Can you name three black classical composers? Rachel Barton Pine can name 350. 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 the last 15 years, Pine has collected more than 900 works by more than 350 black composers from the 18th to 21st centuries, representing Africa, North and South America, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and Oceania.
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 170 living black composers for use by performers, researchers, and those wishing to diversify their commissioning.
In addition, the site has joined forces with the Orchestral Music by Black Composers project founded by scholar-harpist and Local 802 member Dr. Ashley Jackson and conductor James Blachly, to build an online database of all composers of African descent, living and deceased, worldwide. The database will feature information about numerous individual works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and orchestra, including instrumentation, length, descriptions, difficulty level, where to find the music, links to recordings, and programming suggestions.
For more information, check out www.musicbyblackcomposers.org.