Pride Isn’t A Reason To Exploit Queer Composers

Greetings, y’all, and welcome to another episode of This Wasn’t Supposed To Be The Post This Week!

Pride’s coming up next month, and partly as a result, I’m starting to see an influx of “oh, we’re looking for LGBTQ+ [insert item here]!” both in my inbox and on socials generally. Sometimes friends forward me opportunities, which is incredibly kind, but some of these so-called opportunities come with demands that fall beyond the boundaries of reason and are better deemed exploitative. Though it varies from one posting to the next, many of these “in search of…” ads that find their way to me are calls for scores, and as someone who’s been on both the submitting end and the judging end of these, wow, I have thoughts.

The composing community frequently has these conversations in earnest on multiple platforms, but many folks miss the discourse entirely or brush it off as the complaints of a small contingent. Today, you’re not getting that lucky. For just a moment, I’d like to tell you about a call for scores I came across today; see if you can spot the red flag(s) from the Instagram ad:

  • performer is requesting scores for a specific solo instrument and piano; performers are specified
  • specifically seeking scores from LGBTQ+ identifying composers (submission requirement)
  • music is for a new album
  • work cannot be previously recorded or performed
  • 5-20min
  • $500 prize for each work chosen, plus a copy of the studio recording
  • no entry fee, June 1 deadline
Continue reading “Pride Isn’t A Reason To Exploit Queer Composers”

nonbinary musings from my first year out

I’ve been formally out for about a year, most of which has been spent in the relative solitude of quarantine. Covid has afforded me the space and time to figure out what versions of me feel more correct, but I’m increasingly conscious of the turbulence that will doubtless ensue when I start going places in person again.

If we’re being honest, I don’t really look different than I did last March. Sure, I’ve got a killer undercut and a ballet bun now, but on the day-to-day, I don’t dress particularly differently. I have not subscribed to the time-honored tradition of short-sleeve button-ups and general androgyny that some queer folks love but which society tries to shove all nonbinary identities into. If anything, the past year might have actually enabled me to be more feminine, because I’ve gotten to make (some) aesthetic choices for myself without the external pressure of networking and gigs. Because I’m out at work, I haven’t had to over-perform gender for my students either. The changes I’ve gotten to experience haven’t really been aesthetic. (I basically just look more comfortable now.)

In fact, this aesthetic consistency has impacted my treatment significantly, because there’s been little outward change. I don’t look obviously, there’s-no-other-option queer, and because my appearance makes it so easy to address and treat me as a cis woman, a lot of people still do. And will. (Including family.)

Continue reading “nonbinary musings from my first year out”

yes, this is a skill set

Hi there, everyone.

Holy crap.

If you’re reading this, we’ve made it past the ICD Review. Hopefully I’ll be able to take a few weeks after this and talk about something else, both on my blog and with my partner. I’ve got a few weeks’ worth of thoughts pre-loaded for you, but before I get to that, I wanted to take a moment to sit with y’all in the wake of this massive effort.

Continue reading “yes, this is a skill set”

The ICD Internal Review Part 3: Resign, Rob (And Other Big Takeaways)

Eleven pages of ICD's 2020 internal review, layered on top of each other, fill the frame. They are heavily marked up, with underlines, scribbles in the margin, and seven colors of highlighter denoting important sections of text. The number "3" is overlaid over the picture in a large black serif font.

Welcome back! Today we’re wrapping up our multi-day adventure through the ICD review. If you haven’t read the previous installments, I recommend checking out Part 1 and Part 2. After we conclude our point-by-point walkthrough, I’m going to mention some major concerns I didn’t get to talk about previously. As always, thanks for being here! I would’ve given up at Point 10 without y’all.

Continue reading “The ICD Internal Review Part 3: Resign, Rob (And Other Big Takeaways)”

The ICD Internal Review Part 2: Holy Plagiarism, Batman

Eleven pages of ICD's 2020 internal review, layered on top of each other, fill the frame. They are heavily marked up, with underlines, scribbles in the margin, and seven colors of highlighter denoting important sections of text. The number "2" is overlaid over the picture in a large black serif font.

Greetings, one and all, and welcome back to our multi-day escapade through the ICD internal review. If you’re new here, fear not! You can go back and read Part 1 to catch up on what we’ve discussed previously. Today, we’re finishing our look at ICD’s communications breakdown; we’ll also discuss ICD’s impact on composers, touch briefly on tokenism, and begin the long slog through the leadership review. I can’t say any one part of the report is the review’s darkest hour, but today’s chunk is certainly a contender. Let’s dive in.

Continue reading “The ICD Internal Review Part 2: Holy Plagiarism, Batman”

The ICD Internal Review Part 1: There’s No Policy Like No Policy

Eleven pages of ICD's 2020 internal review, layered on top of each other, fill the frame. They are heavily marked up, with underlines, scribbles in the margin, and seven colors of highlighter denoting important sections of text. The number "1" is overlaid over the picture in a large black serif font.

Good evening, folks, and welcome to my analysis of the 2020 ICD Internal Review. After spending months systematically failing the marginalized composers they claim to advocate for, the Institute for Composer Diversity has finally taken time to stop making non-apologies and engage in some institutional introspection. While this internal review should’ve been external, this document is the most comprehensive look we’ve ever gotten at ICD’s policies, goals, and priorities. On the surface, it looks good; they grapple with many criticisms from the past year, and they make some effective changes. However, a deeper dive reveals a heavily-plagiarized document that hides major issues while further stigmatizing the composers in its care.

Overall, the review reflects the legacy of performative activism ICD has grown into. I believe the review team did their best, but the Institute doesn’t walk the walk. This hamstrings their efforts—particularly while Director Rob Deemer refuses to relinquish control.

That sucks, because I wanted better. I used to be listed in the database; Rob informally recruited me to be a data-entry lackey when I met him at the International Women’s Brass Conference in 2019. Hell, I loaned ICD one of my blog posts last spring before realizing the full extent of their harm! I want to believe this organization that gets mentions in the New York Times is doing intersectional, antiracist work to tangibly better the lives of marginalized composers. I want to believe I don’t need to warn my band director friends every time I hear they’re looking for a new batch of ensembles to recruit. But I can’t believe in ICD when they have the chance to do something right yet squander it with linguistic carelessness and inconsistent policy decisions.

It’s important that we analyze both ICD’s sweeping policy choices and the little wording decisions they make along the way. Many of ICD’s (and Rob’s) mistakes in the past year relate to concepts many of us learn over time. As a major organization dedicated to representing marginalized populations, it’s their responsibility to already know better, and I’m going to point that out a lot. When others have made the critiques publicly before, I’ll link to those posts.

But the knowledge I’m sharing here is for you, too—because with the right tools, you are capable of being a powerful force for change. And I’m really glad you’re here.

Continue reading “The ICD Internal Review Part 1: There’s No Policy Like No Policy”

Please Stop Dirty Deleting

Okay, folks, now that I’m a little more back to having a real internet presence, I’m excited exasperated resigned to talking in more depth about queer identities generally and how power imbalances in musical and artistic life (plus, you know, everyday life) impact us. Perhaps of note is that this will probably include more ground-level education than I’ve had to do in the past—while at the time I started blogging it was at least somewhat safe to assume everyone sorta knew what feminism was, I’m quickly realizing my online circles are roughly divided into two groups: people who are super queer-savvy (and usually queer themselves) and folks who haven’t done all that much reading on the subject.

I know a fair bit, but I’m not a great end-all-be-all source. I’ve started compiling a collection of threads, posts, and other really informative output on various aspects of queer identities and struggles over on my Discord, and y’all are welcome there if you want to check it out. It’s worth noting that at least on the blog, some of the topics I discuss will intersect with other topics I’ve written about before, because plenty of the same oppressive tools affect folks with different marginalizations! So if something sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is; what we’re focusing on is the effect it has on a specific community.

Today’s discussion, for example, centers around emotional labor, which I’ve talked about before. My last post functioned more as a general introduction to the topic, plus my best attempt at explaining how frustrating it is to be constantly asked for more and more of this energy when so often it goes unrecognized and underutilized by the people I give it to. As an educator reaching a wide audience of people I have varying relationships with, some of this is part and parcel for the job, but the moment my labor is then exploited by people who assume they’re closer to me than the rest of my audience, it becomes assumptive, disrespectful, and inappropriate.

See, people who have seen me teach often enough—in person or in a virtual setting—tend to assume, for a time, that I’ll teach whenever the moment arises. However, like the rest of the populace, I have a limited number of hours and spoons in the day, and that’s not always feasible (or what I want to be doing). I already do more labor than I realistically have the energy for. And that, folks, is why it’s exceedingly frustrating when someone decides they don’t like that labor and opts instead to take it all away.

Continue reading “Please Stop Dirty Deleting”

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

[Hi there! I spent six weeks working on a deep analysis of ICD’s 2020 Internal Review, which they undertook after months of community pressure. I’m releasing it weekly in three parts, beginning on March 20, 2021. If you’d like to see where ICD is making important changes and where they’re continuing to fall short, I’d love to have you join me on the adventure!]

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):

Continue reading “I’m Taking My Name Off the Institute for Composer Diversity”

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”