This August, Hewitt faculty member Elise Figa led a workshop for fellow music educators at the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) summer conference in Albany, New York. The workshop, Digging into Diversity: Reflections for an Inclusive Music Classroom, focused on the ways in which music teachers can address race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomics in their curriculum and through music instruction.
Figa joined The Hewitt School’s performing arts faculty in 2014. Prior to teaching music at Hewitt, she was on the faculty at Drew University. Figa is also an active musician who has performed across the United States and abroad. In 2016, as a conductor with American Music Abroad, she traveled with a group of 100 high school students from around the tri-state area on a performance tour of Austria, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia. And, as a recipient of Hewitt’s faculty summer grant program, she just returned from Bogotá, Colombia where she partnered with the director of choral activities from the Orquesta Filarmonica de Bogotá to observe choir classes in schools and work with young music teachers around the capital city.
Figa notes that her professional development experiences at Hewitt inspired her NYSSMA session. “The work we do at Hewitt to engage with issues of diversity and inclusivity have motivated me to think deeply about how to incorporate a broader, more multicultural perspective into my music classes while increasing my cultural competence.” Digging into Diversity: Reflections for an Inclusive Music Classroom touched upon common issues music teachers face surrounding income and class bias, gender identity and sexuality, and race and ethnicity. Participants from schools across New York State considered how these intersecting issues impact everything from concert attendance policies to uniform requirements to the importance of teaching a broad range of musical traditions. “As music teachers, our repertoire and music choices can be both a mirror and a window for students of diverse backgrounds, a point that is especially poignant as more teachers aim to prioritize inclusivity in their classrooms and curriculum.”
Figa’s work on developing more inclusive practices in the music classroom has been well-received by NYSSMA, and the organization has awarded her an action research grant to write an article in an upcoming issue of their publication, School Music News. Figa’s research will focus on multiculturalism in music classes and best practices for music teachers when developing multicultural curriculum. She will present her findings at the 2018 NYSSMA Winter Conference in Rochester, New York.