Exciting projects working to increase diversity within classical music
In recent years, issues concerning inclusion and representation within classical music have been at the forefront of cultural discussion, this article highlights some exciting projects within public media working to increase diversity.
In recent years, issues concerning representation within classical music have been at the forefront of cultural discussion. Arts organizations have been called upon to do more to include traditionally underrepresented groups and work to restructure and dismantle the institutional structures that have acted as barriers to many people. This has led to several exciting and inspiring projects within public media and radio that are leading the charge to diversify playlists and amplify the voices of incredible artists that history has wrongfully overlooked.
One such recent project was Colorado Public Radio’s (CPR) spirituals radio project, “Journey to Freedom.” This year-long exploration into spirituals was done in collaboration with the The Spirituals Project, a community choir led by Assistant Professor of African American Music and Theology at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, Roger Holland. Their mission is to preserve and revitalize sacred songs called “spirituals” through musical, educational, and social justice work in their community. In collaboration with CPR, Mr. Holland chose a spiritual for each month to “illuminate the African American cultural narrative.” Some of his choices were familiar, like “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” but many you probably have never heard. This year long collaboration culminated in June 2022, with a special spiritual singalong event with the theme: “building community.”
All Classical Portland is another public radio station working to improve diversity within classical music through their Recording Inclusivity Initiative (RII). Through the RII, All Classical Portland aims to “diversify America’s playlist, and address the gap of classical music composers and musicians from underrepresented communities that make it into the concert hall and onto the airwaves.” This initiative has led them to create new recordings of classical music written by composers from underrepresented communities, and led to the production of a new album titled, AMPLIFY, that will be released on Oct. 28th, 2022. The music for this album was chosen from nominations made by station listeners and musicians, and through their composers-in-residence program. All Classical Portland’s composers-in-residence program offered composers from diverse backgrounds a week-long residency, which included recordings of their work and $2,500.
Another exciting project is the African Diaspora Music Project led by Dr. Louise Toppin. Dr. Louise Toppin is a coloratura soprano and celebrated performer, having sung all over the world at venues such as Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and the Beijing Concert Hall. Her work has often focused on increasing diversity and representation within the repertoire. The African Diaspora Music Project is a database created to make concert works by composers of the African diaspora more accessible, and to encourage performance and research of these works. The current focus of the database is compiling art song, and assisting students in repertoire choices for the George Shirley African American Art Song and Operatic Aria Competition, with a goal of expanding to other areas of music as the database grows.
These are amazing examples of the role public media is taking in encouraging and supporting diversity within classical music, and I hope you enjoy listening to the music created and highlighted by these projects.