Finding a Voice through Music: Implications for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

LaVerne Bell-Tolliver


This article will focus on the role music played in the life of a young African American girl growing up in the south during the civil rights movement. Born into an authoritarian household, the young girl found comfort in the sound of singing and in the music she heard in the church. She received lessons singing and playing piano at a very early age; her music helped her feel a sense of self-worth. In 1961, amid the backdrop of civil unrest, the young adolescent was enrolled in what had been an all-white junior high school. For two years, she was the only African American student to attend the school; her life reflected the struggle played out across the country in acts of violence and racial tension. As a young girl struggling in an oppressive school environment, she again found solace in singing. Silenced by teachers who ignored her, and by classmates who taunted her in the halls, the shy student found some sense of relief in the choral classroom where the act of singing gave her a voice. Music continued to play an important role in her life as she grew up in the quickly changing landscape of the south during the 50s and 60s. Drawing upon these experiences, we will explore how music can both reflect and affect a person's life and we will consider a framework for creating a positive, supportive environment for all choral musicians.

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