Conservatory Must Include More Work by Black Composers

Editor’s Note: This letter has been signed online by 356 members of the Oberlin community at the time of publication.

To the deans and conductors at Oberlin Conservatory:

Oberlin College, like many of our peer institutions, has recently issued statements on social media expressing its support for the Black community during this time. However, we request that you put a plan in place as an institution to hold the Conservatory accountable for these issues outside of its social media presence.

Oberlin College prides itself on its liberalism and its progressivism, from being the first school to accept women and one of the first schools to accept African-Americans to its reputation for student activism. This institution needs to actively live up to this reputation in its actions, not just in its statements to the student body and the public.

We demand that our Conservatory include works by Black composers in all large ensemble concert programs. A search through the Conservatory Audio Archives reveals that since 2010, Oberlin Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonietta, and Contemporary Music Ensemble have performed only seven pieces by five different Black composers. This paltry representation is unacceptable.

We believe that it is not enough to play music by Black composers on one or two occasions in order to make a political statement. We demand that their music be incorporated consistently into concert programs for years to come. This would be the first step in long-term and widespread change that must include hiring more Black, Indigenous, and people of color as faculty, as well as regularly inviting non-white guest artists, conductors, and speakers.

We can hardly argue the relevance of our field if we neglect to represent the perspectives of an entire population. We want the future of classical music to become more inclusive than ever before, and that begins with our conservatories.