Image Map

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

(Further) Toward an Inclusive Holiday Sing Along

Holiday sing-alongs are something many music teachers are tasked with. They can be a lot of fun, and they're a great way to bring the entire school community together. But they also inherently center certain religions and cultures while ignoring others, and that is problematic. I have been reflecting on my practice and seeking input from culture bearers and educators from a range of backgrounds, and after doing a lot of thinking over the last few years I have made some changes that have certainly brought it a long way in making it more reflective of our school community and our world. I have shared a couple of times in the last few years about what I'm doing as I continue on this journey to hopefully help other teachers think critically about their current practice and encourage others to join me in my journey- here is my latest update on what I'm planning this year.

A few important thoughts I've had as I continue to reflect on this that I think are important for everyone to consider in planning a holiday sing-along:

1. The songs we choose should invite students to learn about the holiday more than they invite students to participate in celebrating them. 

I used to be a little uncertain about my choice to include the Eid song in particular, because it isn't traditionally sung by culture bearers during the actual holiday as part of the traditional celebrations. I've since come to understand from the culture bearers I've spoken to that this is fine and in fact better. The song was created by culture bearers to teach others about the holiday and that's exactly the way that they want the holiday to be presented in school- trying to have students experience each holiday by participating in them does a disservice to the religious meaning of each one and can put students and families in an uncomfortable, offensive situation.

2. Any decision to include songs about holidays in class or in a whole school sing- along assembly should be accompanied by deliberate communication with families to ensure anyone who objects to all holiday content can be accommodated, the actual holidays celebrated by the community is represented, and families understand the intent and purpose behind the lessons and/or event.

I do have a very small number of students who do not participate in recognizing or learning about holidays at all, and I'm very careful to make sure those students have alternate assignments (and the one time I had more than one student in a grade I changed the lessons entirely). But I've also found that when I explain that students are learning about the holidays rather than participating in songs that celebrate them, several of the families who originally were hesitant actually were excited to have their children participate.

My song selections for this year have not changed since last year, when I hosted it on zoom, but it will be great to get to have students fully engage with the activities for each one as a group with us all physically in the same space this year!

1. Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah (we do a very simple circle dance- each class in a circle)
2. Feliz Navidad (I use this song as a jumping off point in class to talk about the ways to say "Merry Christmas" in different languages. in the assembly one grade level will have maracas to play with the Spanish section.)
4. Diwali is Here (we will sing in canon, and one grade level will have mini flashlights to wave around as we dim the lights for this song)
5. Gong Xi, Gong Xi (we sing the verses in English standing in a circle with hand motions that match the lyrics, then on the chorus in Mandarin turn to one side and shake hands, then turn to the other side and shake hands on the beat)
6. Eid Mubarak (we stand in scattered formation and do a clapping pattern with a partner at the beginning of each verse, then while singing the last line quickly find a new partner to face for the next verse)
7. Happy Kwanzaa Song (one grade is assigned to stand and sing each of the 7 principles during the verse, then everyone drums on the floor during the chorus)

This is a topic that we need to continue to engage in professional discussions on as music educators, and we need to continue to be open to new insights and thoughts on how to do it, and even whether or not to continue the practice, to be as inclusive and respectful of all of our students as possible while giving students opportunities to learn about different cultures. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and you can catch up on my ongoing journey of learning how to do this better in my previous two posts on sing-alongs: