As I get into the second month of #NotBeethoven tweet thread, you may have noticed a couple things. First is that I occasionally feature composers outside of the Western Art Music (WAM) tradition(s). Second, the natural consequence of this is I have to highlight Composers of Color and Non-Eurocentric Instruments and Ensembles.1
A couple years ago I discovered a series of pieces title “America’s Other Orchestras” at Arab America and it helped me to solidify some thoughts I’ve been having about how we have discussions, and the narratives we create, about Orchestras and Classical Music. These are thoughts that were percolating at least since I first wrote a couple times about the Kennedy Center’s American Voices Festival back in 2013.
Diversity in Classical Music has been a hot topic lately, especially given the recent announcements of upcoming seasons of organizations and the pushback many are getting recently. With the introduction of the Women Composer Database and the Composer Diversity Project, therea a push for aggregating disparate lists of composers to decenter the White Male Canon by highlighting all the Women and PoC (People of Color) composers that have long been existing in the tradition but have been systemically excluded from it except in the most tokenistic of ways.
In my previous post I discussed how ridiculously easy it would be to avoid the Art of Monstrous Men, and the post before that discusses how to Decolonize the Musical Mind. The past couple of days I’ve come across some interesting pieces about diversity in the arts (or lack thereof). The first was a piece about bringing the art of women, long buried in storage of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, to light; the second was a piece about how the High Museum in Atlanta tripled its Nonwhite audience in two years by, well, increasing the diversity in its programming, staff, and marketing; and the third is a rebuttal of one of the myths justifying the Great White Canon of Classical Music.
One of the most enduring myths, and one that complements and amplifies the Monolithic Pop Culture trope discussed in a previous post is the Myth of the General Audience. Like the Monolithic Pop Culture, the General Audience requires an assumption of homogeneity to a population that simply doesn’t exist. By maintaining the homogeneity of the General Audience the Monolithic Pop Culture can be treated as a singular and undifferentiated mass while ignoring the actual differences between different audiences and the populations from where these audiences come.