Black Voices Matter Pledge

This is the introduction to the Black Voices Matter Pledge that Matthew Culloton signed in the summer of 2020. For the entire document, including the pledge and important foototes/references, please visit:

Please note that the authors of this document are listed at the bottom of this introduction statement.

#BlackVoicesMatter: A Pledge of Anti-Racism in Choral Practice

On Juneteenth, we are moved to honor and rejoice in the beauty, wisdom, compassion, resilience and contributions of Black Americans, while thinking critically on the history and legacy of slavery in this country. [1] We recognize the painful through-line that connects these histories to segregation, discrimination, inequality, mass incarceration, and police brutality. The horrific murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Dominique Fells, Riah Milton, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others are a painful extension of this history, reminding us that there is much work to be done to dismantle the violent ideologies of white supremacy, cis-heteropatriarchy, and racialized capitalism that animate so many of the injustices in our world. 

As choral artists, we understand that critical self-reflection is a part of the artistic process; at this time, we feel called to hold up a mirror to our own practice. We have seen ubiquitous statements of solidarity and strong assertions that Black Lives Matter. We affirm these statements and recognize that further critical interrogation and action are necessary in order to construct a more just and equitable choral community where all voices can flourish. 

We acknowledge a system-wide complicity in centering whiteness [2] which upholds and reproduces structural racism and other oppressive ideologies. In allowing choral structures and practices to remain unchecked, we embolden a system that neglects, excludes, and harms Black, Brown, Indigenous people, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islanders, LGBTQ+, those with disabilities, and the poor. 

We recognize that educational and cultural choral institutions devalue certain musicians, musical cultures, and methodologies; this system of valuing is embedded into our very understanding of what choir is and what it is not. Indeed, the commonly held imagination of the choir excludes many singing communities and communal singing traditions from around the world. This exclusion is a type of cultural erasure that predominantly invisiblizes Black, Brown, and Indigenous (BBI) [3]  voices and bodies from the choral ecosystem. Further, we assert that the notion of an ideal or “good” choral sound is racialized, [4]  and the fetishistic pursuit of a singular choral sound prevents choral practitioners from cultivating other types of singing and other types of goodness—including humanity, compassion, and empathy—in their singers and communities. [5]  

We contend that many of the customs of rehearsal and performance injure the underrepresented in our communities, especially our BBI students, colleagues, and friends. We believe that tokenism and the rhetoric surrounding diversity can mask and intensify structural inequity. [6]  We observe a disturbing complacency with which many in our field engage with issues of cultural inequity—issues requiring urgently-needed diligence, thought, and responsiveness. 

We argue that substantive and long-term steps to address these injustices are not only urgently needed, but long overdue. [7]  The following is an initial list of actions that choral organizations and practitioners can commit to implementing towards these goals.

Authored by: Alexander Lloyd Blake, Tonality; Emilie Amrein, University of San Diego; Dr. Melissa Dunphy, Composer; Christie McKinney; Reginald Mobley, Countertenor/Handel and Haydn Society; Dr. Zanaida Robles, Harvard-Westlake School/Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church; Jen Rogers, Phoenix Chorale; Joel Thompson, Composer; Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, St. Olaf College

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