I’m Taking My Name Off the Institute for Composer Diversity

Many of you, like me, have been following developments at the Institute for Composer Diversity this year. The organization, originally created (as I understand it) as an intentional programming resource for educators and directors alike, has grown beyond its initial constraints and begun positioning itself as a juggernaut of diversity in music, particularly in the wind band world. I’ve recommended ICD as a resource in the past—even put them on my master list of resources I co-sign—but, sadly, that endorsement has come to an end.

Here’s the thing: like most institutions, ICD has messed up in the past, often pretty publicly. That in itself isn’t the end of the world! But it has increasingly turned a blind eye to the concerns and critiques of marginalized composers ourselves—the very people they claim to represent. That continual unwillingness to listen, acknowledge issues, and work efficiently to correct them (or to correct them at all) has soured their name among many folks who carry with them more expertise through lived experience in diversity and inclusion than many on the ICD staff.

I’ve also grown increasingly frustrated at ICD’s continued positioning at Midwest and other high-profile conferences as an authority on intentional programming, when in reality they offer very little (if any!) information or best practices on establishing relationships with the composers referenced within their database. There’s no discussion of the fact that many of us make more on commissions than we’ll ever make in individual score sales, no talk about how many of us are self-published because publishing favors notoriety over financial success (and many of us can’t get a foot in the door with the big houses, anyway). There’s no discussion about trauma performativity or the conditions under which it might be appropriate and meaningful to ask a particular composer to write a piece that addresses a specific marginalization or violence. There’s not even any discussion of ownvoices and the importance of prioritizing diverse stories told by the populations they most directly impact. It’s just a database, accompanied by vague encouragement to make marginalized composers part of your ensemble’s stat sheet without any attention paid to how their work actually informs and influences your programming needs and wants.

The stats they suggest are pretty conservative, too. If you go to one of the live ICD presentations, you’ll hear someone (probably Rob Deemer, head honcho of the project) say these are suggested starting points, but if that important caveat is anywhere on their website, I have yet to stumble upon it. (The website does cite a “minimum” stat, but it’s very easy to skip over the importance of the word while trying to process the numbers that follow.)

Among my biggest personal struggles with ICD’s work, though, is that it essentially weaponizes its composers’ marginalizations and markets to band directors without providing any specifics about their work, artistic practices, areas of specialization (beyond instrumentation), or even specifics of identity that composers may wish to share, like pronouns and other information that may vary from the traditional expectations that come with certain genders. We are reduced down to data points on a sheet, names that are guaranteed to check an ensemble’s diversity box without paying too much attention to the specifics of our identities and how those important distinctions might inform our artistic work.

Over the past year, it’s become clear that in allowing non-composers and others to submit information on a composer’s behalf, the Institute has inadvertently outed many queer composers without their consent. This isn’t just careless administration; it’s doxxing. A failure to check in with composers and ensure they consent to specific information being featured on a very public, easily searchable website is a colossal breach of trust. How are we to assume an organization that outs us alongside our contact information actually values our work, when they can’t be bothered to even consider how the release of this information might affect our day-to-day safety?

I first heard rumors of an email that would be sent to featured composers to confirm their presence on the ICD databases several months ago. At the time, I figured I’d sit on my thoughts for a couple weeks, then, when the email arrived, decide how to best proceed. But, like I said, it was months, not weeks—a time span that included much of Pride month, when many of us in the queer community had to lock down our social media to protect from coordinated doxxing attempts. All the while, our information remained readily available on ICD’s website. By the time the email arrived (a little over a week ago), I had lost faith that the Institute cared enough about the composers on their lists to protect them proactively.

Below is a copy of the letter I sent to ICD in response to their request to confirm my information in their databases. I am posting it in full because I firmly believe that an organization whose main mission is publicly espousing a reductive flavor of intentional programming should be held publicly accountable. I’ll post some suggested best practices next week, but for now, here’s what I told them (please note my dig at website hits at the end was due largely to the emphasis on their own stats they place in their promotional material):

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To The People Telling Us To “VOTE.”

To the men who are my peers and colleagues (and plenty of other people in my spaces):

I’ve seen a lot of “VOTE.” lately, especially since RBG died. While I’m excited you’re all (theoretically) taking your civic duty seriously, I also know that for some of you, this is what constitutes activism. For some of you, this is how you check that little mental box of being a good feminist or an activist or someone who’s doing the work.

I’ve seen a lot of “VOTE.” lately, and it’s easy to understand why. When you’re used to the system working in your favor, when you’re used to your requests being granted, it’s easy to assume the best way you can help the people around you is to reach upward and ask. But if that’s how you think the marginalized get rights in this country, by asking politely and waiting for the system to work, you might want to go refresh yourself on some history. Go back and look at how suffragettes and Civil Rights leaders and rioters at Stonewall were treated at the time. Go back and see how reluctant everyone was to give up power.

Continue reading To The People Telling Us To “VOTE.”

Some Of My Friends Are Probably Rapists

I work pretty much exclusively in male-dominant fields, and while I can’t say I’ve seen “it all,” I follow in the footsteps of and learn from a group of those who collectively undoubtedly have. I was also sexually assaulted at a very young age, and as that subject matter has become a greater and greater part of my work, I’ve been increasingly unable to turn a blind eye to the power dynamics in our musical communities that enable and encourage continuing sexual abuse among our colleagues, superiors, and peer groups. For those of you who have read me before (be it in years past or last week), none of this is a surprise. And while I don’t often talk about it on here, a nontrivial part of my deep thinking on the subject revolves around being prepared to be an active force for good if I’m ever able to step in and prevent an assault or provide care and assurance in the aftermath.

Honestly, I should probably talk about that more, since I know I’m far from the only person in my circles who would want to help in those situations. However, I spend a lot of time around a lot of men, and due in part to my own risk tolerance and in part to my knowledge of my communities, we can’t have that discussion until we have this discussion.

See, some of my friends are probably rapists, and some are probably guilty of assault.

Continue reading Some Of My Friends Are Probably Rapists

A Thank You to the Brothers of CBSS

I’ve spent the summer (plus the tail end of my spring semester) getting to know a Discord server of a few dozen brothers of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a group of folks whose interests and talents vary widely, save two things—a love for music and a dedication to Rocket League. As most of them can attest, it’s been a tumultuous few months; I’ve had some of the best moments of my year, but they’ve been accompanied by some of the hardest, too. We wrapped up my first season on a team at the beginning of August, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to properly chronicle the experience both as its own long moment and within the context of the rest of my life, including the intersectional marginalizations that keep me out of the larger organization they love.

The season’s been filled with things I didn’t want to speak aloud. In this space, unlike most others I move through today, my reputation and work didn’t precede me. The musical ability of these folks, incredible though it is, is a backdrop—an afterthought or a side topic—in most voice chats. I haven’t spoken up much about the impetus behind my creative work; I’ve barely mentioned the traumas it so frequently calls back to. My partner, Nick, has seen all the dots connected, how the anxieties large and small associated with CBSS intertwine with and are informed by the vast majority of my career I’ve spent in gender-marginalized spaces. A few others have seen bits and pieces, but for many, I probably contain more than a couple question marks. This is (I think) my attempt at contextualizing some of the things I say or ask for that make them scratch their heads, but it’s also my best effort to show them why the compassion they so frequently extend matters so much.

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JK Rowling, TERFs, Bioessentialism, Sexual Assault, and Trauma Performativity (or, in other words… yikes)

I read the essay.

Some of you likely know exactly which essay I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, I’ve just finished reading JK Rowling’s lengthy response to the correct and justified backlash she’s received this week for being more openly anti-trans than usual. As folks on Twitter may know, this isn’t Rowling’s first TERF-y moment: for at least several months, she has made statements in support of or liked Tweets by known anti-trans public figures. This week, she took severe issue with delineating a difference between “people who menstruate” and “women,” sparking the backlash that’s led to where we are now.

First, a note on this: we need a difference between “people who menstruate” and “women,” because those two things aren’t inherently linked. The Venn diagram of the two is not a circle. In obvious ways, it ignores both the trans community and the intersex community, and I’d be remiss to erase either group from the conversation. (If you’re not sure what intersex means, here’s a great primer. Please note some historical descriptors of this community are considered degrading and should no longer be used.) It also imposes ridiculous limits on AFAB (assigned female at birth) people: what happens when you hit menopause? Do you no longer count? What about if you’re on an IUD, and as a result you don’t have a period? What about AFAB people who never have a period at all?

That said, we’re not going to spend time centering cis women past this point. The argument is massively more harmful to transgender and intersex people, whose biological features may not align with the tropes (and, by extension, societal expectations) associated with their gender(s). And while it can be easy to encourage marginalized people to not care what society says, have you ever educated yourself (by reading plenty of available material, NOT by foisting emotional labor on your nearest relevant person) on how difficult it is for trans and intersex people to get quality health care? Are you aware that literally yesterday the Trump administration made this even more difficult by giving insurers and health care providers the ability to openly discriminate against trans people? Did you know that many intersex people are operated on at a young age without their consent to attempt to make their bodies conform to one binary or the other, often with negative long-term side effects? Have you realized that the insidious goal of anti-trans rhetoric is to produce tangible policy changes that, by doing things like cutting off access to health care (at any time, but especially during a pandemic), further disadvantage the trans community and will literally, quantitatively cost lives?

Continue reading JK Rowling, TERFs, Bioessentialism, Sexual Assault, and Trauma Performativity (or, in other words… yikes)

The Men at IWBC

After my first trip to IWBC last year, I wrote a little round-up of my experiences there. I kept it pretty top-level, sticking mostly to safe topics and general stories. The plan was always to dive back into certain things in more depth, but I decided I wanted to wait and make sure I still felt the way I did some time later. The post kept getting delayed, and now it’s been a year. On the upside, I do feel identically now to how I felt last May, so while we’re all still stuck inside, we might as well talk about it.

I love IWBC because it is an opportunity to connect with my sisters (though, now that I’m out as queer, I’ll have to reexamine my place in it all), but the first thing I noticed after arriving was “wow, look at all the men.” Sure, there were a shit ton of women, but the gender binary that first day was balanced shockingly close to 50/50. I recognized a nontrivial amount of them: friends, colleagues, classmates, respected teachers. The night of the opening festivities, I made the rounds, checking in with old friends and making new ones.

By day three of the conference, almost all of those men were gone. Because what happened first? The mock audition.

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In The Wake of International Jazz Day

April 29th is National Dance Day in the US. It’s one of my favorite not-quite-official holidays; I spend time stretching and honoring what my body is capable of, I move in ways that make me happy, and I usually forget to post on Instagram until several days later. It’s an opportunity to honor dance’s lifelong role in my existence, wellbeing, and humanity, and I try to mark it every year.

April 30th is International Jazz Day. It’s one of my least favorite not-quite-official holidays; while there’s something important to be said for honoring the artists of color who pioneered and radically expanded the genre, it mostly reminds me how most of the jazz musicians I know personally are white. Moreover, the purported celebration often reminds me how much I and others don’t fit in the community.

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On Identity (specifically, mine)

I have tried to write this post three times already.

On the one hand, it could have taken a lot longer to figure these words out—identity is a tricky thing—but on the other hand, most of my blogs have a single iteration. Drafts, sure, but throwing out a whole post and doing it again? Almost never.

I have tried to write this post three times. Enough to know that no amount of smooth introduction is going to do anything useful for me.

So, hi.

My name is Megan DeJarnett. Some of you already know me and love (/fear?) me. I’m a lot of things, and I could list them here, but today I’m just going to mention the ones that aren’t dependent on my art or my career: I’m a demigray genderfluid woman, but usually I just say I’m queer. (I’m also pan, because of how my demisexuality informs the rest of my attraction; I hadn’t named that when I came out, so I’ve updated this to reflect this current reality. Like the rest of this, that isn’t particularly new, just a continuing discovery.)

Remember the end of Untouchable? When I said things were more complicated now? This is why. Because now, we’re not just talking about sexism aimed at straight, cisgender women. (We haven’t been for awhile, if you look closely—I’ve been sprinkling in more things over time—but I’m not going to keep pretending being female is the only part of the equation that applies to me.) Actually, the original version of Untouchable (which I lovingly called 5700) was going to dive into some of this. The post was going to end with me coming out. It was going to be an even bigger piece than it already was. Thankfully, one of my confidants on my review team pointed out that I owed my identity more than that. (thanks, Leila!)

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Knowing Stories and Art In Chaos

One of the unexpected side effects of government-imposed solitude and a new work-from-home life has been my willingness to get back into video games. (Cutting down on commute helps exponentially with freeing up time.) I’ve been P2 to my brother’s P1 my entire life, following along from one epic adventure to the next but never quite leading or developing my own individual relationship with a lot of games. Growing up, I was the epitome of the casual player—willing and capable, but not the kind of person who’d put in hours upon hours in pursuit of perfection. As I’ve become an adult, my partners have joined forces with my brother to suck me into various games. This has made room in my life for some pretty great things, but it usually also comes with a steep learning curve as I step into worlds the people I love have inhabited for years on end. In short: I spend a lot of time playing catch-up.

So when the end of March rolled around and my partner suggested* I try out Rocket League, I was more than game. The early hours were painful for everyone involved—I am a mouse-and-keyboard player as a default, and RL is most definitely not designed to be played that way—but one controller later, I’m well on my way to zipping around and absolutely already capable of wreaking havoc on the pitch. (Maybe not always in my team’s favor yet, but still.) With this new adventure, too, comes a contingent of new people. Folks who used to mostly play with my partner are now helping me learn to suck less and hit the ball more consistently. And, true to form, I’ve hijacked the whole system and made them my friends. More nights than not, when I’m finished grading and responding to messages and whatever else the world has thrown my way, I’m online, battling it out with strangers or friends or myself.

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Hello Pretty Lady

[CW: sexual harassment]

Hey, men friends? Y’all who believe in equality and want to be on the right side of things? I need you to listen to this one. Bear witness. Brass players, this would be good for y’all to read intentionally, too.

I’ve spent the last couple days trying to figure out how to deal with a bass trombonist close to three times my age who showed up in my Messenger inbox, completely unprompted, and decided “Hello Pretty Lady” was an appropriate and acceptable way to start his brief introduction (which ended with a link to his website). He’d entered my social media sphere as part of the absolute deluge of Facebook friend requests I’ve gotten over the past week. Most folks have been brass players, and in the interest of community, I’ve okayed the vast majority. Many of those will turn out to be good decisions; this guy was not.

Continue reading Hello Pretty Lady