20 February 2018

Time's Up: Escaping the Sameness of Wind Band Programming

In the spring of 2017, composer Stacy Garrop posed a question for the wind band Facebook hivemind: what is your favorite piece for wind band or ensemble? Hundreds of replies came in from band directors across the country, and all of the responses had one thing in common: they were all pieces by men. Not a single woman was mentioned, even though the pieces ranged in date from the early 1900's with the Holst "Suites" to the present day with pieces by modern composers like Steven Bryant and John Mackey.

Stacy posed the same question the next day, after the all-male suggestions were pointed out, asking for pieces for wind band only written by women. What has followed since that post has been an influx of resources and advocacy for performances of music by composers who are not white men, and a search for solutions among music educators to diversify their programs in an effective way. Women composers and composers of color are woefully underrepresented in the classical music field in general and the time for a change in program diversity is long overdue. This article seeks to begin the conversation of how programming can reflect the demographics of our ensembles and our audiences, and to offer a number of preliminary solutions on how to make this change possible.

I would like to begin this article with bringing attention to several resources that are available for conductors and educators that have been created in the last year. After Stacy's post in May, I created the Women Composers of Wind Band Music database, a collection of over 800 pieces for wind bands at all difficulty levels written by women. The database, formatted as a publicly accessible Google Spreadsheet, can be sorted by difficulty level, length of composition, and the date it was written, and also has links to composer websites as well as YouTube and Spotify recordings, where available. The database is continually updated, and will likely be past 1,000 pieces soon.

Along with this resource, composer Jodie Blackshaw has created a database of wind band works for grades 1-4, a useful resource for middle and high school band directors. Composer Rob Deemer has also created an expansive collection of women composers for all mediums, including composer nationalities and links to composer websites. Finally, composers Steve Peters and Megan Mitchell have created a website of women composers that regularly features recordings and videos of lesser-known women composers of all genres, including classical, jazz, and electronic. While these resources will likely never be entirely complete, they can be effectively used by conductors and educators to begin diversifying their concert programs, and to introduce themselves and their students to new music by a wide array of talented composers. There is also currently work being done on a Composers of Color of Wind Band Music database, to be completed and published soon, which will be another resource that can be used to add new and diverse music to concert programs.

Now, two suggestions for your consideration when programming. These are in no way comprehensive, but are simply conclusions drawn from conversations with several conductors and composers.
1. Spend time utilizing and researching the resources listed above. We are usually striving for the “new” in our field, so attempt to expand the literature you are familiar with to include underrepresented composers. There are recordings available of most of the works, as well as perusal scores, so that conductors can fit the needs of their ensembles. Furthermore, be an advocate for change by encouraging conductors and educators around you to also research and take advantage of these resources. Finally, consider programming works of diverse composers. There is high quality music written at all grade levels that can fit the needs of any ensemble. This representation is important, not just for the sake of playing music of diverse composers, but being mindful to represent the demographics of our ensembles and audiences with the composers on our programs.

2. Conferences, such as state music education conferences, WASBE, CBDNA, and Midwest Clinic, introduce diversity requirements for performing ensembles. Research on Midwest Clinic programs revealed disheartening statistics. Since 2008 (and only using wind band programs), out of 515 different composers, only 11 (ELEVEN) composers were women, a total of 2.1%. Out of 1355 different pieces performed at Midwest, only 36 or 2.6% were composed by women. The statistics for composers of color are similarly embarrassing. A way to fix this problem is to introduce requirements for music conferences that performing ensembles must include pieces by women composers, composers of color, or both. Midfest and Janfest, the middle and high school band clinics that take place at the University of Georgia, require their clinic conductors to include a piece by an underrepresented composer, and encourage their invited performing ensembles to do the same. A similar requirement was recently made at a regional CBDNA conference. While this may take some research on the part of the directors of performing ensembles, the resources listed above can easily be accessed to find music by diverse composers that suits the difficulty needs of their ensembles.
The time for music ensembles to make this change is past due. Many conductors lament the fact that orchestras play the same composers season after season, and while wind bands have made a push towards introducing diverse programming, it is far from the level it could and should be. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, currently leading the charge for diversity amongst top orchestras, has made strides to include underrepresented composers and performers with their upcoming season. While still not perfect, the orchestra has a higher percentage of diverse composers than we do at our conferences, and these same strides need to occur in the wind band field.

                          Photo credit: musictheoryexamplesbywomen.com

There are resources available now that alleviate the need for extensive, time-consuming research, and we must address this issue as a community and find solutions that work. It is past time for music ensemble programs to reflect the diverse body of conductors, composers, performers, and educators that make up our field and that continue to make the wind band one of the most innovate mediums in music. No more excuses.

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