Diversity and Inclusion in Classical Music. Is it just a coincidence that the summer of 2016 has seen gatherings devoted to this topic, on both sides of the Atlantic?
In June, the League of American Orchestras made diversity the theme of its annual conference and convened a national “Diversity Forum” as part of it, dedicated to “Increasing Participation by Musicians from Underrepresented Communities.” In July, the Sphinx Organization sponsored a “Global Symposium on Diversity and Inclusion in Classical Music ” at the Southbank Centre in London.
Coincidence, probably. But also a sign that the classical music field has arrived at a new level of awareness about the stubborn lack of diversity and inclusion within its ranks. And they concur that problem is urgent. Speakers at Southbank stressed that if the classical music world doesn’t take immediate steps to diversify its artists, audiences, and repertoire, it is doomed to irrelevance. “We need to disrupt every single thing about our basic assumptions,” said Claire Mera-Nelson, Director of Music at the Trinity-Laban Conservatory.
The Symposium ended with collective commitment to several action steps: orchestras represented there will establish a fellowship for minority musicians; concerts will include at least one piece by women or minority composers; and the goals of inclusion and excellence will no longer be seen as an either/or choice.
The League Forum also had an action agenda, launching five national projects that will help build a supportive, sustainable pipeline from school music programs through audition support and mentoring into orchestra jobs, and even into higher-paying orchestral jobs.
For Sistema-inspired programs, it’s very good news that leaders in the classical field are becoming activists and agitators for inclusion. We need to make sure we have a strong presence in these conversations, a strong voice advocating for change.
Our oldest students are now teenagers, and some are choosing to pursue a life in music. Let’s make sure their voices, too, are heard in the international conversation about diversity. In this movement toward a new, more capacious understanding of classical music – reimagining who plays it, who listens to it, and how it’s defined – our students can help to lead the way.