In honor of Black History Month, this week’s installment of “Do the Work Wednesdays” is a challenge to our department community to explore the music of a new (to you) Black composer. Learn about their life, the context surrounding their work, and the intricacies of their music. Below we’ve provided resources to aid in your research, as well as ways to help dismantle the systemic erasure of Black musicians.
In order to create meaningful and lasting change, it’s important for all of us to do our part; to educate ourselves and help change how we think of music and its creators in anti-racist terms. Black History Month is a time to reflect on the rich history of Black culture, to recognize that Black history is American history, and perhaps most importantly to take action to create a future where Black voices are celebrated and never appropriated, tokenized, or oppressed.
As you do this work, let us know what you learn! Tag us on social media and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources to Do the Work
African Diaspora Music Project. http://africandiasporamusicproject.org/.
“The African Diaspora Music Project was started by Dr. Louise Toppin, UNC Alumna and former Chair of the Department of Music. The project’s mission is to increase awareness of, access to, and performance of music by African Diaspora composers. The African Diaspora in this context is defined as those composers throughout the world descended from people of West and Central Africa.” -Teaching Professor Jeanne Fischer
The African American Art Song Alliance. https://artsongalliance.org/.
“One resource that has been very helpful for me is the African American Art Song Alliance. They have a wealth of information on scholars, composers, and performers, as well as news about competitions and conferences. I have been using this website for several years to help find repertoire and other information for my students. They also have a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/artsongalliance/?hc_ref=ARTWuHZKkL2la_c6-VBMQmG1kbLo8OxaRvtvJ4UxvtdgcFynnnLgt3NBnsl_y1kV41I, with excellent online events – this is a link to one, but there are many more https://www.facebook.com/darryltaylorct/videos/10158572821165948/.” -Teaching Professor Jeanne Fischer
Beyond Elijah Rock: The Non-Idiomatic Choral Music of Black Composers. https://www.mlagmusic.com/research/beyond-elijah-rock
“Beyond Elijah Rock is a catalog of choral music by Black composers that goes beyond the idiomatic canon of spirituals, gospel, jazz, hip hop, and rap. Search by voicing, composer/arranger, title, or more. As the author says, this list is not exhaustive, but it is a starting point – check back often for new entries.” -Assistant Professor LaToya Lain
Colors of Classical Music. https://www.instagram.com/colorsofclassicalmusic/
Learn about current BIPOC musicians in the field via this Instagram account, and submit your own story.
Ewell, Philip. “Erasing Colorasure in Music Theory.” Twitter.
Happy Black History Month! I’d like to announce a Twitter project, “Erasing Colorasure in Music Theory.” In the history of American music theory, and American classical music, whiteness has consistently erased nonwhiteness from existence as unimportant in a process…1/
— Philip Ewell (@philewell) February 1, 2021
This thread contains colorased Black music theorists, composers, and performers. Follow @philewell on Twitter for more.
Music by Black Composers. https://www.musicbyblackcomposers.org/sheet-music/repertoire-directories/
“From the website: Music by Black Composers’ repertoire directories are designed for performers, conductors, programmers, researchers, teachers, and students. Whenever possible, they include links for acquiring the sheet music, links to recordings, and other helpful information to aid in programming.” -Assistant Professor LaToya Lain
“We are PROTESTRA, a coalition of activist musicians ready and willing to use our art to speak out against injustice and speak truth to power. We consider it our responsibility as artists to use music to expand social consciousness and raise awareness about the pressing societal issues that affect us all, but especially the most vulnerable and marginalized among us.” -PROTESTRA website; Follow them on Instagram @protestra_
Removing Racist Songs from Performance. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1k4G98nFyDJqBpH3aogYx62EWiFL-Ij4vuodZhiQoiy0/edit?fbclid=IwAR1AnH2-LLx9fYbIfxH_qov3kEnBDXfR8nYJi-MQI17yLJmP5Y0C9DE31cc&urp=gmail_link#gid=0
“Beth Cox, Band and Orchestra Director at Northwest Guilford Middle School, notes how many children’s songs, American folk songs, and educational melodies have roots in racist and otherwise troubling histories. In response, she has compiled a helpful spreadsheet. For each melody, there is a reference link describing its history and a suggestion of an alternate tune that offers the same pedagogical advantages.” -Professor Evan Feldman
The Spirituals Database. http://spirituals-database.com/#sthash.M2VzPmiP.TkJOSUFL.dpbs
“The Spirituals Database provides access to a large database of concert recordings of spirituals by solo Classical vocalists. It also goes beyond the recordings to give history on the Negro Spiritual, celebrates the spiritual through poetry and art, and lifts up the great arrangers and performers of the genre.” -Assistant Professor LaToya Lain
String Repertoire by BIMOC. https://www.gabrieladiazviolin.com/bimoc
“Violinist Gabriela Diaz is updating this database on a weekly basis with contributions from musicians all over the world. This list builds upon the previous work of Rachel Barton Pine and Dr. Megan E. Hill and also includes works catalogued in the Living Black Composers Directory. Comprising historic and contemporary musicians, this living document can serve as a jumping off point in discovering, exploring, programming, and championing solo string and mixed chamber music by underperformed composers and unheard voices.” -Associate Professor Nicholas DiEugenio
“Videmus is a not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to drawing attention to the repertoire composed by African Americans, women, and other underrepresented composers. The site offers access to the “African Diaspora Music Project” which features biographical information about and work lists for art-music composers of African descent, features videos of lectures and concerts, and integrates numerous other resources. Since 1998, the director of Videmus is Dr. Louise Toppin who—before moving to the University of Michigan in 2017—served as the chair of the Department of Music at UNC-Chapel Hill.” -Professor Annegret Fauser