Toward a More Representative Classical Music World

Thursday, Feb 11, 2021
Juilliard Journal
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Margaret Bonds archival portrait
Composer Margaret Bonds studied in Juilliard's Extension Division (Carl Van Vechten/Library of Congress)

Expanding our knowledge and building a more inclusive approach to repertoire

By Adam Meyer and Ara Guzelimian
Over the summer of 2020, a dedicated group of studio faculty chairs and other leaders in the Music Division met to create Music by Black Composers: An Introductory Resource, a document that seeks to expand knowledge and build a more inclusive approach to repertoire. Repertoire and pedagogical choices can often grow out of habit and a narrowness of knowledge, shaped by a history of exclusion and diminished voices. In the Music Division, we are taking important steps to broaden our knowledge by creating a faculty-researched list of works by Black composers to embrace and work toward a more representative world of classical music.

As you will see on this list, each participant spent time exploring music by Black composers and making highly personal recommendations of works to hear and to perform. Our Juilliard Library staff, led by Jane Gottlieb, then annotated each suggestion with information about the availability of the music, noting where to find the scores and the fact that sources are being pursued if we did not already have the score. This document will be updated regularly to reflect new availability, and you can always check Juilcat for the latest information.

We urge each of you to join in this exploration by listening to, sharing, and playing this extraordinarily rich body of work that has been too often overlooked. This is meant to be a living document, so we invite you to help expand the list with your own discoveries and recommendations; please send them to [email protected].

Expanding our knowledge is the beginning, and we welcome your thoughts and suggestions as we continue this essential conversation. As a next step, we will work together in incorporating these works and other music by underrepresented composers into the ongoing life of the Music Division. We look forward to building a broader world of excellence in music that is truly representative of gender, racial, ethnic, and cultural heritage.

Adam Meyer (MM ’04, viola) is Juilliard’s provost; Ara Guzelimian was provost and dean from 2007 to 2020

>Click here to read ”Honoring the Legacy of Black Composers,” in which Fredara Hadley, professor of ethnomusicology, writes about the long and rich history of African American participation in classical music as composers, musicians, singers, and patrons

Detail of score manuscript with the lyrics visible, "...little light of mine/I'm gonna let it shine"
Margaret Bonds’ arrangement of “This Little Light of Mine” for Leontyne Price (’52, voice) can be found in the library’s Peter Jay Sharp Collection