By Phoebe Doscher, Editor-in-Chief
The Music Conservatory Diversity Committee (MCDC) held a diversity and inclusion discussion at Now Hear This on Friday afternoon. The meeting, led by Anderson Gray ’23, Lily Zhou ’23, Sebastian Garcia ’23, and Sophie Low ’23, included small and full-group discussions about underrepresented groups and stereotypes, reasons for involvement in the Sunderman Conservatory of Music, or the lack thereof, and the type of music and programming offered at the Conservatory.
“The reason why we’re having this discussion today is because all of us came together and we collectively agreed that we all feel pretty underrepresented here at the Conservatory, and this is something that a lot of people across campus within the Conservatory have come to us about,” Gray said.
Individuals across campus attended the event, including Senior Associate Director of Admissions Darryl Jones, Vice Provost Jack Ryan, and Interim Chief Diversity Officer Carlos Del Tasso Aquino.
The MCDC established community guidelines for the event, reminding the group to critique ideas, not individuals, engage in active listening, accept vulnerability, and welcome all experiences and perspectives.
To start, attendees were invited to raise their hands if they were a part of a variety of underrepresented or marginalized groups, including the BIPOC community, LGBTQIA+, or were non-religious, non-Christian, a woman, or neurodivergent. “Everyone has an underrepresentation in the Conservatory,” Gray explained when many attendees raised their hands.
The MCDC then led an exercise in identifying harmful stereotypes, where the group answered the prompt “I am,” filling in with something they identify with, and then responding with “But I do not” or “I am not” and naming a common stereotype that goes along with this identity.
After conversing in small groups, some individuals shared their responses aloud. Jones discussed being an African-American man who is classically trained in music. Interim Director of the Office of Multicultural Engagement Monique Gore said “I am Black, and a woman, but I am not angry. There is a constant stereotype that Black women are angry.”
Gray related the exercise back to the goal for the Conservatory meeting. “There’s a lot of stereotypes that come along with music. … We study classical music but we don’t study Black composers that also do classical music, or Asian, or Latinx, or women, and there’s something inherently wrong with that,” Gray explained.
Next, the MCDC offered two more open discussion questions to the group: For students who are outside of the Conservatory, why have you never gotten involved? And, for students in the Conservatory, is there an ensemble you’ve been hesitant to participate in, and why?
Some students shared their thoughts with the group, including Will Esposito ’22, who cited an inability to participate in choir since it conflicts with rehearsals for Jazz Dispatch. Julia Golkap ’22, Anali Matthew ’23, and Allie Charney ’22 agreed with the constraints of this conflict.
“I wanted to be in the jazz ensemble,” said Matthew, who is a member of College Choir. “The interesting thing is that over the past semester, I realized that choir singing is not always the best for solo singers just because of the different techniques that we need to use. … Jazz music ultimately has a lot of … practical voice techniques. I wanted to see if I could do more of that.”
The last discussion questions brought to the group by the MCDC included: What kind of music speaks to you the most? And what kind of music do you want to see in the Conservatory?
Students brought up various genres and styles of music they’d like to see represented or more acknowledged in the Conservatory, including electronic, a cappella, and film score music. Casey Ottaway ’22 mentioned that he sang a jazz song in voice studio for a change in style.
“I was talking to Professor Fahnestock about what I was singing in studio … And I said, ‘I have never heard anyone sing jazz in studio, so do you have any jazz music you can give me?’ And so I ended up singing ‘Stormy Weather,’” he said. “[I performed] a song like that in a space where you always see art song … It’s sort of the process of incorporating other styles of music deliberately until we reach the point where it no longer needs to be deliberate and nobody gives it a second thought.”
Esposito mentioned a need for the Conservatory to take a step away from tokenism, in which concerts are solely about representing marginalized groups, for example, women. “What we should be doing is implementing music by women composers into all of our concerts instead of having a concert titled ‘Women in Jazz’ and then forgetting about it.”
The MCDC ended the talk by addressing three major points of change: making jazz a major ensemble at the Conservatory, adding an African drum class—currently, the Conservatory does not have the faculty to support one—and creating an inspirational choir for gospel and soul music.
“We need change at the Conservatory. This has been ongoing and it’s time to see things change done, we can’t just have discussions and talk about it. We need to see actual change,” Gray said.
In the future, the MCDC plans to hold listening sessions with the community about these initiatives. They will also be creating a resource bookshelf on the second floor of Schmucker with QR codes to Spotify playlists and highlighting a diverse composer of the week in an email to the Conservatory and by posting on a bulletin board. They also plan to speak to faculty directly at upcoming meetings.