That time when Ireland lit a fire under US classical diversity

So an online conversation about the sameness of classical music in Ireland has grown a much broader impact than just the Emerald Isle.  On March 14, three female Irish composers took their community to task via social media for a lack of gender and ethnic diversity in local programming. Their tweetstorm blew across the Atlantic to inspire US composers Mika Godbole and  Annika Socolofsky to start their own campaign, and #HearAllComposers was born.

This sort of organized effort can effect real change in an arts community that is still, even today, riddled with habit and networks that are focused on a narrow field of connections and inclusion.  Take a good look around, and see how many concert seasons and projects still lean heavily to one gender or another, or create “inclusive” events that ironically limit themselves to a specific national connection, gender or other group — usually in an effort to balance or overcorrect a real lack of representation.

What’s great about this campaign is that while it’s spearheaded by feminist women, they’ve carefully constructed their efforts to include many other marginalized groups:

These issues run much deeper than just programming and commissioning bias, so the next step is to look at how we can address issues of gender, race, and socio-economic class at various stages in a composer’s career.

It could be the closest effort we’ve seen to a truly meritorious approach, and has a real chance of effecting some leveling of the playing field.  We’re lucky in Los Angeles, as we enjoy a remarkably diverse range of presenters, composers, performers and other creative types.  But there’s still inclusivity to be had:  we’ll refrain from naming names unintentional) exclusion still exists.  Most of the time, it’s not malice, but the biases that derive from a lack of broader perspective:  presenters pick what’s top-of-mind and what they’re used to.  They’re just as likely as anyone to become passionate about things that come from their existing experience and connections, and that habit can leave out a lot of possibilities.  Campaigns like #HearAllComposers can do much to raise awareness of this tendency, and open doors to those who might be outside the usual channels.

Read more about the campaign on I Care If You Listen, one of my favorite blogs and essential reading for any new music geek.  (Yes, I’m a geek, and I’m proud.)

Fight on, gentlepeople.  Fight on.

Featured image adapted from photo by Rachel Gilmore / FreeImages

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