Repertoire, rehearsals, and representation: Diversity in the orchestra

Dr. Lindsay J. Fulcher,
Assistant Professor of String Music Education, University of Northern Colorado

Printable handout available here.

Too many types to name! Ethnicity, gender, race, language, LGBTQ, and even musical styles.
How does my classroom look, compared to my department? My school? My community? How do I feel about that? How do my students feel? How do my potential students feel?

Who are the composers represented in my classroom? Can my students see themselves in the music? Do all my students know they could be composers?
What musical styles are represented in my classroom? Do my students hear connections between “real life” and “school life” music?
Could my students be more involved in the music selection process?
Have I considered not only the music we play, but the music we listen to & watch?

Composers to consider:

Styles to consider:

  • Jazz*
  • Mariachi*
  • Fiddling*
  • Latin*
  • Rock*
  • Pop
  • Bluegrass
  • All of those again – but in chamber music settings

*available in “Philharmonic” series from Alfred

What activities happen in my classroom and rehearsals? Do my planned activities help build genuine relationships and understanding? Do my activities support the needs of my students (mental/emotional/relational as well as musical)?
Do my chosen audio & video examples show diversity?

I recommend making YouTube playlists!

How do I recruit students? Can all students see themselves in my classroom? How do I retain students? Can all students see themselves as long-term musicians? 

When recruiting:

  • Have current students speak for the program as much as possible. Recruitment video?? Video where students say “come join us” in native languages. 
  • Include as many different races/ethnicities/genders/outward appearances as possible in recruitment materials.
  • If current students speak other languages, use that. Try to be aware of whether potential students speak other languages and utilize that info.
  • Make a cheat sheet of phrases in Spanish to use with students, and other phrases for parents. Practice those phrases!
  • Remember that “musical background” can look very different across cultures. Be intentional about how I phrase questions.

Once students are in my program – am I supporting them? Do I use faces like theirs as musical examples? Can they see themselves in orchestra long-term? Do they see avenues for fun and success in my room?

If you meet these composers or performers, take a picture with them and create a “wall of fame” in your room.

Another thought for students in my program: concert dress that is not gender-specific. For example:
Students are expected to dress in 'Concert Black', which consists of:

  • black pants/ slacks, or skirt (skirt at least knee length)
  • black blouse/dress shirt (appropriate sleeve length please)
  • black dress shoes, with dark socks/hose/leggings/etc.
  • colorful ties/scarves/accessories are acceptable

Things not in the acceptable category: wearing only leggings, exposed midriffs/backs, plunging necklines, sheer clothing etc. Think school dress code, but dressy. If you are questioning a part of your Concert Black attire, it is most likely not appropriate. Look your best! This dress code has been designed to be as gender-inclusive as possible.

Additional comments on this type of dress code:


Many of the ideas in this presentation were inspired by (or stolen from) Ms. Taniesha M. Hines in Columbia, SC. Please see her blog, via NAfME, for additional thoughts: