Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Black musicians matter
Tomorrow (July 13) the activist orchestra The Dream Unfinished presents a concert at the Great Hall of Cooper Union, New York paying tribute to the black women impacted by racial injustice, and the female activists of the Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter movements. Among the featured composers are Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, Ethel Smyth, and Courtney Bryan, and the conductors are the miscegenetic duo of John McLaughlin Williams - seen above - and James Blachly. This concert has been given a very specific and tragic relevance by the recent racially motivated killings of blacks and whites in America. But the mission of The Dream Unfinished to allow classical musicians to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement also has a powerful relevance closer to home. Someone with a not inconsiderable profile in the UK classical music industry recently wrote on social media à propos the EU referendum: "I don't think I realised, until two weeks ago, just how much intolerance and stupidity there is in this country", a statement with which a considerable number of the great and good agreed. Yes, of course there is a surfeit of intolerance and stupidity in the world. But I suspect that this social media maven and the others nodding their virtual heads in agreement do not include themselves among the intolerant and stupid. The truth is that not only are we all intolerant and stupid to some degree, but also we are blind to our own shortcomings and generate hate by blaming others without accepting at least some of the blame ourselves. Black lives matter, and no more than in the world of classical music where the sentiment expressed by a leading impresario that "I don't believe in Negro symphony conductors"* still prevails, and where musicians of colour have inexplicably not received the same activist attention as other marginalised groups. Let's hope The Dream Unfinished helps change both the whole intolerant and stupid terrestrial world, and the smaller but equally intolerant world of classical music.
* Other black musicians who suffered from this intolerance include Dean Dixon and Rudolph Dunbar. A biography of Dean Dixon is subtitled Negro at home, maestro abroad. Rudolph Dunbar, who was the first black conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, later in his career allegedly suffered from discrimination at a senior level in the BBC. Header photo via The Dream Unfinished. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.