As a person of color, one of my favorites things to do is read articles about how music educators deal with cultural diverse students in the classroom. With issues of race present in society, I find it interesting to see how different authors acknowledge and seek to resolve conflicts that may arise through the instruction of music in classroom settings. Also, I am deeply fascinated with understanding how different areas in the world allow for both positive and negative instruction of music and the reasoning behind these observations. That’s why I was incredibly excited to read Silverman’s (2009) work “Rethinking Music ‘Appreciation.”
In Silverman’s (2009) work, one major argument Silverman details is how music educators appreciation of certain musical styles may differ from students, and how misunderstandings of appreciation can result in a negative learning environment. One of my favorite passages from this work is the following:
“Many of them said they didn’t understand it, or that it all sounded the same … Nevertheless, the response that seemed most telling was when Angelique said: ‘That’s white people’s music. How is that going to help me?’ Indeed, what was this music ‘good for’ in these students’ immediate lives and cultural contexts” (p. 8).
Sociology and Habitus
What I love about this passage, and Silverman’s argument on differing musical appreciation perspectives, is how it relates closely to Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological concept of Habitus. Bourdieu’s concept of habitus is the idea that individuals have “transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matric of perceptions, appreciates, and actions” (Bourdieu, as cited by Hall, 2015, p. 46). In other words: everyone has a set of ideas and perceptions that are acquired through experiences from one’s past, present, and interactions with others, which influence how individuals act in the present and the future.
In Silverman’s (2009) case, Silverman had acquired a habitus that was based in “white, European, classical prejudices” (p. 8), which was different from the habitus of the students who were culturally diverse. Therefore, when Silverman tried to teach “classical” music appreciation, students were not interested. It is only when Silverman steps outside of this teacher habitus and classical prejudices, that “[Silverman] accepted the students and their musics ‘as they were.’ Perhaps it was because [Silverman] tried to find where the students were, and began the process of learning there. Overall, [Silverman thought] it was because [they] moved beyond the conventional wisdom embedded in traditional ‘music appreciation” (p. 24).
Present vs. Non Existent: Are Issues of Habitus Still Present?
As a private music teacher, I face issues of habitus constantly. When I first began teaching, I acted similarly to Silverman, as I tried to have students learn and appreciate only classical western art music. And, likewise to Silverman, my students did not always enjoy the lessons because they appreciated different types of music outside of the classical western art tradition. When I began to explore different genres and encourage my students to bring in music they wanted to learn, I was able to move beyond my classical perspective. Thus, in many ways, Silverman’s work deeply resonated with my own teaching philosophies on encouraging different perspectives in the classroom.
In regards to culturally diverse students however, one particular example from my private teaching experience resonates with me. A couple of weeks ago I had begun to teach two Icelandic siblings. When I began the students lesson, I had asked both students whether they already could play some songs on piano and whether they would want to perform them for me. At first the students refused. When I inquired why, I was shocked to hear that they thought I would not want to hear the songs. They thought I was a classical pianist and that I would not enjoy the songs they knew because they were Icelandic songs.
What I loved about this experience was that my students had assumed my habitus, and had tried to adjust their own to match. As a teacher, I found it was a key learning experience, because it made me realize that I carry the impression that I am only classically trained to those who do not know me. Also, in this case, I realized that that impression did not allow for a positive learning environment. In a way, it made me acknowledge my own placement in my students lives. In order to acknowledge this, I began to play both jazz and popular songs for my students, which allowed my two students to feel comfortable playing Icelandic folk music for me.
I believe that Silverman (2009) was correct to acknowledge that misunderstandings about musical appreciation between teachers and students can create negative learning environments. As educators, we should encourage for multiple diverse perspectives to be able to be present in the room and to influence classroom lesson direction. Furthermore, I believe that educators should use these experiences of conflict to reflect on their placement in their students lives and how it affects learning. By understanding that we can learn from students just as much as students learn from us, we as educators can create positive spaces for learning and community.
Haiku Deck. (2015). Conclusion. Retrieved from https://www.haikudeck.com/conclusion- education-presentation-SS7EjYOzlq
Hall, C. (2015). Singing Gender and Class: Understanding Choirboys’ Musical Habitus. In P. Burnard, J. Soderman, & Y. Hofvander-Trulson, (Eds.) Bourdieu and the Sociology of Music, Music Education and Research. Lower case except for first word (pp. 43 – 60) Farnham: Ashgate
Higgins, N. (2013). WDA Disciple Building. Retrieved from https://www.disciplebuilding.org/2013/07/22/conflict-is-my-new-best-friend/
NoBullying. (2015). Getting to Know and Understand Cultural Diversity. Retrieved from https://nobullying.com/cultural-diversity/
Silverman, M. (2009). Rethinking music “appreciation.” Visions of Research in Music Education, 13.Retrieved from http://www-usr.rider.edu/~vrme/