RTRL.58: Orchestral Performances at the Midwest Clinic (Zabanal, 2021)


Zabanal, J. R. A. (2021). An examination of orchestras and repertoire performed at the Midwest Clinic from 1990 through 2019. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 39(3), 29-38.

What did the researcher want to know?

What types of ensembles, repertoire, and composers/arrangers have been represented at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in the previous 30 years?

What did the researcher do?

Zabanal accessed programs from the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic from 1990 through 2019 and conducted a content analysis. To analyze the ensembles invited to perform, he recorded the performance year, school/organization name, ensemble name, and geographic origin (state/country) as well as level (elementary, middle school, high school, multilevel, collegiate, or professional). To analyze the repertoire performed, Zabanal recorded the title of each piece along with the composer and/or arranger and instrumentation (i.e., full orchestra or string orchestra). He also coded each composer/arranger according to their assumed gender (male/female).

What did the researcher find?

Of the 261 total orchestras that performed at the Midwest Clinic from 1990 through 2019, 58% were string orchestras and 39% were full orchestras. High school ensembles were most common, making up 63% of orchestra performances. The state with the most representation in orchestra performances was Texas (n = 73), followed by Georgia (n = 25), Illinois (n = 23), Nevada (n = 14), Michigan (n = 12), and Missouri (n = 11).

Of the 624 full orchestra pieces performed that listed at least one composer, only 24 (3.69%) were composed by women. Of the 305 individual composers whose full orchestra pieces were performed, only 17 (5.57%) were female. Of the 1,524 string orchestra pieces performed that listed at least one composer, 140 (9.19%) were composed by women. Of the 574 individual composers whose string orchestra pieces were performed, 46 (8.01%) were female. Similarly, women accounted for 6.48% of arrangers of full orchestra pieces performed and 11.02% of arrangers of string orchestra pieces.

Zabanal also reported statistics pertaining to the most performed composers/arrangers and most performed pieces.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Female composers are still underrepresented in the field of orchestral music and string music education. This imbalance was more pronounced among full orchestra performances at the Midwest Clinic, which more often featured repertoire by male composers “who were European and deceased” (p. 34). Orchestra teachers should seek out more works composed/arranged by women and provide more representation of female composers in their classrooms. 

RTRL.27: Who Enrolls in High School Music? (Elpus & Abril, 2019)



Elpus, K., & Abril, C. R. (2019). Who enrolls in high school music? A national profile of U.S. students, 2009-2013. Journal of Research in Music Education, 67(3), 323-338.

What did the researchers want to know?

What proportion of U.S. high school students enroll in ensemble and non-ensemble music courses, and what are the characteristics of students who enroll in ensemble music courses?

What did the researchers do?

Elpus and Abril utilized existing data on 25,210 high school students gathered via a nationally representative longitudinal study that followed students at 940 U.S. high schools. These data included demographic characteristics (e.g., sex, SES, race/ethnicity, prior academic achievement) as well as information from students’ high school transcripts, including whether they participated in a high school ensemble or non-ensemble music class. Elpus and Abril used bivariate and multivariate statistical analyses to identify demographic characteristics of music and nonmusic students and to investigate the unique impact of each characteristic.

What did the researchers find?

Of the students who graduated in 2013, 24% had enrolled in one or more music ensembles during at least one year of high school. Choir had the largest percentage of participation (13%), followed by band (11%) and orchestra (2%). In terms of non-ensemble courses, only 3% of students had enrolled in a guitar class, 3% in a piano class, and less than 1% in a music technology course.

The table below shows cross-tabulations for the entire sample, ensemble students, and each type of ensemble:

Characteristics of Music Ensemble Students and the Full Population
(Elpus & Abril, 2019)

Statistical analysis revealed that differences between instrumental and non-instrumental were statistically significant in every characteristic except birth-assigned assigned sex. In contrast, choir students did not differ significantly from non-choir students for any characteristic except for birth-assigned sex.

In order to investigate the unique impact of each demographic characteristic, Elpus and Abril used logistic regression, which is a statistical analysis that attempts to “control for” (i.e., remove the effects of) certain variables. These results showed that the probability of enrolling in an ensemble music class increases with SES as well as with prior academic achievement (as measured by a standardized algebra test). However, the latter was not true for Black/African American students, for whom “the likelihood of ensemble enrollment decreases as academic achievement increases” (p. 331).

It is also interesting to note that the effects of SES and prior academic achievement were not significant among choir students. When looking at each type of ensemble separately, SES only predicted enrollment among band vs. non-band students, while prior academic achievement only predicted enrollment among instrumental vs. non-instrumental students. With the exception of gender, choral students were more representative of the larger student population than band/orchestra students.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Elpus and Abril’s findings confirm that ensemble music courses are the most prevalent music offerings among U.S. high schools. We need to continue to think about how we might attract more students to participate in school music through non-ensemble courses. However, band and orchestra are disproportionately likely to enroll students of higher SES and higher prior academic achievement. Therefore, Elpus and Abril state, “the problem may not be in increasing the number of students in music courses (which is commonly heard in professional rhetoric) so much as ensuring that music courses are attracting a representative and wide cross-section of the general student population” (p. 334). As music educators, we can be aware of which types of students may tend to be less likely to enroll in ensemble music classes and actively work to recruit these students. 

Additionally, it is worth contemplating possible reasons why choir enrollment tends to be more reflective of the general population. Elpus and Abril suggest several possibilities:

  • The versatility of the singing voice and wide range of cultures and styles in choral music “might be more attractive to students from varying cultural backgrounds” (p. 335)
  • Choir may be “more readily available as an avenue of ensemble music-making for those high school students who, for any of a variety of reasons, did not begin to develop proficiency on a band or orchestra instrument in their earlier schooling” (p. 335).
  • “Choirs may require less time commitment and financial demands than band, which possibly makes them more attractive to students who have familial or work commitments and those of more limited financial means” (p. 335).

Based on these speculations, the following types of questions warrant reflection:

  • How might we increase the appeal and relevance of music course offerings to students from varying cultural backgrounds?
  • How might we provide avenues of entry into high school instrumental music classes for students who haven’t previously participated?
  • What time, financial, or other constraints may deter some students from participating in ensemble music classes? 
    • Are we being reasonable with the amount of time we expect from students outside of regular school hours?
      • Might our attendance and/or grading policies unfairly penalize students with work or family commitments?
      • Do we make the effort to truly listen to and take into consideration a student’s personal situation when they have a conflict?
    • What might be all the monetary costs—both obvious and hidden—to instrumental music participation (e.g., instrument rental/purchase, uniform fees, reeds and other supplies, private lessons)?
      • How realistic are these costs for students of lower SES? 
      • How might we help find ways to ease this financial burden and ensure that every student has the opportunity to participate and be successful in instrumental music?