#61: June 5, 2020
I had another piece set aside for this blog entry, but as I sat down this week to review that repertoire, the whole endeavor came across as hollow. I couldn’t write just another blog about just another song this week. It didn’t feel right. How do I, as a white woman, best contribute to the conversation right now? How can I use my voice to support my colleagues, students, and singers of color?
My first inclination was to write a blog about a piece of repertoire by a composer of color. However, I usually write about pieces I’ve already conducted, and the songs I’ve done with my choirs are perennial favorites that everyone here already knows. Or, I write about less-known pieces I want to program in the future. In looking at my stack of future-blog-pieces-to-review, I realized there weren’t any composers of color in that stack, let alone women composers of color. Not good.
Next, I took stock of the 60 blog entries I’ve made since 2018. I was appalled. Barely a handful of my selections reference a person of color – as composer, arranger, or poet/lyricist. I looked back at my dissertation research, and found the same result.
Since grad school, I have prided myself on championing compelling works for women’s/treble choirs, especially works by women composers and authors. And post-grad school, after noting that the category of women was too exclusionary, I made an effort to include transgender and queer composers and those of marginalized gender identities in my future work. I felt like I was doing the right thing for my choirs and my research. Maybe I was, but that’s not enough.
Today, I look at my rep lists and conference presentations through a different lens and I am horrified, realizing I have left out entire populations of composers, arrangers, and poets: the voices of black and brown and indigenous artists. There is a great big hole, a lacuna, in my work, where the works by BBIPOC composers should be.
After that realization, my next thought was to go into research mode and see if I could make a list. I like lists. I’m good at lists. Could I make a list of repertoire for women’s/treble choirs, by composers of color, that I could post today, and then review each piece in future blogs? I started on that, and then realized very quickly that I’m out of my depth. This is a project for the long haul, not one to undertake quickly in a few days’ time.
But more importantly, there are scholars who have done this work already, and they deserve our attention. Specifically, Dr. Marques L. A. Garrett’s study of the non-idiomatic choral music of black composers is incredible. If you don’t know his work, go there immediately. His research has inspired me and I can’t wait to begin locating repertoire he lists and learning more about it.
When I started this blog, the purpose was to share my experience with repertoire for women’s and treble choirs, especially giving voice to lesser-known works or composers. Over the last two years, I had been proud of my contribution. Right now though, I’m not the expert in the room. Read Dr. Garrett’s work.
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.