“…You are a beautiful crowd. I wish that every concert that I gave had a crowd as diverse as this one,” I said as I looked out on an audience unlike most I have seen at concerts of classical musicians I have attended or performed in since high school. When I was a teenager performing a movement of a Beethoven piano concerto with the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra in Alabama, I was one of two or three black musicians on stage. A dozen years later, I was two decades younger and a few shades darker than the hundreds of audience members at a string quartet concert in New York City. When I reviewed theory textbooks and anthologies as a second-year assistant professor, I noted how few women and BIPOC composers were included. Thus, the breadth of ages and ethnicities present in the “beautiful crowd” refreshed me as I began my performance/talk/sing-along about African-American spirituals, Billie Holiday, and Charles Mingus for The Row House Forum in February 2018.
This 2014 improvisation was a step toward my presentation for The Row House Forum
I did not have a word for the pattern of my experience until I became a Turner Fellow pursuing a PhD at Stony Brook University: “underrepresented” described our community of scholars and what I had been feeling as a learner and maker of classical music. Through my work now, I want underrepresented music students to know that even if they sometimes feel like they don’t belong, they can achieve their professional goals while maintaining the whole of their identity. I am tutoring, composing, and speaking for this purpose, and I invite you to be part of my current collaboration: a recording by Maria Thompson Corley.
Maria (DMA, Piano Performance, Juilliard) is planning to record an album of music by women composers from across the African diaspora. Along with Nigerian composer Edwede Oriwoh and Maria, who was born in Jamaica, I am creating a new piano piece for this project that you can support. The GoFundMe fundraiser will cover recording and mixing costs, in conjunction with record label MSR Music, as well as new composer commissions. Please help us diversify classical music recordings for future listeners and learners.