2020 has been difficult for all of us, and particularly for aspiring young musicians. While they currently have little access to in-person performances and collaborations, they are continuing to pursue their dreams through online concerts and virtual lessons. It’s more important than ever to help them with the use of high-quality instruments from the Rachel Barton Pine (RBP) Foundation’s Instrument Loan Program and through financial assistance from our Grants for Education and Career. With your support, we’re trying to do all we can.
As important as these programs are, and as much as we hope that you’ll continue to support them, I’d like to highlight a particularly relevant effort of the RBP Foundation which is making a special contribution at a crucial moment.
“My cello recital is coming up soon, and I want to add a piece by a Black composer to the program. What should I play?”
“I’d like to diversify my university’s chamber music program. Would you please recommend some string quartets by Black composers that I can assign to the students?”
“Where can I find music by Black composers for recorder?”
“Do you have a list of piano repertoire by Black composers for young people?”
“I’m working on programming my orchestra’s next seasons, and I’d like to know more about the important Black composers who wrote great works for symphony. Where do I start?”
“There’s a beautiful piece for violin by a Black composer that I want to perform, but where can I find the sheet music?”
As ever more students, teachers, performers, and concert presenters are actively seeking to add the works of Black composers to the repertoire that they learn, teach, and perform, our Music by Black Composers (MBC) project is privileged to be a leader in the effort to diversify classical music.
MBC was founded nearly 20 years ago, in 2001, to rectify historic and ongoing racial injustices in the classical music sphere. Since its beginning, this mission has never felt more pressing than at the present moment, and we at MBC have never felt more committed to our efforts to support, lift up, and celebrate the contributions of the Black community to the field of classical music.
For many years, efforts to gain greater recognition for this repertoire by the classical music world in general were somewhat ignored and dismissed. But recently, there has been a sea change in the industry. From the biggest orchestras to the smallest presenting series, decision makers are finally eager to share programs that feature greater diversity and inclusion. Schools and teachers everywhere are revising their curriculums to better reflect their values.
Thanks to your generous support, MBC’s numerous free online resources are helping an ever-increasing number of musicians every day. Our website, musicbyblackcomposers.org, now includes directories of living composers (300+) and historic composers (150+), a list of children’s books about Black classical music-making, a bibliography of reference books on Black classical composers, a discography of works by Black classical composers, a list of podcasts and radio programs that celebrate Black classical composers, and downloadable presentation materials to aid interactive performances.
We’re particularly excited about our new online repertoire directories which include information about each composer’s gender and geographical region, each composition’s date, instrumentation, and length, and links to recordings and where to obtain the sheet music. For example, the directory of Repertoire for Violin and Orchestra currently features 38 compositions by 19 composers (four women and 15 men), which were written between 1773 and 2020. In contrast, the website most frequently used by conductors, orchestra administrators, and librarians, Daniels’ Orchestral Music Online, only includes 15 works by seven Black composers (two women and five men).
In addition to violin repertoire, MBC is collaborating with colleagues to build further directories of music for viola, cello, bass, string quartet, piano, organ, recorder, school band, school orchestra, and symphony. All of this data will be accessible from our website at no cost.
Our next publications for students, MBC Violin Volume II and Carillon Volume I, are about to go to press. We are hard at work on our first volumes for viola and cello. Through our pedagogical materials, we are not only helping Black children find a sense of belonging in classical music through the reclamation of this forgotten history, we are also helping to inspire the next generation to begin musical training and thereby help transform the face of classical music.
Our existing publications, MBC Violin Volume I and The RBP Foundation Coloring Book of Black Composers, are selling better than ever. We are receiving continual testimonials from teachers who are so excited that their students of all races and ethnicities are getting to learn about these composers and play these wonderful pieces. But royalties from book sales only cover a small fraction of the costs of our ongoing research.
Changing the narrative of classical music to one that celebrates its Black composers is the next important step in ensuring a more equitable, just, and diverse musical world. It’s our hope that these compositions will become part of our standard repertoire, as they should have been all along.
Donations to a worthy cause can be the perfect gift for your loved ones. As you consider your year-end charitable giving, please remember the Rachel Barton Pine Foundation, which is enhancing the lives of so many young musicians. The future of classical music depends on supporting talented students and young professional musicians during the early years of their development. With your help, young artists can make the world a better place by enriching the lives of all who hear them and inspiring the generations to come. Your gift is truly the gift of a lifetime.
Rachel Barton Pine, President
P.S. You may direct your gift either to our general fund or to one of our specific programs. Thank you…and best wishes for healthy and happy holidays!