Hearing Others' Voices: An Exploration of the Musical Experiences of Immigrant Students Who Sing In High School Choir

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2004-11-29

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The purpose of this study was to explore the musical experiences of immigrant students in an American high school choral classroom. This study revealed some of the central issues and tensions that immigrant students face as they are acculturated into secondary school music programs. The study explored the experiences of five immigrant female high school students who had emigrated from the following countries: Ecuador, El Salvador, Ghana, and Kazakhstan. The primary participants in the collective case study attended a suburban high school in the Mid-Atlantic region and had been living in the U.S. for three years or less. All participants were enrolled the same entry-level non-auditioned choral class.

A survey was given to all choral students at the school which provided demographic information about the overall school choral program. Data collection methods included: semi-structured, in-depth interviews, student and teacher surveys, observations, focus groups, and dialogue journal writing collected over a ten-month period. Participants were encouraged to write journal entries in their native language. Lind's study of classroom environment and Gay's theory of culturally responsive teaching provided two important frameworks for analysis and interpretation of data. Data were coded through the NVivo software system for processing qualitative research. The data were analyzed and interpreted to create four narrative case studies.

Findings suggested that the acculturation process for immigrant teenagers entails multiple dimensions with distinct outcomes depending on students' personal histories and educational backgrounds. Data revealed teacher dependence on contextual language in the choral classroom language as a vehicle for transfer of musical knowledge and that English language learners (ELL) are sometimes placed at a disadvantage in the choral classroom because of this reliance.

Findings implied that some curricular norms in secondary choral classes such as vocal warm-ups, musical notation, sight reading requirements and choral festivals can be viewed as culturally incongruent with immigrants students' previous musical experiences. Data suggested that immigrant students in choral classes viewed the minimum requirements for participation in a school group, opportunities for public performance, and daily use of English in a non-threatening atmosphere as benefits of their overall high school education.

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