“My name is Darlene, and I’m a second-generation Filipina. My parents grew up in the Philippines, they immigrated here, and I was born in California. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for the first 18 years of my life, and then I moved down to Los Angeles.
In high school, my theater teacher encouraged me to look into music education, so I ran with it. I came out of college in five years with two degrees [in piano performance and music education], but my overall intention was to be a teacher. I student-taught at a school district nearby, and it was perfect timing because they had an opening for ten music teachers. I was already in the system, so I was hired. I’ve been in that district ever since, and I love it there.
I took so many classes when I was in college, but my heart felt so safe and at home every time I learned about education. Every opportunity I had to teach in front of kids, I thought, ‘This is for me.’
I’ve dabbled with the idea of doing other things, but why would I? I can’t see myself as not being a music teacher. It’s so personal. It’s part of who we are. Some people do jobs because that’s just how they make money; they compartmentalize their lives. But as a musician, it connects to my humanity. If I wasn’t able to teach music, I don’t think I would be Darlene Machacon.
The murders that happened last summer were a wake up call. Not just for me, but for so many people around me. I’ve always felt there were social issues around [music], but because of the system I was in, I felt like we were just music teachers. So I just rolled with that, even though in my heart, I really wanted to speak up on those things. But after seeing the Black Lives Matter movement pushing for it, I was like, ‘No, it’s time to put things up in front.’ That motivated me to be more outspoken on issues because these social issues impact the music classroom, too. When we’re teaching students, we’re really teaching students how to thrive in society. But if we just ingrain ‘You need to know the difference between a quarter note and two eighth notes,’ how does that help them when they step out of the classroom? How does it help them to be more compassionate people? To be less racist? When there’s the mindset of ‘We’re only teaching music,’ it’s damaging because kids start to think, ‘Music isn’t that applicable in my life because my teacher only wants me to know the difference between forte and piano.’
Over the summer, I was thinking about doing a podcast but put it to the side. But then, one of my college friends goes, ‘I’ve always wanted to start a podcast.’ That’s how Coloring the Melody Podcast got started. We wanted to talk about the hard issues and how the intersectionality of our identities play a factor in how we teach. When we first advertised it, we realized our audience wasn’t just teachers, so we needed not to be too teacher-y but also talk about issues related to education. We see how our podcast can be an advocate for how music teacher education should be.
I listen to pretty much every music education podcast out there, but when I looked at my podcast library, there was a lack of representation in people of color. All of them were white women or white males. You will not find another duo of female music teachers of color. One moment where I knew we were doing the right thing was when one person wrote a review saying, ‘I’m a music ed student, and I’m Filipina. I’m so excited to hear this.’ When I was in college, there were no other Filipina music majors. I was the only one, and I had no Filipina music teachers to look up to. It was wonderful encouragement to think I was the one that made them realize there is someone who looks like them and is surviving and flourishing in the field.
In the classroom, it’s really in the small details, where the kids are indirectly learning about the core issues of social justice. For example, in the storybooks I use, I think about whose voices are being told. In the illustrations, do I see just people of the dominant culture, or do I see people with different hair textures? When I was growing up, my storybooks had just white people, and I would be in shock when I would see anyone of Asian descent. I intentionally pick materials that reflect what my students look like and show different ethnicities or abilities. In song choice, where students sing short songs to learn about different rhythms or concepts, I choose songs that are not always in English, so they realize not everything we do has to be in English. They learn a little bit about that culture and how our culture connects to others’ cultures. When students get used to thinking that way, they’re less likely to think of other people as outside their bubble.
I will admit it’s a little bit tough because of the limited time frame I have, but I know what to prioritize because of the limited time I have with these students. I would rather have them be more self-aware of their own emotions and other cultures than knowing random musical terminology they can’t connect outside of the classroom.
A thing I really want people to know is that incorporating social justice is essentially just good teaching. To separate it, to me, feels like it’s just separating social issues that directly impact our students and not welcoming talking about it in the classroom. It tells students, ‘I only care if you know musical stuff,’ but not seeing that they can be well-equipped to succeed outside of the classroom. When these kids grow up, they’re going to pick out what core memories they have of their elementary music experience. I want them to think about how music connects to the outside world. What they learn in music can help them better understand people. Those are skills they have to carry with them anyways. Social justice isn’t another thing to add, but another way to help our musicians to tap into who they are as people.”
— Darlene Machacon, Orange County, California