Dr. Joy Hirokawa

Singing Together | Working Together

The news this week was horrifying. Yet another terrorist attack in what we have considered one of our safest cities. Pakistan, Brussels, Paris, Boston, Charleston…the list tragically continues with stories of random terrorism and violence. How can we make this stop? While we might not be able to control or influence what happens across the globe or in a city distant from our home, we can influence those with whom we have the most contact – our singers.

And the most amazing thing about what we do is that it does, in fact, make a difference! Research shows that “singing together appears to inspire spontaneous cooperative and helpful behavior among 4-year-olds” (http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/do-re-mi-promotes-a-feeling-of-we-19058).

Research also has shown that choral singing promotes social bonding and cooperative behavior in a way that goes back to our primitive days as hunter-gatherers (http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/feeling-isolated-try-choral-singing).

Karen Howard recently completed a study examining the impact of a multicultural music curriculum on 5th grade students. Using music of the African diaspora, she found that this experience increased the children’s multicultural sensitivity. At the end of the period of instruction, one child’s response to the prompt, “I used to think that people with dark skin…” was “…were normally homeless and I was scared of them. Now I know that black people are no different from white people” (Howard, 2014, p. 249). Yes. We can make a difference.

Within NAfME are a number of sub-organizations that address specific constituencies. Among them is SMTE, the Society for Music Teacher Educators. SMTE has identified several areas of focus, among them are issues of teaching social justice in the context of the music classroom. Their resource page, http://cdsjresourcepage.wikispaces.com/home, has a plethora of links, articles, and ideas to promote social justice in our work as choral music educators. I urge you to check out this very interactive list.

Can we make a difference? I think so. In fact, I believe we have a responsibility to do so. In our choral classrooms, we have an opportunity to teach what cannot be easily taught in other areas of the curriculum – cooperation, community, and understanding. Time to roll up our sleeves, folks, and get to work.


Howard, K. (2014). Developing Children’s Multicultural Sensitivity Using Music of the African Diaspora: An Elementary School Music Culture Project. Dissertation.
https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773/33217


Dr. Joy Hirokawa is Assistant Professor of Music Education at Moravian College (Bethlehem, PA) and the Founder and Artistic Director of The Bel Canto Children’s Chorus. She earned a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Music Education from Boston University, a Masters degree in Choral Conducting from Temple University, and a Bachelors degree with honors in Music Education, also from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. She teaches a course annually at Villanova University’s Summer Music Program in working with the child voice. Dr. Hirokawa is a frequent guest conductor and clinician, presenting regularly at ACDA, NAfME and PMEA conferences.