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

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.

Continue reading Knowing Stories and Art In Chaos

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.

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Hostile Work Environments and Unraveling Tapestries: A Follow-Up to Untouchable

Untouchable took me a month and a half to write, but I spent four years trying to articulate its content. As (the blessedly many of) y’all who read it probably saw, I referenced fifteen other pieces I’ve put out since early 2017. This morning, I piled all sixteen posts into a single document to check the word count, and it came out to just under 29,000 words—or about half of the minimum requirement for a full-length novel. It was 47 pages of material. While that bodes well for any potential doctorate I may choose to pursue in the future, it says some interesting things about the likelihood of being both believed and understood within our community.

You see, I don’t expect people to believe me when I start talking about most of the things I discuss on my blog. Part of why I started writing the thoughts down was because my in-person conversations with peers were so often derailed by some level of disbelief—sometimes in the form of “[other woman] doesn’t say that,” sometimes manifesting as “I’ve never seen that so it must not be too bad,” sometimes in other forms that are intricate and nuanced and harder to illuminate. I was only rarely allowed to communicate a thought beyond its first couple sentences and almost never given the space and time to puzzle through something that felt important. On paper, though, I had the freedom to do just that, to make sure an idea was complete and concise before putting it out into the world. And while no one’s obligated to read the entirety of anything I post, I find a lot of people do. (For this, I’m incredibly grateful. Yes, that means you, sitting at the screen.)

Continue reading Hostile Work Environments and Unraveling Tapestries: A Follow-Up to Untouchable

Untouchable: The Male Gaze, ASU Jazz, and the Phoenix Community

When I was an undergrad running with the jazz boys, no one wanted to sleep with me.

…Yeah, I didn’t know how to start this one, either. For all my work addressing sexual assault, I actually don’t spend all that much time dealing with sex. (I tend to leave that creative artistry to Rebecca Drapkin, the sex-positive to my sex-negative.) While I love my body and everything it can do, I’ve grown accustomed to keeping my sexual side to myself. I’m still figuring out how much of it belongs in my artistic life. And though that answer is nonzero, part of why I keep my sex life (and body, and sexuality, and . . .) separate from the rest of my artistic discourse is just because I don’t share all of me with all of you. But part of it isn’t, and there are reasons for that—reasons I can trace back to a very specific time and place—and though I’d rather not discuss any of this, I think it’s time.

Continue reading Untouchable: The Male Gaze, ASU Jazz, and the Phoenix Community

Ownvoices versus Intentional Programming: A Primer

In the last year, I’ve sat down several times to break down problematic and offensive programming and publishing decisions by major music institutions. Sometimes it’s started on Twitter, sometimes on my blog, but I’ve found myself circling back to many of the same issues again and again and again. In certain cases, it’s been harder to spot, because the Phantom Regiment snafu and resulting fallout look different on the surface than, say, the Larry Clark/Keiko Yamada moment or my thoughts and hesitations about Fire in my mouth. Each of these points to different, interconnected issues within our communities and the ways in which we talk about marginalized composers and their work. However, they also point to different ways in which our current mainstream discussions of these issues aren’t specific enough to make the right arguments for folks who may not be as plugged in as we are.

Because while these instances and others (looking at you, St. Louis Symphony’s History/Her Story programming) all fall under the umbrella category of Things Concerning Marginalized Composers, they don’t all deal with the same issues. In fact, they concern themselves with two distinctly different things: intentional programming and ownvoices representation.

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Holding Space and the Quest for Honest Scheduling

In my last week in Santa Clarita, I was constantly running between packing my life and buying boxes and sorting out the tail end of our utilities and setting up mail forwarding and, in the approximately ten minutes I had left, spending time with as many of my friends as I could. It was a hectic few days, and most of it is a blur, but those last interactions with the people I hold dear remain etched into my memory.

One such moment was a last-minute cup of coffee with Lily Maase, who I’ve written about before. We met at Honu, the single most adorable coffee shop in downtown Newhall, for an hour and a half that felt simultaneously like a small eternity (in the good way) and the blink of an eye. We both had relatively full schedules—if I remember right, she was only in LA for 48 hours or so—but the time we spent talking life and career was a nice break from the action for us both. Our conversation ranged all over the place, but we stopped for a few minutes on the one thing that had brought us together—scheduling.

If I’m being honest, I can’t entirely remember what led to the topic. Maybe I was talking about trying to make plans with the Phoenix friends I was returning to; the “maybe if I’m not busy” refrain can be common out here. At any rate, we sat at a quaint table in the shade outside, putting our heads together to revel in a shared experience—namely, making plans with male friends that turn out not to be plans after all.

Continue reading Holding Space and the Quest for Honest Scheduling