A Partnership Bringing Missing Faces to the Secondary Music Classroom


Michael A. Raiber, Oklahoma City University


Robyn Hilger, El Sistema Oklahoma



Elpus (2015) noted the lack of diversity among music educators in the United States. The lack of student diversity among secondary music programs is cited as a contributor to this phenomenon (DeLorenzo, 2012). Many issues contribute to this lack of diversity. Secondary music educators’ perspectives about diversity often focus on the kinds of music performed rather than the students who are or are not in the classroom (Bradley, 2015). The majority of membership in secondary music programs across this country is in suburban schools where Latino and black populations are underrepresented (Elpus & Abril, 2011). Students of color who do attend suburban schools, often choose not to participate in secondary music programs because their racial and/or ethnic identity is not represented in the established membership of the available music classes (Schmidt, 2011). Schools with higher populations of black and Latino students tend to be in urban districts that lack necessary resources to provide access to high quality music programs (Costa-Giomi & Chappell, 2007). The overwhelming majority of American music teachers are white (Elpus, 2015) and due to their teacher preparation (Bergee, Coffman, Demorest, Humphreys & Thornton, 2001; DeLorenzo, 2012), may not adequately understand the impact of factors affecting students of color in the secondary music classroom (Schmidt, 2011). Because of the overwhelming whiteness of the music educator work force, students of color often do not develop identities that allow them to envision futures as music educators (DeLorenzo, 2012) thus, perpetuating the lack of racial diversity among professional music educators.


This presentation will outline a partnership in a southwestern urban community focused on providing equal access to high quality music education for a diverse population of students. This partnership is comprised of three organizations: (a) a large urban school district, (b) a private university school of music, and (c) a large metropolitan church. These partners supported the development of a non-profit organization that currently serves a diverse population of 220 urban students and their families through daily music learning opportunities that include: (a) instrumental music classes and ensembles ranging from traditional orchestra to vernacular music groups, (b) music literacy classes, (c) music creativity classes (e.g., composition and improvisation) and (d) exploration of world music practices that are part of the students’ lives outside the formal music program. While discussing all aspects of the partnership, this presentation will focus on the impact of the university partnership that supports authentic opportunities to effectively prepare pre-service music educators to work and teach in urban settings with diverse student populations. The recent inclusion of opportunities for high school students in the program to become ‘teaching fellows’ is focused on developing the identities of these students as future music educators. The intended result is that these high school students will eventually complete degrees in music education and return to urban communities as certified music educators, thus diversifying the teaching force in these communities; ultimately addressing one important aspect of inequality among American schools that marginalize those who are most needy in society (DeLorenzo, 2012).




Bergee, M., Coffman, D., Demorest, S., Humphreys, J., & Thorton, L. (2001). Influences on collegiate students’ decision to become a music educator (Report funded by the National Association for Music Education, Reston, VA) Retrieved April 15, 2017, from http://www.nafme.org/influences-on-collegiate-studentsdecision-to-become-a-music-educator/

Bradley, D. (2015). Hidden in plain sight: Race and racism in music education. In C. Benedict, P. Schmidt, G. Spruce, & D. Woodford (Eds.) The Oxford handbook of social justice in music education (pp. 190-203). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Costa-Giomi, E. & Chappell, E. (2007). Characteristics of band programs in a large urban school district: Diversity or inequality? Journal of Band Research 42(2), 1–18.

DeLorenzo, L. (2012). Missing faces from the orchestra: An issue of social justice? Music Educators Journal 98(4), 39-46.

Elpus, K. & Abril, C. (2011). High school music ensemble students in the United States: A demographic profile. Journal of Research in Music Education, 59, 128-145.

Elpus, K. (2015). Music teacher licensure candidates in the United States: A demographic profile and analysis of licensure examination scores. The Journal of Research in Music Education 63, 314-335.

Schmidt, M. (2011). What string students tell us about recruiting non-white string teachers. Paper presented to the Symposium on Music Teacher Education, Greensboro, NC.