Classical MPR in the Classroom: The challenge of addressing American Indian music

August 21, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Classical MPR in the Classroom is a standards-based video series to assist elementary music teachers in the classroom. The videos and curriculum are available for free on the Classical MPR YouTube channel as well as here on

The Minnesota Music Education Standards feature benchmarks that are unique to this state. Specifically, one of these standards involves identifying and describing the cultural and historical traditions of Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities.

However, many classroom teachers may have difficulty addressing these benchmarks due to a lack of guidance. For example, how does a teacher learn how to appropriately approach American Indian music and culture? And how would a teacher get permission to teach an American Indian song?

Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) musician and educator Lyz Jaakola (also a Classical MPR 2013 Artist-in-Residence) provides some answers in Teaching American Indian Music, Arts, Culture and Traditions.

"There is no one way to be Anishinaabe; there is no one way to be American, for that matter," Jaakola says. Drawing on the American Indian culture of oral tradition, Jaakola loves to share her knowledge while embracing her Ojibwe and Finnish heritages.

Jaakola is a formally trained opera singer, but she has also immersed herself in other musical traditions including blues, jazz, and Anishinaabe. This video includes footage of Jaakola's Artist-in-Residence performance at a Saint Paul school, which is combined with an interview of Jaakola to provide a well-rounded informational tool for teachers.

Jaakola demonstrates Ojibwe-style singing, drumming, and flute-playing, and describes the background of each song and instrument. She received permission from elders in her tribe to teach these songs to the children, and she includes sheet music for the arrangements that she composed specifically for this curriculum. The video's curriculum also includes a more in-depth narrative about Anishinaabe-Ojibwe music traditions since the mid-20th century, written by Jaakola.

In Fall 2013, watch for a second installment of Teaching American Indian Music, Arts, Culture and Traditions with Lyz Jaakola.

Classical MPR thanks The Sunup Foundation for generous support of this music education initiative.

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