Diversity. Now.

Like countless people across the nation and the world, I am shocked, angered, and grieved by the recent events that have unfolded in the United States. The needless murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others are a sobering reminder that there is so much work to be done to dismantle systemic racism, implicit biases, and other systems of power that unjustly discriminate against people of color and other minorities. This is a significant historical moment, and coming together alongside these communities to mourn, listen, learn, and help enact positive change is more crucial now than ever.

As I’ve processed the events of this past week, my mind has occasionally turned to thinking about some of the similar, deep-seated systemic issues facing the classical music industry. I’ve written about diversity problems in classical music programming on this blog before (which you can read here), but now is the time to address it once again.

While many arts organizations are making great strides in the realm of diversity (such as the LA Phil), noticeable changes across the board are still not apparent. Works by women and composers of color are still programmed infrequently or appear on one-off, “themed” programs. Women conductors are still somewhat of an anomaly, even more so for black conductors and performers. Some opera companies and singers still insist on using blackface for specific roles, despite issues of racial and cultural appropriation. Certain instruments—such as brass—are still implicitly or explicitly gendered and widely considered to be appropriate only for men and boys. (To the people who think the tuba is a “guy’s instrument,” look up Carol Jantsch right now.) And of course, recent sex scandals surrounding James Levine, Charles Dutoit, Plácido Domingo, and others have done nothing to improve classical music’s image, making it seem skeevy, disingenuous, and out-of-touch with society.

Despite the progress that has been achieved, it’s clear that widespread discrimination, harassment, abuse, bias, and economic barriers still lurk beneath the industry’s seemingly pristine surface. These are complex and frustrating issues, and conversations must be had about how to hold the industry to a higher standard and make classical music fairer and more inclusive for ALL, whether it be composers, performers, administrators, or listeners. Something has to be done. But what?

Now, as a white male, I fully realize that everything I say here comes from a place of privilege. The system, sadly, is built to work in my favor. I will never understand what it’s like to be denied a job opportunity because of my gender or the color of my skin. I will never understand what it’s like to face harassment at the workplace because of my gender or the color of my skin. I will never understand what it’s like to walk home alone and fear what could happen along the way because of my gender or the color of my skin. I will never understand.

BUT, there are things that I can do. I can listen and hear the stories of those who have been marginalized by the music industry. I can educate myself and learn more about the systemic racism and sexism present in classical music, both in the past and today. I can commit to championing diversity and inclusivity and speaking out against discrimination and injustices in the musical realm. And not just in the musical realm, but in everyday life as well. Overall, I can use my privilege to take steps that help make classical music a more vibrant, colorful, and accessible art form. I can and I will.

And not only can I do that, but you, dear reader (yes, you!), can help do this as well, especially if you are in a place of privilege like me. Where to begin? Well, there is so much to be said that is beyond the scope of a single blog post, but here are three suggestions:

  1. Support orchestras, chamber ensembles, choirs, opera companies, and other organizations that perform a diverse mix of repertoire—especially works by women and composers of color—and have initiatives that combat inequity and create greater opportunities for minority musicians. Go to their concerts. Call, write, and/or email the administration, thanking them for their commitment to inclusion and diversity. Tell your friends about these organizations. Donate money if you have the financial means. Whatever it takes to get the word out and let these groups know that they are doing good work. (Obviously, COVID-19 complicates this at press time, but as soon as the restrictions lift and live concerts become possible again, do it!)
  2. Follow and support the work of the Institute for Composer Diversity. This is a fantastic project based out of SUNY Fredonia, where their team has created a huge, searchable database of composers from underrepresented groups. They also analyze the diversity (and lack thereof) present in American orchestras’ seasons and provide many other resources that advocate for inclusiveness. It’s an amazing tool that deserves to be shared and used. (Here are some other organizations as well, courtesy of the League of American Orchestras.)
  3. Familiarize yourself with minority composers (women, people of color, LGBTQ+, etc.). Know who they are, listen to their music, and promote it. Of course, their music should not be promoted simply because they are minorities, but because they wrote some really GOOD stuff that many people just don’t know! To help with this, I have curated a list below of 100 composers who belong to some of these underrepresented groups. In addition, an accompanying Spotify playlist features 50 different works from 50 of these composers’ respective outputs. The pieces are arranged chronologically by birth year and span almost 1200 years, encompassing a dizzying swath of styles and genres along the way. Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg—countless other composers aren’t included here—but it’s a good starting place.

For too long, too many people have been led to believe that only white men can compose “great” music. This narrative needs to be shut down immediately. I love the classics—don’t get me wrong—but there is so much incredible music outside this mold that deserves to be heard and too much of it, sadly, ends up going unheard. Now, this isn’t necessarily out of malice, but rather, ignorance. Awareness of the problem is always the first step to sparking change. In fact, Albert Einstein once said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Let’s dust off these outdated, broken modes of thinking and envision a better future for classical music. I dream of the day when Brahms and Florence Price can appear on the same concert program without a big fuss. When a woman can direct an orchestra and no one will bat an eye. When racial and gender disparity will no longer be an issue, and the makeup of any performing arts organization, be it the Met or the Vienna Philharmonic, more accurately reflects this beautifully diverse world we live in.

We can and must do better to help make this dream a reality. Why not now?

Medieval/Renaissance

  • Kassia
  • Hildegard von Bingen: Ordo virtutum – Scene 1, “O dulcis divinitas”
  • Comtessa de Dia: A chantar m’er

Baroque

  • Francesca Caccini
  • Barbara Strozzi: “Priego ad Amore” from Il Primo de Madrigali
  • Isabella Leonarda
  • Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre: Suite in F major from Pièces de clavecin – Menuet

Classical/Romantic

  • Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Symphony No. 1 in G major, op. 11, no. 1 – II. Andante
  • Louise Farrenc: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 32 – IV. Finale (Allegro)
  • Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel: “Die Mainacht” from 6 Lieder, op. 9
  • Clara Schumann: Scherzo No. 2 in C minor, op. 14
  • Cécile Chaminade

20th/21st Century

  • Ethel Smyth: Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra – II. Elegy: In Memoriam (Adagio)
  • Amy Beach: Violin Sonata in A minor, op. 34 – II. Scherzo (Molto vivace)
  • Scott Joplin: Treemonisha – Act 1, “We’re Goin’ Around”
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
  • Alma Mahler: “Laue Sommernacht” from Fünf Lieder
  • Rebecca Clarke
  • Heitor Villa-Lobos
  • Florence Price: Symphony No. 4 in D minor – III. Juba Dance
  • Nadia Boulanger: Three Pieces for Organ – III. Improvisation
  • Germaine Tailleferre
  • Lili Boulanger: Psalm 24 (“La terre appartient à l’Eternel”)
  • William Grant Still: Suite for Violin and Piano – II. Mother & Child
  • Duke Ellington
  • Carlos Chávez: Xochipili (An Imagined Azetc Music)
  • Silvestre Revueltas
  • Lilian Elkington: Out of the Mist
  • Ruth Crawford Seeger: Piano Study in Mixed Accents
  • Aram Khachaturian
  • Elisabeth Lutyens
  • Grażyna Bacewicz
  • Margaret Bonds: Three Dream Portraits – III. “I, Too”
  • Alberto Ginastera: Estancia Suite – IV. Danza final (Malambo)
  • Galina Ustvolskaya
  • Alexander Arutiunian: Rhapsody for Trumpet and Winds
  • Ruth Gipps: Song for Orchestra, op. 33
  • George Walker: Lilacs – I. Eighth note = 56
  • Julia Perry
  • Betsy Jolas
  • Thea Musgrave
  • Toru Takemitsu: Rain Tree Sketch I
  • Sofia Gubaidulina: Piano Quintet – IV. Presto
  • Pauline Oliveros
  • Joan Tower: Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 1
  • Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
  • Julius Eastman
  • Adolphus Hailstork
  • Meredith Monk: Basket Rondo – I. Basket A – High Basket
  • Tania León
  • Laurie Anderson
  • Daniel Catán
  • Joe Hisaishi: “The Young Man from the East” from Princess Mononoke
  • Arturo Márquez
  • Libby Larsen
  • Kaija Saariaho: L’Amour de loin – Act IV, Scene 2, “Songe”
  • Chen Yi: Fiddle Suite – III. Dancing (for Jinghu)
  • Zhou Long
  • Judith Weir: Illuminare, Jerusalem
  • Bright Sheng
  • Moses Hogan
  • Tan Dun: Ghost Opera – Act V, Song of Paper
  • Elena Kats-Chernin
  • Julia Wolfe: Compassion
  • Laura Karpman
  • Annie Gosfield
  • Osvaldo Golijov: Ayre “Sueltate las Cintas”
  • Yasuhide Ito
  • Rachel Portman
  • Unsuk Chin: Gougalon (Scenes from a Street Theater) – III. The Grinning Fortune Teller with the False Teeth
  • Julie Giroux
  • Wynton Marsalis: Blood on the Fields – “Due North”
  • Rosephanye Powell
  • Michael Abels
  • Jennifer Higdon: Violin Concerto – III. Fly Forward
  • Augusta Reed Thomas
  • Gabriela Ortiz: 3 Toritos – II. Tregua
  • Liza Lim
  • Olga Neuwirth
  • Stacy Garrop
  • Alexandra Vrebalov: The Sea Ranch Songs – Numbers
  • Gabriela Lena Frank
  • Narong Prangcharoen: Whisper from Afar
  • Lera Auerbach
  • Jessica Meyer
  • Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Heyr þú oss himnum á
  • Anna Meredith
  • Anna Clyne
  • Missy Mazzoli: Song from the Uproar “Capsized Heart”
  • Jessie Montgomery: Break Away – V. Break Away
  • Caroline Shaw: Partita for 8 Voices – I. Allemande
  • Derrick Spiva Jr.: Dance in 3 Move in 2
  • Ashley Fure
  • Reena Esmail: Tuttarana
  • Ellen Reid
  • Nathalie Joachim: Suite pou dantan – I. Prelid
  • Dale Trumbore
  • Julia Adolphe
  • Viet Cuong: Prized Possessions – II. Beggar’s Lace
  • Gabriella Smith: Tessellations

*The title of this blog post was inspired partially by the Philadelphia Orchestra’s WomenNOW initiative.

2 Comments on “Diversity. Now.”

  1. Thank you, Kevin. I really appreciate your perspective, admonitions, and practical suggestions. This is a very important word through the lens of classical music. Thank you for speaking out!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Classical music through a Caribbean lens – In Concert

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