Choir Department seeks to increase diversity

Lauren Holm

As you might have noticed over recent years, diversity has become a prominent topic of discussion in schools across the U.S. The discussion of diversity has spread throughout the departments of schools, such as the English department, which has removed books with controversial language from the curriculum. Along with many departments, here at Eagan, the choir teachers have also taken steps to further diversify their curriculum. I asked both Mrs. Cherner and Mr. Cox what their goals were regarding diversity in the choir department, and what they have done to try to attain these goals.

When asked what their main goal is regarding diversity as a music teacher, both teachers answered saying, “As choir teachers, we want all of our students to feel supported, valued, and seen. We want our students to feel represented in our programming of music and our study of composers and lyricists.” The teachers explained how they had become aware that many of the pieces in the college choir literature classes were very Eurocentric and because of this they are spending more time finding authentic music from all over the world.

To promote diversity in the classes, the teachers have taken many steps like including music from BIPOC composers to inviting BIPOC composers to rehearse with Eagan students: “Mrs. Cherner and I presented at the State Convention for the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota to over 60 choral directors from around the state. The title of the session was “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion as a White Educator.” Along with this, the choir teachers have also begun incorporating more pieces from BIPOC composes; “Of the 36 pieces programmed for Eagan Choirs this year, about half are BIPOC composers or lyricists.” The Bel Canto students have also had rehearsals with guest BIPOC composers like Dr. Marquis Garret and are also singing a piece from him. Two African American professors from Bethel University, Dr. Merrin Guice Gill and Dr. Marcus Simmons, presented a lecture to all the EHS Choir students. The teachers explained how these lectures are a way to understand the history and importance of the music they are singing.

Along with changes happening inside the choir room, a display was created in the hallway outside the music areas to highlight many BIPOC composers. The choir teachers also explained the changes made during the Dakota Valley Choral Festival, “ During a performance involving the Concert Choirs from all four ISD196 schools, we selected -for the first time in its 46 year history- an African-American female conductor to be our guest clinician.” When asked how these changes are impacting students, the teachers replied, “We hope it has made a positive impact on our students, though we don’t know for sure. We don’t receive, nor do we expect, accolades or even acknowledgment for what we are doing. We are taking these steps because it is the right thing to do. We are taking these steps because we care about and value our students. We hope that our BIPOC students leave our classroom feeling seen, empowered and that they have a connection to their peers and the music.”