What is MBC’s mission?
To inspire Black students to begin and continue instrumental training by showing them that they are an integral part of classical music’s past as well as its future; to make the music of Black composers available to all people regardless of background or ethnicity; and to help bring greater diversity to the ranks of performers, composers, and audiences, helping to change the face of classical music and its canon.
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Why is a project supporting music by Black composers founded and led by a white person?
Short answer: No one else—Black, white, or otherwise—is pursuing the project of creating broad access to student-level repertoire by Black composers.
Long answer: Rachel Barton Pine founded the Music by Black Composers project in 2001. The release of her album, Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries, in 1997 had prompted numerous parents and teachers to contact Pine asking where they could find classical repertoire by Black composers for the young music students in their lives. Pine realized that there were no resources existing at that time that provided easy access to pedagogical or student-level works by Black composers, and no one else had yet taken up the monumental project to create broad access.
The problem of access was three-fold. The average American classical musician/teacher has: 1) very little access to information about what Black composers exist or what repertoire to seek out, 2) little to no access to information about actually locating the sheet music, 3) and little to no access to information about whether repertoire is in editions suitable for pedagogical use.
Pine became determined to bring about change. She was excited since the project combined her several of her passions: music education, improving access, music research, and overlooked repertoire.
From its founding, MBC has relied upon the life experiences and expertise of a diverse and highly accomplished Board of Advisors. It has also sought out the expertise of Black composers, arrangers, scholars, and writers for its team of contributors, alongside experts of any background who wish to contribute to the project of creating access to music by Black composers.
How does MBC define “Black”?
Although MBC resources are available worldwide, our mission and goals have been formed within the United States, and with the USA’s historical and contemporary understandings of race in mind. In the USA, people of sub-Saharan African descent have been systematically excluded from broad sections of society, including classical music, and so MBC has those individuals and that community in mind. With our focus on pedagogy and the support of Black American students, in particular, we aim to highlight composers of sub-Saharan African descent from around the world whom Black American students could look at and think, “hey, they look like me!”
Why and how does MBC indicate the gender identity of composers in its Living Composers Directory?
The gender identity of each composer in MBC’s Living Composers Directory is indicated with permission, and as each composer has requested to date. (It is possible that some indicated identities are out of date as individuals’ public-facing identities have shifted over time, and we are happy and eager to update our resources as each individual prefers—please get in touch! email@example.com)
Gender and gender identities are included in our resources to highlight the gender diversity within the Black composer community, and to facilitate searches for music by gender-marginalized composers, including women, non-binary people, and trans people of all genders.
Why does MBC focus primarily on classical music?
Our collections of sheet music for young students are specifically for instruments from the Western classical orchestra. This is because, before MBC’s publishing project began, there were practically no classical instrumental method collections containing even one piece by a Black composer. MBC aims to give Black students the chance to see themselves in classical music, and students of all backgrounds the chance to learn about composers and some of the wonderful repertoire that has been historically excluded from the classical music canon.
There are many musical genres in which Black participation is expected and taken for granted. Classical music is, by design, a musical domain that has been particularly exclusionary and elitist. We want to help bring about a world in which every racial/ethnic demographic feels included in classical music, and where diversity there is the norm rather than the exception.
Can non-Black performers play classical music by Black composers?
Absolutely! While other genres may struggle with cultural appreciation versus appropriation, for the most part, composers of classical music intend their works to be performed by anyone and everyone. Tchaikovsky didn’t expect his music to be only played by Russians, and Sibelius only by other Finns. Likewise, the music of Joseph Bologne and Florence Price can and has been performed by performers from diverse backgrounds.
As always, responsible musicians of any background should strive to be informed about the stylistic performance conventions and historical context surrounding the repertoire they play. This responsibility applies to the performance of music by Black composers, as well as to the performance of any music, by any composer, of any style, from any particular time and place.
What accountability measures do you currently have in place?
Our Board of Advisors is continually making sure we are up to date on use of language, the bounds of our activities, and more. We also welcome input at any time from the public. firstname.lastname@example.org
In hiring or recruiting team members, volume content contributors, etc., we seek out Black contributors whenever possible, but also welcome the contributions of enthusiastic and qualified associates of any ethnicity or background.