So Why Are We Doing This?
There is a status quo in the wind band literature world - and this is no single individual's fault. We understand the busy and stressful lives of band directors. There are so many extra-musical tasks that we have to worry about beyond the literature that we select: planning, grading, custodial work, touring, meetings, evaluations, and everything else. Many of us simply don't have the time available to go on an hours-long journey into the newest music out there, so we focus on what's easily and readily available when making concert programming selections.
Many of us, when selecting music for our ensembles, head to a popular music distributor website and click on the corresponding catalog that will fit the needs of our ensembles - concert in December? Great, let's click on the Holiday and Seasonal list. Picking literature for Festival? Awesome, let's peruse the pages of the Contest and Festival repertoire. Need lighter selections for our Spring Concert? Fantastic, let's look under Popular Styles and find Lighter Selections.
So now we're confronted and overwhelmed by the alphabetized list, with its subjective rating system of B/VE/E/ME/M/MA/A which give little more information than one person's hasty opinion. There are SO MANY options, we can't possibly go through score after score after score, expecting to find the perfect piece for a specific occasion that fits the needs, instrumentation, development level of our ensembles, and be somewhat entertaining on top of it. So we listen to recordings. And recordings are a wonderful thing - they give us not only an idea of the technical and emotional demands of the piece, but also serve as a resource for our students to grasp the basic concepts of the music.
There's a fundamental flaw with this system, though. When you scan through the pages of your online distributor site, and other resources out there, you find the same composers' names, over and over again. This is not by accident. These are reputable, prolific composers that have a track record of putting out material of a quality and standard that meets the needs of a majority of the ensembles today. And this is evident in concert halls and on state repertoire lists nationwide.
The composers that are given priority and preference on vendor sites are the ones that sell the best; the composers that sell the best are the composers that are heard the most through our programming; the music that's programmed the most often is music that is readily available to be listened to for reference, which is the music being sold most often on vendor sites. And thus the infinite cycle continues, leaving new composers and their music out of the loop.
The data doesn't lie. We are continually expanding our research, collecting state requirement lists, catalog listings, and performance data on the composers that are programmed and sold the most, and this leads us to the conclusion that male and Caucasian composers sell at a staggeringly higher rate than non-male and non-white composers. The goal of And We Were Heard is to shed greater light on the underrepresented composers who may be overlooked.
"Well I don't look at race and gender of composers, I just program good music."
Our response to that is to look at the data. When there are 1200 pieces on the Michigan High School Band's Basic Music List, with 22 by women, and 2 by Black composers, it's no wonder why female composers and composers of color aren't being programmed at nearly the rates of their male, white counterparts. This trickles down to the ethnic and gender representation in collegiate composition studios and the interest in this career path of public school musicians. When students don’t encounter role models who look and sound like them in a profession, they are subtly told that their voice does not belong. The time to do something about that is now.
We owe it to our students to select quality literature that better reflects their own experiences. We owe it to our ensembles to provide them with programming with more depth, color, and unique voices. We owe it to our emerging female and ethnically diverse composers to acknowledge the adversity they have already faced. With this project, we hope to make greater gains toward this goal. We have teamed up with composers and ensembles across the country to gather reference recordings for those composers who deserve to have their voices heard, but have not yet been able to get their foot in the door.
We have spoken out alongside those who need their voices most heard, to those who need most to hear it … And We Were Heard.