Remaking Ourselves and the Standard Canon: Perspectives and Resources for Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Classical Music

We would like to thank Nicholas Reynolds for this insightful article on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the classical music world. Did you hear about our new course—Piano Teaching through the Lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion? Join us on February 21st at 11:00am ET for a discussion of this new course in our webinar titled: Introduction to the Frances Clark Center’s New Online Course: Piano Teaching through the Lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Learn more and register by clicking here. You can also purchase the course on presale! Click here to learn more.

The life-altering events of the past year have been a wake-up call for all of us to reassess our values and practices as artists and educators. Our musical community has developed a collective sense of advocacy and accountability that has been tremendously overdue, geared towards a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable field of music. Many of us may consider ourselves supporters, advocates, and allies, but how do we ensure that we use our good intentions to become true and respectful agents of change? Our language, tools, resources, and approaches need constant internal and external reassessment; our goal is a moving target that we must always and continuously strive towards. A good place to start is a common understanding of the language—what do the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to each of us, and how do we make sure we are constantly upholding these values?

The term diversity embraces not only the equitable representation of people of different backgrounds, lived experiences, and perspectives, but also the way we understand and honor the ways in which people are unique. The diversity that we strive for in our communities can be reflected in our musical lives as well, from the repertoire we perform and assign students, to guest artists we invite to our schools, to hiring practices at our institutions. However, diversity in itself is insufficient unless it is in tandem with the values of equity and inclusion. Equity ensures that all groups and individuals have what they need in order to be successful; it also recognizes the agency of those who are under-represented and marginalized and respects their role in decision-making situations. Inclusion invites us to listen to our differences and treat others with respect regardless of those differences; it means choosing a language that doesn’t inadvertently exclude or insult others and striving to be informed and respectful of our differences.

Racial and gender diversity have been at the forefront of the DEI movement in classical music given the historically perpetuated marginalization of BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) and women composers. To Brazilian pianist Daniel Inamorato, founder of The Toy Piano Sanctuary and Neurodiversity Music Institute, the conversation about diversity in classical music should not only include racial and gender identity, but also diverse physical and neurological abilities. Based on his experience working with students of many such backgrounds, Inamorato reminds us that students and artists can possess one or a mix of distinguishing traits, and it can be insensitive and alienating to categorize them based on one single kind of diversity. Avoiding assumptions and stereotyping, as well as being invested in their individual identity, is a mindset we can constantly advocate for in every aspect of our musical and personal lives.

Both music and society have changed immensely in the past 400 years, yet the repertoire in our traditional canon still includes very few works by historically underrepresented composers and new compositions. Rethinking our traditional repertoire selections, even one bit at a time, can have a great potential to reflect the changes we want to see in our society and to inspire and empower future generations of artists, teachers, supporters, and leaders. However, when it comes time to program a concert or assign pieces to students, many of us may struggle to find inclusive and diverse elementary and intermediate repertoire that is age and level appropriate. 

We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Nicholas Reynold’s article “Remaking Ourselves and the Standard Canon: Perspectives and Resources for Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Classical Music.” You can read more by clicking here.

piano inspires logo, black with colored stripes in the tail of the piano