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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on representation and artistry

Every once in awhile, usually when I’m in the middle of a slew of pieces about assault, my mom will check in with me about my writing. “You are taking the time to write happy music, right?” she often asks. It’s a time-honored song and dance—she asks, I reassure; lather, rinse, repeat. Less often, she echoes a sentiment I’ve also heard from my friends and my own internal monologue: I don’t want, theoretically, to be known for my assault work and nothing else.

That sentiment is a difficult one to wrap my head around on a good day, but I’ve always understood it on a fundamental level. I don’t want to only be approached when someone’s looking to dive deep into the dark; I don’t want to be known as the girl who doesn’t write music for more straight-ahead performances. And while I maybe won’t always write work that’s best when programmed on a vanilla concert, the underlying idea is stark: don’t close doors that might stay open if I picked more palatable subject matter. Put more bluntly, don’t brand as broken.

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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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We Aren’t Your Selling Point: Thoughts on Tokenism in Publishing

Anyone on Facebook knows and probably despises Facebook’s targeted ads. Sure, on rare occasions they’re selling something you’re actually looking for and genuinely need, but most of the time, they’re either a pain or ridiculous. The algorithm, I’ve found, also likes dredging up brands and companies you’ve maybe had one interaction with and dropping more of their ads in your news feed. When it’s a company you’ve had a positive interaction with, that can be really good. In the case of a negative first impression . . . not so much.

Enter Bandworks Publications.

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On Pen Names, Impersonation, and Identity

Greetings, folks, and welcome to another episode of Posts I Didn’t Want To Write. Today, we’re using a real-life example to talk about marginalized identities in composition and repertoire. However, this example, highlighted this week by the band and orchestra communities, is of a white man using a pseudonym to represent himself as a female Japanese composer (and, by extension, to represent his appropriative works as authentic).

The man in question is Larry Clark, an educator-turned-composer who has achieved some prominence as a large ensemble composer, particularly for young groups. Clark has, since at least 2005, published some works under his own name and others under the pseudonym Keiko Yamada. Titles from Clark’s catalog are fairly standard for a white composer in this century—“Subatomic,” “Intuition March,” etc. (I will not be linking to his website or any of his content during this post.) Yamada’s titles all lean into the supposed Japanese identity—“Hotaka Sunset,” “Kon’nichiwa,” “Japanese Lullaby” . . . you get the picture. To make matters worse, parts of this false identity seem to be co-opted from actual Japanese women—one student presentation on the “composer,” found in a basic Google Search, conflates Clark’s Yamada with the popular Japanese manga artist of the same name. The “composer”’s birthdate, available through Schott Music’s page dedicated to her, is listed as August 18th, 1972, which is the birthdate of Keiko Komuro, lead vocalist of the pop group Globe.

Through this, Clark has created two footholds for himself in the world of large ensembles: one in which he profits off his own name and one in which his racist, sexist, colonialist, and transphobic business practices allow him to profit from work misleadingly billed as authentic. He has created a persona that tiptoes into spaces he would not otherwise be welcome in. He has taken advantage of the intentional programming movement; Yamada’s name and work is listed on mandatory repertoire lists in at least two states. Further, the decision to publish under a name carrying double-minority status means he, a white man, can take up spots on concerts reserved for women, people of color, and women of color.

Continue reading On Pen Names, Impersonation, and Identity

I Need a Nap (Because Sexism)

If you follow me or the drum corps world, you know what happened this week with Phantom Regiment. They released their show concept for the 2019 season, based (veeeeeery loosely) on Joan of Arc, using the tagline “burn it all down” and claiming to be focused on women’s empowerment. The show repertoire accompanying this announcement revealed that Phantom would be performing this “empowering” show to a soundtrack of music written exclusively by men. I and many others critiqued the decision and battled harassment and cyberbullying in the comments sections of posts for three days before Will Pitts, head drum major of the fan-favorite 2009 Spartacus show and current head honcho at Phantom, put out a statement addressing the whole ordeal. While it was appreciated, it said little more than expected: Phantom isn’t changing its show, they didn’t realize the optics would work out this way (emphasis mine), they considered works by women composers, blah blah blah.

Let’s be clear: I in no way expected Phantom to change repertoire. They are less than a month from the start of their season, and even if they wanted to add a piece by a woman, I doubt there are many female composers (whose work they would want, anyway) who would be willing to go near them with a ten-foot pole right now. Those arranging permissions would be expensive. This announcement, while maybe preventing them from further putting their feet in their mouths, is a full two days late and several dollars short. But as much as I hope Phantom and its creative team learns from this experience and significantly reconsiders how they program their shows, experiences like this that are so widely visible both remind me why I do what I do and reinforce that as much as my own experience and perspective understands perfectly well why we should center some voices over others in artistic works, most people are not engaging with art and music on that level yet. There is still work to be done.

Continue reading I Need a Nap (Because Sexism)

Hey, Phantom Regiment: BAD MOVE

(the following is a transcription of a Twitter thread I posted this morning. Further comments are in brackets [ ]. It is worth noting that for a show about Joan of Arc, “burn it all down” is an awful tagline.)

Yiiiiiikes. Someone tell Phantom Regiment that a show celebrating women should really feature music BY women. Yes, I understand the name recognition wouldn’t be on the same level. But if you only use men’s music, guess what: you care about men’s reactions more than women’s. [I say this in that their repertoire choices make it look like they’re more interested in crowd-pleasing than in telling an anywhere-near-accurate story; they care more about saying they did a show about a woman than they do actually getting it right.]

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Tell Me About Your Score

Hi! This isn’t an interview, and you’re not really here (though where you’re reading this, technically you’re here and I’m not), so I can’t ask you to sit down or offer you a glass of water. You won’t be getting a job today, but you do care about this outcome. Maybe you paid money to be here, to put your work in front of me, or maybe you didn’t. Maybe I offered to look at it and consider it for free. Either way, you’ve left me alone with your work to decide if I’m going to use it or not.

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I’m Giving Away a FREE Wind Ensemble Piece!

Yes, I promise you read that right.

Continue reading I’m Giving Away a FREE Wind Ensemble Piece!

Commission Season: I’m Looking for Collaborators!

As we move into the fall semester (or quarter, if you’re weird like that), I’m happy to announce I’m accepting commissions for Fall 2018 and Spring 2019. I’ve had a fantastic time working with individuals and groups this year, including the Spring View Middle School Jazz Band, Failsafe Duo, Willis Dotson, John Pisaro and Ian Stahl, and Oakwood Brass. That said, something I’ve come to realize is a lot of my friends, peers, and colleagues are interested in commissioning new works but don’t necessarily know how to approach the process. I can’t and won’t speak for all composers, but these are the most important things to know if you’re interested in working with me.

Continue reading Commission Season: I’m Looking for Collaborators!