The Southerner

South band director takes initiative to diversify music

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South band director takes initiative to diversify music

The wall in the band room that houses the pictures of all composers of color that the bands are playing music from this year. “One of the many purposes of playing music by composers of color was to help students of non-white background feel inspired to not only stay in a music ensemble here at South, but to also consider having a future in music at the college level,” said Sayre. “Another [purpose] is certainly to help our community understand that music of all genres is written and appreciated by all kinds of people.”

The wall in the band room that houses the pictures of all composers of color that the bands are playing music from this year. “One of the many purposes of playing music by composers of color was to help students of non-white background feel inspired to not only stay in a music ensemble here at South, but to also consider having a future in music at the college level,” said Sayre. “Another [purpose] is certainly to help our community understand that music of all genres is written and appreciated by all kinds of people.”

Norah Austin

The wall in the band room that houses the pictures of all composers of color that the bands are playing music from this year. “One of the many purposes of playing music by composers of color was to help students of non-white background feel inspired to not only stay in a music ensemble here at South, but to also consider having a future in music at the college level,” said Sayre. “Another [purpose] is certainly to help our community understand that music of all genres is written and appreciated by all kinds of people.”

Norah Austin

Norah Austin

The wall in the band room that houses the pictures of all composers of color that the bands are playing music from this year. “One of the many purposes of playing music by composers of color was to help students of non-white background feel inspired to not only stay in a music ensemble here at South, but to also consider having a future in music at the college level,” said Sayre. “Another [purpose] is certainly to help our community understand that music of all genres is written and appreciated by all kinds of people.”

Norah Austin, Staff Writer

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Band at South has become a program of considerable diversity, however, this is often not reflected in the music that is chosen to be played. In concurrence with a grant received to purchase new music, band director Eric Sayre chose to have all bands play music written by composers of color, in order to represent the true diversity of music and those who create it.

Music traditionally played by school band programs often reflects the European tradition of music. Music that is played by bands was often composed by someone such as Beethoven over two hundred years ago. This music does not reflect the ethnicities nor the cultural traditions of everyone involved with bands, making this music obsolete in the context of our world today.

According to Douglas Shadle, a Vanderbilt University musicologist, “Simply put, lack of diversity in concert programs is built into the institutional structure of American classical music organizations, leading to systemic discrimination against women, people of color, and other historically underrepresented musicians,” as stated in the music journal, ‘I Care If You Listen.’

In order to change this structure, South band director Eric Sayre took initiative to diversify South’s music library. “We received a very generous grant from the South High Foundation for $2,000 as well as using one quarter of the band’s budget to buy 35 new pieces of music.”

As well he added, “ Students seemed interested [in doing this], but it was my initiative.”

This systematic structure helps to exclude music written by composers of color, often negatively affecting many.

“I hope students have come to realize that institutionalized racism and sexism affects all facets of life and negatively impacts everyone, directly, or indirectly,” said Sayre.

The purpose of this decision can be seen in several ways, with many interpreting it as an attempt to educate students about cultures seemingly different from their own.

“I think the purpose of this decision was to expand our [band students] knowledge of musical themes, music types, as well as  different cultures,” said sophomore Sara Klein, a flute player in Symphonic band.

Inclusivity within programs creates a greater sense of unity. Through representing all walks of life with the music we play, this can be more easily achieved.

One of the many purposes of playing music by composers of color was to help students of non-white background feel inspired to not only stay in a music ensemble here at South, but to also consider having a future in music at the college level,” said Sayre. “Another [purpose] is certainly to help our community understand that music of all genres is written and appreciated by all kinds of people.”

Commenting on the band program’s decision to play music by only composers of color, Dr. Sarah Minette, a music educator at South stated, “ I think it’s great. I think it’s a really needed conversation that the music education profession is really late to the game with. Other areas have been talking about this forever and it’s now becoming a hot topic in music education. I really appreciate that this is happening.”

Diversity within music selection can be extremely important, helping to convey what one values, as well as helping to correctly represent all persons involved. “Because music is diverse, and the students and people we work with are diverse, it might not look diverse necessarily, but if you think about gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, religions, all of those non-presentable things, it is,” said Minette. “I think it’s really important and the ways in which we communicate our values through our music selection.”

The decision to play music by composers of color is partially rooted in the value South’s music teacher have for students. First and foremost, their goal is to represent the true diversity of students within the music program, while also placing value on who they are as people.

“I think South is really lucky that we have four very committed teachers whose first and foremost priority is their students. You’re not going to find that at all schools with band programs do this,” said Minette, when talking about this subject.“We care about you guys [music students] very very much and we really want to honor the students in the best ways that we know how but also taking into consideration what the students interests are as well.”

The emphasis of diversity within music programs and the diversity of music plays teaches students many valuable lessons, first and foremost, educating them as respectful, global citizens. “It [diversity in music] is  important because it can teach us about unity, helping us agree that we’re all just people, which is something we need to learn, especially at this point in time,” stated Klein.

Diversity is important in music programs because everyone deserves music and the chance to express themselves, said Sayre. “Art is not and should not be an exclusive opportunity.”

One of the main reasons, besides generational bias and inherent racism towards communities and people of color that music composed by people of color is so underrepresented is due to suppression of the freedom of speech and rights of these people throughout the history of the United States.

In response to this, Sayre stated, ”Music written by composers of color is underrepresented due to hundreds of years of oppression. People of color have been writing music as long as their white counterparts have. I also believe that people who are currently in influential positions in music composition, education, and performance are not doing enough to help balance the scales of the past.”

This fact makes it significantly more difficult to access music written by composers of color, often deterring bands to choose to play this music.

“In the band world, there are growing resources for finding music written by composers of color, but for the most part, you still need to look intentionally to find something,” added Sayre.  

Through the decision to play music from composers of color this year, Sayre hopes to educate students about cultures different from theirs, while creating an environment of inclusivity between students whose cultures are historically underrepresented.

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Norah Austin, Staff Writer

If you’re fond of the extensive Twin Cities park system, you could probably find Norah Austin walking or biking along the many paths within and throughout...

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