#BLACK is CLASSICAL: a campaign for music by Black composers

Volume 122, No. 2February, 2022

From left, Amadeo Roldán, Scott Joplin, Francesca (Chiquinha) Gonzaga and Clarence Cameron White.

Can you name three black classical composers? Rachel Barton Pine can name 485. A member of AFM 10-208 (Chicago), the internationally renowned violinist also runs her own self-titled foundation, which has recently launched a Music by Black Composers campaign. The projects, which all feature black classical composers, include pedagogical books, a coloring book for kids, a timeline poster and Pine’s “Blues Dialogues,” an album of classical works written by 20th- and 21st-century composers of African descent.

For these projects, the foundation is partnering with three organizations that support diversity, equality and inclusion in classical music: Sphinx Overture, Dallas Symphony’s Young Strings and Curtis Artist Citizens. Local 802 member Wynton Marsalis serves on the honorary committee.

These four projects place black classical composers and much of their previously overlooked music into today’s cultural consciousness. In doing so, Pine says she hopes to inspire black students to begin and continue instrumental training, make the music of black composers available to all people, and help change the face of classical music and its canon.

Black composers have created masterful classical music for centuries, yet they are underrepresented in concert programming and in classical music education, silencing a rich vein of works from global consciousness. As young musicians seldom have the opportunity to study and perform classical music by black composers, aspiring black music students struggle to participate in an art form in which they do not appear to belong, perpetuating a lack of diversity on stage and among audiences.

With that in mind, over nearly two decades, Pine has collected more than 900 works by more than 400 black composers from the 18th to 21st centuries, representing Africa, North and South America, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and Oceania.

In 2018, Pine said, “In the 15 years since we first conceptualized this Music by Black Composers project, we have had the opportunity to speak with many black musicians about the importance of role models in the arts.”

Pine added, “Even today, many aspiring black students live in a community where their particular town’s orchestra may not even have a single player of color in it or leading it. As much as they may love the music, they don’t see a future for themselves. Our goal is to present a variety of black leaders representing professions in the classical sphere, so that young people may consider the different avenues they may take in music and see someone who looks like them in that role.”

The current effort is part of a multi-pronged approach to spread awareness of and access to music by black composers. The Music by Black Composers website currently features a directory of more than 330 living black composers for use by performers, researchers, and those wishing to diversify their commissioning.

In addition, the site features repertoire directories designed for performers, conductors, programmers, researchers, teachers, and students. These include links for acquiring sheet music, links to recordings, and other helpful information to aid in programming. The directories, built in collaboration with diverse instrumental specialists, so far include works for violin and orchestra, unaccompanied solo violin, unaccompanied solo cello, solo piano, and classical guitar. More instrumentations are coming very soon, including works for solo viola and for string quartet.

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