Monday, February 16, 2009

Classical artists who happen to be black

Why is it that black composers appear in major orchestral concerts only in February or in a minority-composers-themed concert? I know that's a huge generalization. But is it? Raymond Harvey, conductor of the Kalamazoo Symphony orchestra, has been asked what it's like to be a... Oooo.... black (African American) conductor. His response is something along the lines of... misconceptions abound regarding black composers and conductors. Just because he is black doesn't mean the black population will unquestioningly flock to the instrumental orchestral series at the local symphony.

The Chicago Sinfonietta under the direction of Paul Freeman, a black man, has a greater and very public mission of great art through diversity. This diversity is in the repertoire, guest artists, members of the orchestra and conductors. This organisation attempts to minimize barriers for students to experience and participate in the arts. I don't suppose the same persons questioning Maestro Harvey ask the same of Maestro Freeman? Well, it's clear that such a diverse orchestra and arts organization would natually be lead by a person of color. Questions being begged:

Should an orchestra that prides itself on diversity naturally have a person of color as its musical director? Would an anglo-American director compromise the integrity of the organization's mission to offer music through diversity? Do you suppose Raymond Harvey would desire to hold this post? Do you suppose Dr. Harvey believes that the best director of color should hold the post? Or would be believe the best director regardless of color should be awared the honor?

But let's return to the statement regarding composers. Should the best black composers appear on programs or should the best composers regardless of color appear on programs? Should musical directors make it a point to diversify their programming to include pieces regardless of quality or color of the conductor? Whose definition of 'best' is used?

1 comment:

Leah said...

Black music in Education

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson shared his thoughts on music in education in a 1978 interview for a project of the Afro-American Arts Society of Indiana University...
"We have this problem: all of the history books have to be rewritten to include us. Until that has been done, supplementary materials should be put together and used at all levels of the educational system as required addenda to texts in the various subject areas--science, music, art, and so forth."