Equality, diversity and inclusion in music studies
The history of Western Art Music has a long-held tendency to foreground the works of white, male composers; Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, Handel, Haydn and Mozart, and more recently Stockhausen, Stravinsky and Shostakovich – these are the familiar names that we are used to hearing, whose music has been published, written about, recorded and performed a multitude of times. But what about Elisabeth Jacquet de Guerre, Barbara Strozzi and Anna Bon di Venezia? Ethel Smyth, Amy Beach and Florence Price? Errolyn Wallen, Daphne Oram, Erika Fox and Caroline Shaw? Joseph Bologne, George Bridgetower, William Grant Still, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Julius Eastman? Sungji Hong, Bun-Ching Lam and Lei Liang?
As musicians, artists and people interested in culture in general, it is our responsibility to go beyond the obvious choices and explore a much wider range of works, by a diverse range of composers and practitioners. As performers, we should be learning and playing these works, and as composers, we should listen to them and learn from them, just as we would with the more well-known names. The more we can engage with a wider range of works, the more we can enrich our knowledge, expand our practice and develop our experience.
In the music department at OCA we are working towards the creation of a more diverse curriculum to allow a wider range of voices to be heard. While it will take time to revise and refresh our course materials, a number of resources are already available through the Links section in the Music Degree space on OCA Learn [https://learn.oca.ac.uk/mod/glossary/view.php?id=4327], including the Composer Diversity Project (a database with listings for over 4000 composers from historically underrepresented groups), the plansightSOUND database (a listing of works by Black British composers) and Music Theory Examples by Women.
I am also proud to represent the OCA in the Creative Practice: Composition and Performance working group in the newly formed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Music Studies (EDIMS) Network, a cross-organisational group set up to ‘promote, support and share good practice in relation to EDI in Music Higher Education in the UK’ (https://www.edimusicstudies.com/about). There is work to be done across the Higher Education sector, and we are working together to make positive changes which can help to redress the balance, enriching all of our experiences. The EDIMS launch event is taking place on 13 November on Zoom – do let me know if you would like to attend and I’ll share the link with you.
In the short term, let’s all pledge to make small changes. To the music students of OCA: aim to include at least one piece by a composer from one of the historically under-represented groups your listening log for each part of your course; take the time to go a little further in your research and find a more diverse range of works to explore, and share the repertoire discoveries you make on the new forum space on OCA Learn [https://learn.oca.ac.uk/mod/hsuforum/view.php?id=9527]. I’m looking forward to hearing what you find!
Featured image: Florence Price