclusion.

In every country, certain groups … confront barriers that prevent them from fully participating in their nation’s political, economic, and social life.⁴

– World Bank

Exclusion doesn’t “just happen”: instead, it occurs when individuals and systems of power forget, disregard, or blatantly violate a person’s inherent dignity. Whether inadvertent, covert, or overt, exclusion is deeply damaging at the individual, local, and national levels and can infiltrate all aspects of daily life. For America’s underserved students, exclusion is manifested in countless ways, including the denial of students’ right to an active music life. Exclusion can only be combatted by assertively pursuing inclusion—the affirmation of human dignity manifested by full access and participation in the educational, social, and cultural aspects of a community. In the next section, we will examine how an active music life can foster inclusion for city students.

Based on the inherent dignity of every person and the desire for a just and equitable society, we assert on behalf of all students:

  • Access to an active music life is a cultural right.
  • Participation in the cultural life of the community is a social right.
  • Education in music is an educational right.

To be denied these rights is to experience exclusion from educational, cultural, and social spheres. It is our moral imperative to seek these fundamental rights for each and every student.

¹ United Nations General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 217 A (III), (Paris, 1948).

² Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “dignity.”

³ Teresa Iglesias, “Bedrock Truths and the Dignity of the Individual,” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 4, no. 1 (January 2001): 114-134.

⁴ Maitreyi Bordia Das, Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity (Advance Edition) (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2013), xv.

+ An active music life affirms the dignity of individuals and communities.

Access to and participation in an active music life is one way to affirm human dignity and to expand social, cultural, and educational inclusion. Music is not the only means of asserting dignity and inclusion, but it is an effective and compelling one, especially for the underserved city students who persistently face exclusion in their lives.

An active music life speaks directly to the educational goals as expressed in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to education. ... Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

"Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms"

A fundamental characteristic of dignity is a sense of contributing and belonging. An active music life can affirm and reinforce these values by providing students a context in which they can be recognized, known, and heard. This sense of belonging-of being valued-can extend beyond the music classroom into students' relationships to school, community, and city. An active music life can also shape students' understandings of interdependence and equality. For example, making music as a group recognizes that each voice or instrument has responsibility and value to the group. Different voices may take on different roles at different times, but they are each necessary to and valued in the process of making music.

An active music life also promotes social and cultural inclusion for students and their families. Creating and performing music can literally give voice to the voiceless, especially those who are rarely listened to or acknowledged by society. Students can also enjoy opportunities that connect them to broader city and regional communities, widening both their physical and social experiences. Indeed, music can be a bridge that connects entire families to social and cultural spaces from which they might otherwise be or feel excluded. Simultaneously, larger communities can learn to hear and value the voices of social and cultural groups that have been historically excluded, marginalized and silenced.

"The full development of the human personality"

Education is not merely the distribution of information or the development of skills: it must address the whole person, including the intellectual, social, and emotional components of a person's development. One of the most powerful attributes of music is its connection to emotional expressivity, its capacity to convey emotions. Music can be a strong tool for social-emotional development. Making and creating music can be an expressive outlet and a positive way for students to explore and communicate their emotions. While an active music life should be prioritized for all students, it is especially powerful for the students who have consistently been denied a voice in society and who have not always enjoyed their full educational, social, and cultural rights.

An active music life can also promote students' sense of self-efficacy, the belief that they are capable of taking on a challenge and succeeding. Creating, practicing, and performing music develops skills-including discipline, perseverance, grit, and problem-solving-that support self-efficacy and confidence. The development of these skills is particularly vital for students who have been marginalized and excluded. Some students may discover that music is a particularly effective means for them to examine their identity, their life story, and their community. The development of self-identity is a key component in the successful transition from adolescence to adulthood, especially for the most deeply marginalized and under-served students in our cities.¹

"Promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship"

Active music-making with others requires collaboration, teamwork, and respect. Participants develop collegiality, a shared sense of responsibility in the group's work. Participants may also engage in mentor-mentee relationships, whether between teachers and their students or between more- and less -experienced students.

Group music-making also has the capacity to change how individuals perceive difference in others. Recent studies have drawn national attention to implicit bias, the "attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner."² Implicit bias is formed by "observation of who occupies valued roles and devalued roles in a community" -essentially, who is perceived to have dignity and who is not. Music may be a useful tool for combating implicit bias because it can physically gather diverse individuals for positive, intergroup contact. The process of making music as a group may rewire patterns of thinking, allowing students to develop positive unconscious associations about people whom they perceive as different.³ This kind of "de-biasing" may positively impact students' future interactions in school, the workplace, and society.

These are not the only arguments for access to an active music life. They simply outline the potent influence that an active music life can have at the individual and communal levels. The relationship between dignity and an active music life can be thought of as a “positive feedback loop” in which small positive changes feed back into the system to accelerate the rate and impact of change. Ultimately, an active music life has the potential to both affirm and inspire human dignity, leading to positive changes for individuals, schools, and communities.

¹ Stefanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin, Coming of Age in the Other America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2016), 66-67.

² Cheryl Staats, Kelly Capatosto, Robin A. Wright, and Danya Contractor, State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2015, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, www.kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/implicit-bias-review.

³ The Kirwan Institute authors note that “intergroup contact generally reduces intergroup prejudice” when individuals share “equal status and common goals, a cooperative rather than competitive environment, [and] the presence of support from authority figures.” State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2015, 66.

+ We decry the inequities that deny some city students access to an active music life.

In some respects, students living in America’s cities have access to social, cultural, and educational resources that town and rural regions may not have.

For example:

  • Cities often boast rich and diverse cultural environments.
  • Cities are home to close-knit and supportive communities, often based on strong social, ethnic, lingual, religious, familial, and historical ties.
  • City populations live in geographic proximity to one another, as well as to cultural institutions, including libraries, music venues, universities, museums, and public spaces.

Despite these assets, many city schools do not offer their students robust and sequential music education opportunities.¹ Moreover, there are strong correlations between a school’s music offerings and its proportion of students from low socioeconomic, non-white, and immigrant backgrounds. These correlations are the result of historical and current inequities that have shaped our nation and its cities.

Student Poverty

In America's cities, about one in four students live in poverty. Urban students are far more likely to attend a school in which more than 75 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches (a common proxy for school poverty concentration levels).² Poverty levels dramatically correlate to students' access to music opportunities in school. For example:

  • A 2011 demographic study of high school music students found that students in the highest socioeconomic quartile were nearly twice as likely as students in the lowest quartile to have participated in music during high school.³
  • Of high schools in which more than 75 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches, 19 percent did not offer even a single music course in the 2008-2009 academic year; many more did not offer comprehensive music programs to provide the full impact of an active music life.⁴
  • At the secondary school level, only 10 percent of music educators work at schools in the highest quartile of poverty concentration.⁵
  • In its most recent report on arts education, U.S. Department of Education noted that "whether a school offered music instruction varied by its concentration of poverty."⁶ For example, elementary schools with higher concentrations of poverty were significantly less likely to offer music year-round, to have dedicated rooms and equipment for music instruction, and to have arts specialists available to teach music.
  • Simply put, students who struggle with poverty are significantly less likely to enjoy substantial-or any-music opportunities in their schools, let alone access to private lessons or after-school music classes.

Student Race and Ethnicity

Compared to the nation as a whole, cities (and city schools) are home to a disproportionately large population of students of color. Approximately 70 percent of city students are students of color; this is 20 percent higher than the national average.⁷ This is due to the historical and ongoing patterns of racism and segregation that have shaped our nation and isolated "non-white" populations in urban areas. Like so many other aspects of educational, social, and cultural life, access to school music opportunities correlates to the color of a student's skin. For example, the larger a high school's proportion of students of color, the less likely it is that the school will offer even a single music class.⁸

Immigrant and First-Generation Students

At the time of the 2010 Census, nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population was born outside the United States.⁹ As in generations past, cities function as "gateways" for new immigrants. Of the more than 42 million foreign-born U.S. residents, 86 percent live in metropolitan areas.¹⁰ New arrivals are settling in cities across the nation-such as Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Phoenix-and 15 percent of city students are non-native English speakers.¹¹

Despite their large and increasing population, students who are born outside the United States or who are first-generation Americans are under-represented in music programs. For example, native English-speaking students are more than twice as likely as native Spanish-speaking students to have participated in music in high school, and although Latino students make up more than 20 percent of school populations, they comprise only about 10 percent of high school music students.¹²

Poverty, racial inequality, and anti-immigrant attitudes in U.S. cities create a “perfect storm” of social, cultural, and educational exclusion. In elementary and secondary city schools, this exclusion is manifested in a lack of access to and participation in school music programs. Our challenge is to reverse this pattern and ensure that all city students have access to an active music life regardless of their socioeconomic status, the color of their skin, or their birthplace.


¹ The most recent data on arts offerings in public schools is from the 2008-09 academic year. See Basmat Parsad and Maura Spiegelman, “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000 and 2009-10. NCES 2012-014,” National Center for Education Statistics (2012).

² In 2013, 43% of students in city schools attended a school where more than 75% of the students received free or reduced-price lunch. Of black and Hispanic city students, more than 60% attended such schools. See U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, 2013- 14, Table B.1.e.-1: Number and percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary enrollment by percentage of students in school eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, by school urban-centric 12-category locale and race/ethnicity: Fall 2013, https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ruraled/tables/B.1.e.-1.asp.

³ Kenneth Elpus and Carlos R. Abril, “High School Music Ensemble Students in the United States: A Demographic Profile,” Journal of Research in Music Education 59, no. 2 (July 2011): 138.

⁴ U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Response Survey System, Secondary School Arts Education Survey: Fall 2009, Table 70: Percent and standard error for public secondary schools reporting whether various arts subjects were taught at the school, by school characteristics: School year 2008–09. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012014/tables/table_70.asp

⁵ “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” 22.

⁶ Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” 14.

⁷ “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” 14-15.

⁸ U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, 2013-14, Table B.1.b.-1: Number and percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary students, by race/ethnicity and school urban-centric 12-category locale: Fall 2013. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ruraled/tables/B.1.b.-1.asp?refer=urban

Secondary Schools Arts Education Survey: Fall 2009, Table 70.

¹⁰ Audrey Singer, “Metropolitan immigrant gateways revisited, 2014,” Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, December 1, 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/research/metropolitan-immigrant-gateways-revisited-2014/

¹¹ Singer, “Metropolitan immigrant gateways revisited, 2014.”

¹² U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey, Public School Data Files, 2011-12, Table B.1.d.-1: Number and percentage of public school students who were identified as limited-English proficient (LEP), by locale and region: 2011-12. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ruraled/tables/B.1.d.-1.asp

¹³ Elpus and Abril, “High School Music Ensemble Students in the United States: A Demographic Profile”: 138, 141.

+ City students’ access to an active music life requires the ongoing development of supportive music ecosystems.

An ecosystem is a network of interacting individuals, communities, and systems in which diverse elements are balanced and thrive. A music ecosystem, then, is the network of music-making people, places, and systems that characterize a city’s music and cultural life. Its participants in each community can include (but are not limited to):

  • Students
  • Music educators
  • General education teachers
  • School leadership
  • Families
  • Communities
  • Partner organizations
  • Musicians
  • Local Universities and institutions

An “ecosystem approach” is particularly strategic for city students because it harnesses the rich cultural and organizational assets available in America’s cities. This strategy extends students’ music lives beyond the classroom, connecting them to a rich network of school, community, and regional resources and opportunities. This network can, in turn, support and enrich in-school music opportunities.

A city’s music ecosystem interacts with larger ecosystems that include school districts, public services, neighborhoods, and its local, state, and federal government. Like biological ecosystems, a music ecosystem is at its healthiest when it hosts a range of diverse elements and when all its participants and systems are in balance with one another. Where there is a healthy music ecosystem, students have opportunities to make, study, and enjoy music.

Each participant plays a key role in the ecosystem and exerts influence on the community. The following elements are influential in whether a music ecosystem is healthy, diverse, and balanced:

  • School, district, and city leaders who prioritize access to music-making as an essential part of every school’s curriculum.
  • Local partner organizations that complement and support music opportunities for city students in- and out-of-school.
  • Music educator and teaching artist preparation that cultivates and equips teachers to serve in diverse urban settings.

The following sections examine these three key elements of cities’ music ecosystems. We identify some of the barriers that can prevent students from enjoying access to an active music life and respond with ideas that can disrupt current patterns of inequity.


+ We call for all city students to have access to in-school music education taught by certified music educators.

Confronting inequities in school-based music education will require a two-fold effort: On one hand, we must create music opportunities in schools where they do not currently exist. Simultaneously, we must strengthen and expand existing music programs so they become more robust and inclusionary.

Developing New In-school Opportunities

There are city schools which simply do not offer any music classes at all. To address this inequity, music-making opportunities must be made available in schools where they currently do not exist.

The creation of new in-school music education opportunities requires that school leaders recognize the value of music as part of a well-rounded education.¹ The implementation of new music education opportunities will take different forms depending on how a school district is structured. Each district should develop its own strategy within its larger educational ecosystem. Local and national organizations are available to help schools and districts implement new or reinvigorate dormant music programs. Private foundations can “jump-start” music programs by providing resources if a school or district commits to including music as a core subject. Local partnerships can also be influential in the development of new music offerings by demonstrating community commitment to in-school music education.

Strengthening and Expanding Current Opportunities

It is essential to recognize that “access” does not simply refer to the existence of music opportunities at a school: it means that opportunities are easily accessible to all interested students. While a school may report “offering” music, it does not always follow that all interested students are able to participate; some remain excluded from this fundamental part of a well-rounded education due to a variety of financial, social, structural, and musical barriers. Each student should have equal access to a rich, meaningful, and inclusive music life. To address this, we must make existing music opportunities in city schools more robust and inclusive.

We call for both school leadership and classroom music educators to consider the ways in which their current practices might be exclusionary to students. By examining current practices and trends—however uncomfortable doing so might be—it is possible to identify the barriers that prevent potentially interested students from participating in music. These may include:

  • Financial barriers: prohibitive costs, including purchase/rental of an instrument and fees for uniforms or transportation; incapacity to pay for outside-of-school enrichment opportunities including private lessons and summer music intensives; the need to spend out-of-school hours in employment rather than in rehearsals or practicing.
  • Social barriers: experiences of social exclusion, including the sense of not belonging; students may not perceive support for their musical interests from general educators, school counselors, or parents.
  • Structural barriers: music courses may be inconsistent in duration and frequency, preventing students from building mastery over time; students identified as English language learners may not be able to accommodate music courses in their schedule or may be pulled out of electives for ESL programming.
  • Musical barriers: an emphasis on traditional Western genres (band, string orchestra, and choir) may isolate students from other cultures; students who have rich informal music lives outside of school may feel that their musical culture and skill is not valued in the classroom.

These are certainly not the only reasons that potentially interested students choose not to or are not able to participate in school music opportunities. It is up to teachers and school leaders to engage in self-examination to identify their students’ needs. Once potential barriers have been identified, teachers and leaders can take action to mitigate—or, better, eliminate—those barriers. This might include utilizing culturally responsive pedagogy, expanding the genres and styles that are taught, creating mentorship networks (including those with outside partners), and working with school counselors to address scheduling conflicts. From small creative changes to strategic systemic reform, music education can be made more inclusive and engage a broader cross-section of city students.


¹ The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes music as part of a well-rounded education; see https://www.ed.gov/esea.

+ We call for strategic partnerships with local organizations to expand and enrich cities’ music ecosystems.

Cities are home to a variety of cultural organizations, and this makes urban centers ideal for strategic partnerships in which city schools and local music organizations work together to expand and enrich students’ access to music opportunities. Strategic partnerships take all sorts of forms and can address specific needs in local contexts.

Most important, partnerships should be evaluated in terms of how successfully they add to the health of the music ecosystem. In what ways does a partnership support an active music life for students in city schools? How does it improve access to services and resources? How well does it fill unmet needs? For partnerships to be effective and beneficial, they must be meaningful, collaborative, and additive.

Partnerships must be meaningful

Successful partnerships go beyond surface affiliations and focus on substantial, long-term social change. It is easy to develop relationships that lack substantial commitment and value. A partnership must address social issues in a comprehensive way. Without a deep level of engagement, a partnership will likely fail to benefit its students and its community.

Partnerships must be collaborative

Partnerships, by their very nature, cannot exist in isolation from other elements of the ecosystem, and an organization that fails to collaborate with other ecosystem members will be significantly less effective. Partners must prioritize communication-even when it is challenging-and identify common goals. Schools and local organizations should recognize how each contributes to the development of a healthy music ecosystem.

Communication and goal-setting are particularly vital where community organizations serve students in the classroom during school hours. In-school teaching artists should enhance classroom instruction and contribute to the curricular and developmental goals of the school and district, and music and classroom teachers should be prepared to review these goals and check in regularly to monitor student growth. Out-of-school partnerships should also develop and maintain communication with their local schools, determining how their work can support students' musical, educational, and social development.

Partnerships must be additive

Partnerships with community organizations do not replace music education during school hours; they should supplement-not supplant-sequential, high-quality music education. A community music organization's goal is to enrich students' music lives, to "fill in the gaps" by providing the services or opportunities that school programs do not. Partner organizations should be responsive to the needs of a school or district, and might provide:

  • Private lessons and coaching
  • One-on-one mentorship
  • Expertise in performance
  • Supplemental or specialized instruments and/or resources
  • Small group ensembles
  • Instruments, genres, and styles not taught in school
  • Instruction for special-needs students
  • Ensembles focusing on challenging repertoire (i.e. youth symphonies)
  • Professional development for music teachers
  • Care during non-school hours (before- and after-school and weekends)
  • Access to resources such as food, transportation, and health services

Partnerships do not simply provide “extra resources”: they can become important sources of influence in the city music ecosystem. Partnerships can spur schools and districts to invest and expand music opportunities for city students. Moreover, they affirm the dignity of city students by demonstrating that these students are included and valued in their city’s social and cultural life.


+ We call for changes in the development, preparation, and support of music educators and teaching artists.

The future health of city music ecosystems depends on developing and expanding a pool of teachers who are both capable of and committed to serving diverse city populations, including certified music educators and teaching artists. If we are committed to expanding music opportunities for our city students, we will need to inspire and produce well-equipped teachers.

Preparing Music Educators and Teaching Artists to be Effective in Urban Settings

Many teachers—both certified music educators and teaching artists—are insufficiently prepared to teach in diverse urban classrooms, and goodwill alone is not enough to make an unprepared teacher successful. Everyone who spends time with city students—whether in- or out-of- school—must be appropriately trained and equipped to serve the diverse needs of their students. All music teachers working in city settings should receive ample training in cultural competence, culturally responsive pedagogy, social-emotional learning, and social justice.

Music educators and teaching artists bring their own sets of cultural expectations, stereotypes, and biases to urban classrooms. If they are not equipped to teach, work, and communicate in a diverse urban setting, they will find their experiences more arduous and less effective. Cultural competence is “having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families.”¹ It allows teachers to communicate effectively and respectfully across cultures and to recognize and celebrate differences among their students. Cultural competence is particularly important when teaching music because music itself is a carrier of culture, and teachers who teach music in urban settings must develop a thorough knowledge of their own cultural identities, biases, and expectations so that they can respectfully and effectively engage their students.


The Music Educator Lifecycle: Who Becomes a Music Educator and Why?

The reality is that, nationally, today’s music teachers do not statistically reflect the diversity of their students: while 50 percent of U.S. students are non-white, only around 10 percent of music educators are teachers of color.² The lack of proportional diversity between teachers and students is certainly not unique to music education, but it is particularly pertinent since music education is not culturally neutral: simply put, it matters who teaches music.

The field of music education is a lifecycle in which current music educators prepare and inspire students to become future music educators. In its most ideal form, high school students choose to pursue careers in music education because they have had music teachers who impacted their lives, who provided them solid training in music, and whom they desire to emulate. These students enter music education programs at institutions of higher education, where they receive quality pre-service training as musicians and educators. They then progress to the classroom, where their quality instruction inspires and prepares some of their own students to become music educators, and so the cycle continues.

This lifecycle often works—and works well—in creating new and committed music teachers. If the process breaks down at any of its stages, however, it can adversely impact who has access to becoming a music educator.

Emulation, Aspiration, and Preparation

Many city music students—particularly those who are students of color or from low socioeconomic backgrounds— lack music educator role models with whom they share similar characteristics. Studies outside of music education have demonstrated the importance of same-race role models for children.³ These studies suggest that students of color may be more likely to aspire to become music educators if they have been taught or mentored by a teacher of color. The current lifecycle patterns of aspiration and emulation perpetuate a lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity among music educators: because a majority of music educators are white and from middle- and upper-class suburban backgrounds, the students who emulate them are, as well. We must increase the diversity among music educators in order to provide role models that reflect the student demographics of city schools. This means more teachers of color, teachers from Latino backgrounds, teachers who have experienced immigration, and teachers from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Diversifying the educator workforce may be most broadly achieved by increasing the diversity of students seeking degrees in music education programs. This may appear to be an obvious solution, but it will be a key strategy in meeting the needs of the twenty-first-century music classroom. Teacher diversity may also be increased by providing rigorous alternative certification routes for those who may have been unable to study music education in a degree program. The goal—however it is met—is to welcome more teachers of color and of diverse backgrounds into the classroom to inspire and mentor students who identify with them. Additionally, music educators who are not racially, ethnically, or socioeconomically similar to their students can also make conscious efforts to cultivate aspiration in their students—for example, connecting aspiring music educators with mentors, studying accomplished non-white musicians, or performing a broad range of genres.

But aspiration alone is not sufficient; students who aspire to become music educators may not have access to the opportunities necessary for application and admittance to music education degree programs. Under-resourced students in city schools may find that the supplementary music activities that many colleges expect of applicants—such as private lessons, summer intensives, or regional chamber ensembles—are financially prohibitive for them.

Aspirational students may be connected with community partners who can enrich students’ musical development. Community partnerships can be of great assistance in providing the kind of supplementary activities that city students do not receive at school and which they may not be able to afford. Local musicians might provide one-on-one instruction and personal mentorship that a music educator simply cannot provide in a classroom setting. Partnerships might also provide aspiring music educators with guidance during college admissions and music audition processes. This kind of support has been shown to be successful in general college admissions processes and could be highly effective in helping underserved students navigate the complicated and intimidating admissions and audition process.

However, the current requirements and processes for admission into music education degree programs often exclude students who demonstrate potential outside of standard admissions requirements.⁴ Many schools require music education applicants to audition on a single instrument, most often in Western “classical” genres. Students who demonstrate the potential to be gifted music educators, but who cannot audition under traditional parameters, are often ineligible for admission into music education degree programs. Students who do not play a “conventional” instrument, who are proficient in genres outside of the Western “classical” canon, or who may not fluently read/write Western music notation, are thus barred from entering many music education programs, even if they demonstrate the potential to be a skilled and inspiring music educator.

If we are committed to diversity among music educators, the schools that offer music education degree programs will need to reimagine the criteria by which students are admitted. Music education admissions criteria may be broadened to include traditions outside of the performance of Western “classical” music, including expanding the range of instruments on and the genres in which students can audition. As the field of music broadens to include more genres, sounds, and performance styles, music education programs should follow suit, affirming that being a music educator is far less about being an adept performer of the Western “classical” canon and far more about teaching and inspiring students to make music.

Adjusting patterns in the lifecycle will require substantial intervention at each stage. Progress will not be immediate, but sustained effort can result in measurable improvement over time.


¹ National Education Association, “Why Cultural Competence? To Help Educators Close Achievement Gaps

² For an overview of demographics of pre-service and in-service music educators, see: Kenneth Elpus, “Music Teacher Licensure Candidates in the United States: A Demographic Profile and Analysis of Licensure Examination Scores,” Journal of Research in Music Education 63, no. 3 (2015): 314–335.

³ See, for example: Sabrina Zirkel, “Is There a Place for Me? Role Models and Academic Identity among White Students and Students of Color,” Teachers College Record 104, no. 2 (2002): 357-376.

⁴ For a discussion of barriers to admission, see: Kate R. Fitzpatrick, Jacqueline C. Henninger, and Don M. Taylor, “Access and Retention of Marginalized Populations Within Undergraduate Music Education Degree Programs,” Journal for Research in Music Education 62, no. 2 (2014): 105-127.

We call for a national mobilization in support of an active music life for all city students.