Beyond Whiteness

This summer my wife and I moved from Chicago, where I was a freelance singer, composer, and private teacher, to Champaign-Urbana so I could pursue a masters in music education at the University of Illinois. Perhaps the most impactful thing I read this semester was “Listening for Whiteness” by Julia Koza. In it she describes how, if you know what to listen for, you can hear whiteness, or the lack thereof, in someone’s singing. And problematically, the more whiteness, the more successful they will be in most music school entrance auditions.

I believe it is imperative that music teachers not impose their music- musical styles, repertoire, experiences, and aesthetics- on their students. My greatest revelation this semester was to see the whiteness in my personal musical experiences, and to recognize how recreating those systems as a teacher would create barriers for students less like myself.

There are an infinite number of possible music classes, lessons, and extracurriculars we could design and teach. So how do we choose? What should guide us? It can’t just be what is comfortable and familiar. That stuff is comfortable because it is how I did it in the racist and colonialist system I came through.

I believe music programs should serve the whole student body. To do this, I will have to design musical experiences for my students beyond those I have currently had. To that end, I find myself considering three questions to determine how I spend my final three semesters here:

What musical experiences do I feel comfortable facilitating for my students, and what do I wish I could offer them?

Am I seeking out new musical experiences or just comfortable and familiar ones?

And finally, what can I learn on my own later, and what musical experiences can I uniquely have here at this university?


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