Black Voices in Classical Spaces
When I’m asked about my experiences in classical music, I simply share my story. In sharing it, I both reaffirm for myself why I continue this type of advocacy work and relay a lived example of why that work must be done.
My family couldn’t buy an instrument for me when I was 12 years old, so my 7th grade band director handed me what was already lying around—a bassoon. Over the course of two degrees, an extracurricular activity turned into my principal field of study, and eventually into my career. Sadly, I was often the only Black person on a concert stage, and living this reality helped me to understand how impactful my presence could be in classical spaces.
When an opportunity to host classical radio presented itself, I jumped at it. My studies and experiences in the field, coupled with my desire to shift the conversations surrounding classical music, proved impactful. After less than two years hosting local classical radio, I was propelled to the national airwaves. There, I further integrated music by Black composers, hoping to demonstrate how classical music can engage today’s world. But in doing so, I defied the traditional order of operations at the station, and was dismissed from my position. Then and now, I stand by it; classical music spaces must center initiatives that ensure their survival in an ever-changing world. This includes honoring the history and achievements of non-white composers, as a means of equitably highlighting contributions that are so often overlooked in classical conversations.
It’s important to understand that equity in the arts looks and feels different than anything we’ve seen. If an institution has the opportunity to hire or engage someone with a different racial perspective, for example, they must do so. Instead of simply including anti-racism in a structure or system, they must center it. The changes needed by the arts will only be possible when promoting diverse voices is central to every decision and practice made within arts organizations. I want the 7th graders of the future to live a musical life grounded in cultural competency instead of code-switching. I want them to experience the diversity of the world through their careers, and I want them to know how hard others fought for that reality.