The College Music Society is an organization with a proud tradition of imagination and cultural inclusion. Its membership has regularly elected highly qualified officers hailing from various ethnic backgrounds. Two such individuals come to mind immediately: the distinguished Cuban-American pianist Nohema Fernandez and the renowned ethnomusicologist Dale Olsen. Their leadership inspired many to continue the Societys commitment to promote diversity in all aspects of music education.
Major demographic and technological transformations are fueling the need to re-examine our roles as both pedagogues and practicing musicians. As a new millennium commences, we cannot escape the pressing need to revise our didactic methods, the obligation to update our curriculum and the exigency to make our artistic and teaching institutions truly reflective and inclusive of a diverse populace espousing a multitude of aesthetic viewpoints. Coming to terms with the multiplicity of issues raised by this phenomenon not only makes political and economic sense, but also is fundamental to the advancement and well being of our profession.
The controversy surrounding diversity rages on unabated. Like wild fire, it has quickly and uncontrollably spread through all areas of academic life. Affirmative Action has been abandoned in some states, forcing institutions of higher learning to adopt admission and recruitment policies completely divorced from accepted ethnic and gender considerations. In other regions of the country, diversity considerations are still officially on the books but rarely discussed or enforced. In many instances, these new practices have resulted in a sharp downturn in attendance and participation by students of underrepresented groups.
As educators, administrators, composers and performing artists we have the obligation to reach out to all constituents of todays society. Cultural inclusion enhances the educational experience of all individuals. Student and faculty bodies that truly represent all segments of the entire population improve the educational experience for all.
Professional organizations including opera companies, orchestras, chamber ensembles and presenting organizations are being forced to justify continued financial support from local and national governmental institutions. Their programming faces growing scrutiny from the point of view of relevance and public appeal. Funding agencies are also paying attention to the make-up of their regular public. Musical institutions are facing tremendous pressures to attract a wider audience and to be responsive to the needs of an ever more varied population.
University music departments are confronting similar pressures and challenges. These range from the urgency to revise existing curricula and didactic methods in order to prepare students to deal with the professional realities of the twenty-first century, to the need to achieve the proper balance between the study of traditional and innovative disciplines.
While serving as Chair of the CMS Diversity Committee during 1999 and 2000, I had the pleasure of leading a panel presentation Diversity in Todays College Music Curriculum scheduled during the Musical Intersections Conference held in Toronto in April of 2000.
The two main issues discussed by the committee were:
- Expanding the traditional college music curriculum to include both musicological and ethnomusicological concerns. The committee agreed that students should receive a thorough background in the traditional discipline. However, the committee strongly recommends that students should have the opportunity to receive appropriate exposure to all recent developments in the field. The study of musical concepts derived from European musical thinking should be balanced with exposure to aesthetic concepts underlying art from non-western cultures.
- Given the mission and purpose of The College Music Society, the committee strongly requested that subsequent annual and regional conferences should place greater emphasis on presenting panels, lectures, recitals and other relevant activities that would foster the curricular balance proposed above.