High School Band Refuses to Play Music From White Composers

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Band directors at Spring Lake Park High School near St, Paul, Minnesota, have pledged their high school concert band will only play music composed by individuals of color.

“We made a commitment this year to only buy music from composers of color,” says Brian Lukkasson, one of the two band directors. He claimed music from composers of color has been” hard to find” because not many of them are being published. As such, Lukkasson has needed to be resourceful and network with fellow colleagues to locate the broader selection of diverse composers for their upcoming concert.

The Daily Wire reported that Yolanda Williams, a professor of “Afro-American and African Studies” at the University of Minnesota, told NPR that “composers of color and women” are somehow broadly discriminated against in big band composition.

Kia Muleta stand in front of a bulletin board featuring composers of color.

Kia Muleta stands in front of a bulletin board featuring composers of color.

For the band’s concert this year, they are playing “Of Honor and Valor Eternal,” a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen and African-American military pilots. It’s by Ayatey Shabazz, a black composer from Mississippi. Shabazz says his grandfather knew one of the airmen and stories he heard as a child inspired the composition, says the report.

The other band director, Nora Tycast, educates her band students about the history referenced in the diverse music; her students have even written Shabazz to ask about the composition process. Tycast said, “The more you practice talking about race and culture and ethnicity the more comfortable you are. We have this platform … to allow students to practice those conversations and be comfortable with talking about something outside of their own culture.”

“I’ve learned that when you look at the composer and then you don’t know the piece of music, you can’t judge what you think the piece of music is going to sound like or what you think it should sound like until you actually play it through,” said a sophomore bassoon player, Alannah Easter.

A bulletin board at the front of the band’s rehearsal room shows photos of the composers the bands are playing (pictured right).

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Kia Muleta, an African-American clarinet player in the band, told reporters of the school’s decision to shy away from playing music by white composers: “I really, really want other students of color to be able to feel like they are welcomed and appreciated anywhere … that they don’t have to check themselves at the door.” She also stated that it bothered her that the composers they used to play in their concerts were predominately white.

Muleta added, “There’s a kind of, like, ideological segregation of who can and cannot be in band based on who the composers are and what the music’s like and what the experiences of those composers are like.”

Listen to her statement below on NPR.

H/T: NPR; Photo credit: Evan Frost | MPR News

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