Music Selection

Cultivating Belonging through Music Selection

When selecting repertoire teachers prioritize overall musical quality, consider the potential for musical development, and ensure appropriate difficulty for the ensemble. In addition to the music criteria outlined in our district guidelines, we aim to create a space of belonging for all students. Selected music emphasizes and encompasses a diverse array of composers who reflect the cultural and global diversity our students encounter. Teachers proactively choose music that reflects and resonates with the unique backgrounds and experiences of the students in the ensemble.

Throughout a student’s music experience in Westport, they will have the opportunity to engage with a diverse selection of American patriotic music. By singing and performing these compositions, students not only develop their musical skills but also connect with the historical narratives, events, and values that define our nation. It enriches our collective cultural heritage and enhances our sense of community as we come together to celebrate the spirit of our nation.

Music performed also follows best practice set forth by the Feierabend Assoc for Music Education FAME DEI Committee Criteria and Recommendations, revised 2021,

Full details can be found in our WPS Guidelines for the Selection of Music (adopted fall 2023).

At Staples, our Candlelight concert holds on to strong traditions but has worked to diversify and reduce the strong Christian influence on the “annually performed” pieces including the concert opening. Beyond the traditional Christmas repertoire, the inclusion of pieces like “Ose Shalom” with a traditional Hebrew text and “I Found the Light,” a commission of living composers, underscores our dedication to inclusivity. Featuring instrumental soloists and small ensemble performances chosen by the students, the performance encompasses a variety of voices and perspectives. By embracing works from composers like Thielman Susato, Mordkhe Rivesman, and Jake Landau, we celebrate cultural diversity and contribute to a more inclusive musical landscape.

Video of “Ose Shalom” Performed by the Staples Music Department

At our Youth Candlelight, our three emcee elves had diverse religious backgrounds shown on their sweaters and all students in grades 3,4,5,8 in the district were part of an interactive performance of “O Hanukkah” with the jazz combo and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker March”.


Over the past 4 years, Staples Music Department has consistently programmed music composed by women, people of color, and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community. Roughly 50% of the music performed features composers from one or more of these underrepresented backgrounds. Students are provided with biographical information about these individuals in hopes that they learn that the music they perform represents a group of people that represent the global community that they are growing up within and will one day lead as adults.

Underrepresented composers performed: Nicole Piunno, Omar Thomas, Alex Shapiro, Kevin Day, Shelley Hanson, Carolyn Bremer, Kathaj Copely, Cait Nishimura, Soon Hee Newbold, Rhiannon Giddens, Florence Price, Gwyneth Walker, and others.

Specific Examples:

In 2023, Freshman Orchestra performed “The Old Boatman” by Florence Price, the first black woman to have her music played by a major orchestra. Throughout the unit, students learned that many of Price’s pieces were found stored in an abandoned house rather than being published. Students had the opportunity to take a deeper dive into one of her four symphonies (slide pictured below) and discover the cultural significance woven into the work.

Working with living composers, Symphonic Orchestra had the opportunity to perform “At the Purchaser’s Option” by Rhiannon Giddens. Inspiration for this piece came from a 19th-century advertisement for a 22 year-old enslaved woman whose 9-month-old baby was also for sale, but “at the purchaser’s option”. This piece was undoubtedly emotional, but also musically challenging as it pushed students to learn new playing techniques and solo styles.

Each spring, students are encouraged to select their own repertoire in a project called “The Sales Pitch Project”.  Students are mixed into different groups outside of their voice parts and asked to pick out a piece of repertoire they would like to study and perform for our final concert.  As a team, they must provide research about the song: composer, historical context, key signature/time signature, accompaniment, genre, etc.  The second part of the project involves “pitching” their idea to the rest of the class and to their teacher.  They must include the research they’ve found as well as to discuss the educational value of their chosen song.  Finally, we vote for our favorite tune as a class.

The students’ take away is learning the challenges of picking out appropriate repertoire, working with peers outside of their voice part, and having autonomy over some of our repertoire.

Examples of recent middle school performances by underrepresented composers:

Zia, Silversides, and Egyptique by William Owens, Adnalucia by Victor Lopez, Luz Y Sombra by Jorge Luis Vargas, Odyssey and many others by Soon Ye Nebold, and Randall Standrige’s Unbroken Project.

Traditional Hebrew texts and folk songs are also an often performed choral repertoire including Shalom Chaverim and Al Shlosha D’varim.