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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

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Posted by author: Carla
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5 thoughts on “Equality, diversity and inclusion in music studies 

  • Thanks Carla, would it be possible to get that link, I’d be really interested in the EDIMS event. Also as a non-music student It’s great to get some introductions into a more varied range of composers.

    • Hi Allan
      No problem – I’ll email you the link to the EDIMS launch. Thanks for your interest and support with this!

  • I’ve watched a couple of TV programmes recently that have been about female and ethnic minority composers. The BBC programme presented by Lenny Henry really opened my eyes (and not in a good way) to the fact that diversity is appalling in the music world and creative arts more widely. The music produced by those featured was beautiful, it’s so wrong that they’re been overlooked just because of gender or ethnicity. I’ve written a reflective post in my listening log about it. I will definitely listen to at least one piece per part of my units.

    • Thanks Jane for engaging with this – and I completely agree – there’s lots more we can do within the music sector to help bring a more diverse range of music forward. There has been some great progress in recent years in helping women composers to be recognised but this needs to be extended further to include all of the overlooked groups. I’d like this to be a big part of the music culture at OCA and we can all play our part, including creating a safe space to make mistakes and to learn from them.

  • I watched the same programme, and was appalled at the racial prejudice. There was lovely music presented to us, and I never knew Scott Joplin wrote genres of music other than ragtime. So much for my music education!

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