Originally published in The Clarinet 50/1 (December 2022).
Printed copies of The Clarinet are available for ICA members.
REPERTOIRE AS REPRESENTATION
By Hailey Cornell
As an incoming freshman music student attending Coastal Carolina University, I was excited and eager to kickstart my collegiate music career. After my first semester, however, I quickly began to notice a common theme within all of the music I played in lessons and juries: none of the composers were still alive, and they were all men. Becoming frustrated over this very quickly, I began to have conversations with my professors asking why there was such a lack of diversity within the clarinet’s repertoire. Responses ranged from “You will learn about it in music history next year,” to things like “What is the point in even asking that?” Unsatisfied with this reaction, and unfulfilled over the lack of representation in my repertoire, I quickly became disappointed.
Then Dr. Eric Schultz became the new primary woodwinds teacher at CCU. After conversing in my first few lessons, I realized that he was an advocate for playing new and contemporary music written by people from all walks of life. After I asked about clarinet repertoire and whether or not there were pieces that were written by women that I could potentially play, he began providing resources and various pieces for me to listen to. After further conversation, we mutually felt that this could evolve into a focused and collaborative project.
At the closing of the fall semester, I had applied to a call for prospective research fellows for a new research center. After being chosen through a rigorous application process, I became a founding research fellow along with my professor Dr. Schultz in the all-new Edwards Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE). The center advocates for an interdisciplinary approach to diversity work across the humanities, with a number of faculty fellows and student fellows from many different backgrounds. Dr. Schultz and I focused specifically on diversification of the standard canon in music, and through the CIE, we created the [Represent]atoire Project to perform and promote pieces by various living composers from a diverse range of backgrounds. I also created a collaborative lecture recital along with two other music research fellows that consisted of music written only by women, featuring works from Amanda Harberg, Valerie Coleman, and Jenni Brandon. Funding from the CIE has also allowed us to bring Valerie Coleman in for a residency this year.
New music is not some sort of obligation that one should be checking off their list after performing one atonal piece. It requires a deeper dive into both the who and why of said music: Who wrote this? Who is this person and what is their background? Why was this piece created? What story is this trying to tell? Because that, really, is what musicians strive to do—to tell the story of the piece in a convincing and impassioned way. If we do not give a piece this sort of commitment, it is hard to really see the point behind it all. From Saariaho to Brandon to Coleman, there is no shortage of potential clarinet repertoire from living composers for both collegiate and professional clarinetists.
My experience this last semester speaks to this greatly. When looking for new repertoire for my upcoming semester, I stumbled upon Amanda Harberg’s Clarinet Sonata. I listened and instantly became connected. There was a story being told that resonated deeply with me. It reminded me of the loss of a childhood friend, and the emotions associated with their memory. The music told the story of feeling that grief, reliving those memories, and finding solace. Never before in my college career as a music education major did I feel so connected and interested in a piece.
My journey through this quickly became a ripple effect throughout our woodwind studio at Coastal; many other students began listening to her music and also became interested in learning various pieces of hers. Then I realized that there were opportunities within this project that I had never even thought of before. Harberg is a living composer, so I asked my teacher, “Why don’t we reach out?” And that is exactly what we did.
I had the incredible opportunity, as a junior in college, to interview Amanda Harberg. For over an hour, I got to ask her questions ranging from, “What made you begin composing?” to, “What was the story behind the Clarinet Sonata?” This idea of interacting with the composer seemed so far-fetched to me because of my prior teaching. We as musicians accept the fact that we cannot enter Mozart’s brain and know what he was thinking when he wrote his music. Instead, we have to look through a historical lens. This is not the case with music by living people. We have access to incredible composers from all around the world who would love the opportunity to work with musicians and discuss their music. So the question remains: Why are we not doing this more often?
During our interview, I mentioned how my playing her Clarinet Sonata was the first time I had ever played a solo piece written by a woman, let alone a living composer. Harberg responded by reflecting on her time at Juilliard as a young composer:
When I was growing up, there were two books in the Juilliard library about women composers… that was it. I thought, How dare I do this? Is there something biological that prevents women from becoming composers more? [Those are] the crazy thoughts that I had, just never having had a female teacher or never growing up seeing women composers, it was so rare. I spent a long time thinking about it.
Harberg also discussed our initiative, stating how projects such as this create energy within the field that propels us forward and creates new opportunities. She emphasized the importance of supporting your fellow musicians and creating opportunities through collaboration:
It’s not just about the one thing that you won or that you didn’t win. That stuff is so superficial and yet we place so much value on it psychologically, like we feel like we failed if we don’t get something. But rather than focusing on that side of things it’s really important to focus on creating a concert to put together or a collaboration with friends to make chamber music, or bringing together a group of people to commission somebody [. . .] We have to create energy. Those are the things that keep our field going, those are the things that have meaning.
I can say with confidence that working with a living composer so closely has really allowed me to excel not only as a music student, but as an individual. It has changed my entire perspective on all of the potential opportunities within the field of music. As a future educator and now senior in my undergraduate degree program, I will strive to bring my students music that is diverse and represents many different walks of life. Classical names such as Mozart and Brahms most definitely deserve to be recognized and learned through the clarinet’s repertoire lists. There are many valuable takeaways from works by classical titans. It is also important to note that music from composers from diverse backgrounds can be included on these very same lists. Furthermore, my project made me realize how important it is to see myself within the music I play. I felt so connected to Harberg’s Clarinet Sonata because it related to my experience dealing with sudden loss due to the pandemic, which was so powerful. Students in band and orchestra classrooms deserve the opportunity to see themselves in the music they play.
The [Represent]atoire Project at Coastal Carolina University
by Eric Schultz
In 2019, I had the incredible privilege of performing for John Corigliano’s Grammy-award winning First Symphony during New York City’s WorldPride and 50th anniversary celebration of Stonewall with the Chelsea Symphony. The celebration was the largest LGBTQIA+ event in history and marked the first time WorldPride had been held in the US.
The First Symphony premiered in 1990, the year I was born, at the height of the AIDS crisis. Inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the work commemorates Corigliano’s friends he had lost, and was losing, to the disease. We know that because of the demographics initially affected, governmental response was woefully inadequate. It wasn’t until September 1985, at least four years after the crisis was known, that President Ronald Reagan first publicly mentioned AIDS. Today, HIV still thrives in the poorest regions of the states, and although there are effective treatments, there is still no cure. Contrast this with the comparably strong response to the coronavirus pandemic, and it becomes easier to understand why many minoritized communities suffer from intergenerational trauma; and if the delayed response to the recent monkeypox outbreak in New York City is any indication, we need to do better.
This is a history that you can’t find in a book. Performing this work with Corigliano front row in the audience and having the opportunity to talk with him about his music (especially the Clarinet Concerto, one of my favorite pieces to perform!) is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. The Eb clarinet part that I played often represents gay rage, and clearly, I am still processing my own. This experience solidified my understanding of why representation in the concert hall matters for all marginalized communities.
But it wasn’t until I started my current position as Assistant Professor of Music and coordinator of woodwinds at Coastal Carolina University in 2020 that I really was forced to process how meaningful this experience was for me as an openly queer person and how formative it would be for my teaching going forward.
In recent years, awareness of racism, social injustice, and gender inequity has intensified as movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too continue to gain traction nationally. When I arrived on my new campus in August of 2020, these dialogues had reached a boiling point, specifically in music, where our repertoire is a bit of a monolith.
Professionals and academics in every field were driven to think about inequity in their disciplines. In music, this meant taking a closer look at our canon. The truth is, Western art music focuses almost exclusively on the music of White European men from approximately 1600-1900 (common practice era). Our field became uncomfortably aware of its exclusivity. My students, and students across the country, are demanding to study music by composers more representative of our country’s demographics today.
When did we become aware of this issue? Well, I think we have always known. Turn through any music history book or go to the index and read the names. But it seems to me that only recently did our field agree to work on changing this for the better, supported by recent social movements.
Traditionally, during an undergraduate music degree, students study and perform the standard repertoire for their instruments. Certain composers are so monumental (Mozart, for example) they really cannot be ignored. However, the canon reflects historical marginalization of certain groups and communities. For example, there is no commonly performed undergraduate repertoire for the clarinet written by a woman. Even with a terminal degree in the field, I struggle to think of a standard undergraduate piece by a BIPOC composer for any woodwind instrument. There is no excuse for this.
This year, I have the opportunity to serve as the director of our new Center for Inclusive Excellence after previously serving as a founding faculty fellow. This is an interdisciplinary center that includes student and faculty fellows from throughout the humanities and beyond. Our first cohort of faculty fellows included Dr. Elizabeth Baltes, an art historian; Dr. Wendy Weinhold, a journalist; and myself, a musician. These may seem like three disparate fields, but the connections we have made between them are astounding. The student fellows recognize that many of our conversations are overarching across the humanities and beyond. In fact, it often seems as if we are having the same conversation with different disciplinary vocabularies, and because of this, something interesting happens in our discussions. When we come together in the center, we translate these dialects into a more commonly understood vernacular. This is what allows us to collaborate. It is a fascinating process to watch unfold, and it will be useful to the student fellows beyond their degree. It is one thing to understand a complex problem, but a wholly different task to be able to effectively communicate the significance of said problem to someone outside of your own field. As academics, and certainly in the humanities, sometimes we all struggle with this. But this is where change happens. Maybe you can start to guess the kind of questions that come up… Who gets to write the pages of our history books? Who gets monumentalized and why? Should old statues come down? Why does representation matter?
There are ten student research fellows in our inaugural cohort, and three of them are music education students. Two of them come directly from my woodwind studio. One of my clarinet students, Hailey Cornell, aims to diversify our standard repertoire lists in the woodwind studio. Another of my students, Diamond Gaston, will be the first music student at my institution to ever perform a student recital of music by all women composers. This involves interviewing living composers and discovering great music written by composers from marginalized communities, especially works that are accessible to undergraduate musicians. This is important work; as a point of reference, according to a survey of the 22 largest American orchestras, women composers accounted for only 1.8% of the total pieces performed – and that is just one example. Composers of color account for an even smaller portion of pieces performed.
Of course, canonization is really just an abridgement of history – a narrative. A repertoire list from the past may reflect some of the greatest music ever written, but it also reflects our biases as a society. It reflects who we thought could write great music, and from where great composers could come. Any attempt to re-canonize could potentially reflect new biases or continue to exclude certain voices. This is not to discourage the process. In fact, this is a continuous process of reflection that should be embedded into every discipline.
My approach to teaching this music is markedly different from the traditional approach to new music. I believe that we need to approach this new repertoire with the same level of veneration that we give to the music of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Beethoven. When we study these composers, it is from every possible angle – theory, historical context, appreciation, applied performance, historical performance practice, personal lives, written letters, and more. Living composers simply do not get this level of commitment.
To remedy this, over the last year we have focused our efforts on two living composers in the CCU Woodwind Studio – Amanda Harberg (Rutgers) and Valerie Coleman (Mannes, Grammy-nominated flutist/composer). But we didn’t simply study a few pieces of music to check a box and move on; instead, we launched a yearslong education campaign on these composers – their backgrounds, their struggles, their theories, the stories behind their music. For example, we recently interviewed Amanda Harberg. Because we had studied her music at length this year and understood who she was, the students were excited about this project and thought of meaningful questions they wanted to ask. We met with Dr. Wendy Weinhold, our faculty fellow in Journalism, and studied the art of interviewing. In the Center, we read many interviews that Valerie Coleman has given over her career to understand where she comes from. She talks proudly of her hometown, the west end of Louisville, and mentions frequently that it is the same neighborhood that Muhammad Ali grew up in. She complicates this by reminding us that this is also the same neighborhood in which Breonna Taylor was murdered.
In the woodwind ensemble, I took significant effort to arrange Coleman’s landmark work, Umoja (Swahili for unity), for our unique instrumentation. This took hours of arranging, but it was worth it, because I believe that anyone who wants to be a part of this movement should have that opportunity. The students love Umoja – not just because it is a great piece, but because they understand the story behind it. Coleman made history in 2019 when she became the first living Black woman composer ever commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra (a “Big Five” American orchestra).
One day I asked my Woodwind Ensemble, “For how many of you is Umoja the first work you have performed written by a Black woman?” The impact of every hand in the hall going up was one of the most powerful moments of my entire teaching career. When my student Hailey discovered the composer Amanda Harberg and learned her Clarinet Sonata, this was the first time she had ever played music by a woman composer. These are college music students with over a decade of music study.
When I announced to my studio that I had secured Valerie Coleman as a guest artist for a residency here at Coastal, the students were ecstatic, because they actually had the context and education to understand why that was significant. Many of them now want to study her music. Of course, accessibility of new music can be a concern for students. It is not freely available online like much of our repertoire in the public domain. When I acquired Valerie Coleman’s entire music library here at Coastal Carolina University through grant funding, the students couldn’t wait to get their hands on the music and see what pieces they may want to study next – and we now have the largest collection of her music anywhere in the world here at Coastal Carolina University.
Students in the Edwards College of Fine Arts and Humanities at Coastal Carolina University celebrating the new Valerie Coleman Music Library arriving on campus
Our project has been the subject of many articles on campus this past year. One question that I was asked in an interview, “How did you come up with such a clean, cohesive way to approach this project?” caught me off guard, because I never saw it that way. The truth is this project was born out of conversations with my students. It happened organically. To be sure, I have guided the students, but they also see the urgent need for this work and are excited to contribute. Importantly however, this question forced me to think about how to make this project sustainable at CCU, but beyond that, how it could be replicated around the country.
At our main Center for Inclusive Excellence showcase last year, I announced a new initiative, The [Represent]atoire Project (musical repertoire, or the music we traditionally perform, as representation). Every year, I will select one or two living composers to focus our study on for the year. The benefit of this approach is that it will allow our students to focus deeply on these composers, in a manner more comparable to how we seriously study the classical titans such as Mozart.
An unexpected reward of this project has been the amount of support and excitement surrounding it. When I started here, the CCU Woodwind Ensemble had only three members. We now have 15 and it continues to grow every semester. Students want to be involved in this project and I am proud of the supportive and inclusive environment we have created in this ensemble. Motivating to the students, our social media accounts frequently engage with these composers and other renown artists and composers around the world. Valerie Coleman often cheers our students on when they approach a new piece of hers. Living composers like Amanda Harberg are thrilled to do an interview about their music. This kind of networking possible through social media and technology puts our students on a new global stage and is something that traditional collegiate music education has missed out on in the past. In this sense, it is revolutionary.
But it’s more than that. This matters. When Hailey performed the Clarinet Sonata in a recital featuring Harberg’s music that she organized with the other student fellows, I have never heard her sound better. There is a connection she had to this piece that she just didn’t have with the Mozart Concerto in the fall, and that’s ok. She cares so much about this music, and you could hear that come through in her performance. When Diamond performed Harberg’s Prayer, from memory no less, several in the audience shed tears because they knew the story behind the work. I was one of them.
As an openly queer person, I know what it feels like to be marginalized. Born into the height of the AIDS crisis, and coming of age pre-Obama, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be able to be completely out, and certainly not in a university setting with my students as a faculty member. We have a long way to go, but things have changed quickly in this country for LGBTQIA+ rights. I know firsthand that it is the most liberating feeling in the world to be yourself, and more than anything, this is what I wish for the next generation – no matter who you are, where you come from, or what you have been through. This is what I strive to teach my students. Music is simply the best medium for this lesson.
As I tell my students frequently, “…music. It’s the best chance we have.”
Connect with the [Represent]atoire Project here:
Hailey Cornell interviews composer Amanda Harberg
The [Represent]atoire Project Presents: A Recital to Amanda Harberg
Dr. Eric Schultz acquires Valerie Coleman Music Library for CCU
More about the Center for Inclusive Excellence at CCU
Iván Enrique Rodríguez, Color Deaf: 8 Years of NYPhil’s Seasons Programming
Ricky O’Bannon, By the Numbers: Female Composers
Hailey Cornell is a clarinetist and multi-instrumentalist currently studying at Coastal Carolina University. They are the current president of the Coastal Carolina University Collegiate NAfME Chapter and a second-year drum major for the Chanticleer Regiment which will march the London New Year’s Day parade in 2023. Cornell’s research interests include creating repertoire as representation, culturally relevant music teaching and anti-racist music pedagogy.
Eric Schultz is an international prize-winning clarinetist equally in demand as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral musician. As a teacher, he is known for his transformational masterclasses and encourages a project-based creative approach to music learning while advocating for living composers and expanding traditional repertoire lists for a more intentionally inclusive and relevant model. As a fierce advocate for living composers and founding clarinetist of the Victory Players new music ensemble, his performing has been featured extensively by NPR through syndication. Schultz serves as Assistant Professor of Music at Coastal Carolina University, where he teaches studio clarinet, chamber music, and serves as the director of the Edwards Center for Inclusive Excellence. As a founding faculty research fellow in the center, he created The [Represent]atoire Project.