Category Archives: Participant Post

Diversifying Repertoire & Instrumentation

This post is written by Doug Bott.

In the drive for greater diversity, ‘classical’ music itself must evolve. We can’t change the people and expect the music to stay the same.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason plays the cello. We already have loads of music for the cello, so we can book him for lots of concerts. But what if we want to book more disabled musicians such as Evelyn Glennie or Nicholas McCarthy? Compared to the cello, there’s not that much existing music for percussionists, or left-handed pianists. And what about talented young disabled musicians coming through the National Open Youth Orchestra playing electronic instruments such as the Linnstrument, Seaboard Rise or Clarion? Where’s their music?

One answer is to increase new commissions for a more diverse range of instruments and players. I believe we should do this, but this new music will only hit the same problem in future, when the diversity of musicians and instruments has changed again.

Ultimately, if ‘classical’ music is going to benefit from the injection of creativity that diversity can bring, we need to be more adaptable in approaching the music we play. This means not only commissioning more new music, but also being flexible about which instruments this new music is composed for, and more open to rearranging existing repertoire for different instruments and musicians.

I’m not proposing we throw the baby out with the bath water here – that orchestras stop performing faithful renditions of Beethoven and Mozart and switch entirely to a new, radical approach. But I think we can have ‘both, and…’. Beethoven and Mozart would have been excited by these opportunities, because they were innovators. They were at the forefront of experimenting with new instruments and repertoire in their time, and almost certainly would be now too, if they were still here.

Doug Bott is musical director of Open Up Music.

Inequality Talk

This post is written by Dr. Christina Scharff.

The underrepresentation of musicians from minority-ethnic and working-class backgrounds, as well as of women in certain instrument groups and positions of authority and prestige, has been documented in recent years. Along with this trend, discourse around the lack of diversity in the classical music profession has gained increased traction. In my provocation, I draw on qualitative in-depth interviews with female, early-career classical musicians to ask if, and if so in which ways, recent discourse around the lack of diversity in the classical music profession has affected how young musicians talk about inequalities in the field of classical music. My research demonstrates that the research participants were aware of ongoing inequalities and discussed them openly. This marks an important shift from previously conducted research, which highlighted the ‘unspeakability’ of inequalities in the classical music profession and the cultural and creative industries. Going further than this, my research also explores the rhetorical and ideological work that such ‘inequality talk’ performs, arguing that conversations about inequalities may not necessarily pave the way to political change. More specifically, inequality talk can become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end (such as political change); a fatalist sentiment can characterise discussions of inequalities, presenting structural change as unachievable; and acknowledgement and recognition of privilege, crucial to overcoming inequalities, is not a consistent feature of inequality talk, which in turn risks reinforcing the normativity of whiteness and middle-classness in the field of classical music. Overall, my research provides a detailed analysis of empirical data to caution against overly optimistic accounts of the shift towards a more open discussion of inequalities in the classical music profession and beyond.

Dr. Christina Scharff is Reader in Gender, Media and Culture at King’s College London.

Reaching Potential Audiences

This post is written by Marius Carboni.

To pursue wider audiences of classical music, musicians and organisations need to take ‘perception’ into account. Perception means lots of things: image, appearance, an individual’s interpretation or understanding – ultimately how the general media portray our sector of the business.

Whatever the music (product or service) the first question is who is my target consumer or buyer? Once established, the second is how to reach them so they know about your product/service, followed by how to persuade them into using/buying that product or service. The wish to grow your market is applicable to any commercial enterprise and targeted media is needed. In music, traditionally, a pop band releases an album, ties in a tour at the same time, devises a promotional strategy a few weeks before release, creating a media build up. The classical music genre needs to follow the same pattern, but easier said than done; its repertoire and the forces required will dictate a much longer planning period (such as for a symphonic or choral work). Combined with that is the wish for classical music to reach a bigger audience, a marketing challenge. Budget limits mean not all areas of the potential market can be reached in the first phase. A wider consumer base requires a detailed social media plan whilst the traditional classical consumer is at the older end of the market where offline media is often more applicable.

I often reflect on the image the OAE used in their 2012-2013 South Bank Centre season, pictured below. It encapsulates brilliantly what I imagine every musician or organisation wants to be perceived by, a cross-section of society, a representation we all applaud. And with it goes an investment in a range of digital and non-digital media tools.

Eleanor Shaw defines marketing strategy as ‘an organisational approach that is organised around the consumer, with a keen focus on identifying customer needs, wants and demands and matching these to features and benefits of the products contained within an organisation’s portfolio.’ (Shaw 2012:321). How well do we as classical musicians manage this process, bearing in mind the constraints indicated above?

Marius Carboni is Lecturer in Music Business, Entrepreneurship and Marketing, SAE Institute and Morley College, London

Classical Music and Middle-Class Respectability

This post is written by Dr. Anna Bull.

As I have argued in my book Class, Control, and Classical Music, as well as more recent work (Bull, 2021), one of the ways in which classical music indexes a valued identity is by signifying middle-class respectability for women. Beverley Skeggs theorises the concept of respectability in her ethnographic study of working-class women in the north of England. [1]. ‘Respectability’ refers to ways that these working-class women would dress, act, and speak in order to avoid being stigmatised as working-class, and therefore as worthless. Simply put, for the women in her study, respectability was a signifier of not being working-class. There is an historical lineage to this concept, from the nineteenth century. As Nead’s study of the discourse of art in nineteenth century England describes, ‘class coherence [for the middle class] was established through the formation of shared notions of morality and respectability’.[2] Within such notions of morality, a woman’s ‘sexual identity determined whether or not she was seen as a respectable and responsible member of society’.[3] Respectability is therefore a way in which the value or worth of women in relation to their class position is read through their perceived sexuality. Respectability is also a racialised identity, as can be illustrated through outlining its links with British imperialism.[4]

I have argued that historical and contemporary associations and representations of the identity of ‘classical musician’ in the UK signify ‘respectability’. Both in classical music’s iconography and in classical musicians’ modes of dress – both everyday and formal concert wear –a style associated with respectability (for young women) or elitism (for young men) can be seen, for example in the recent final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year awards.

This concept contributes towards explaining the inequalities of participation in classical music. Young people self-select into learning genres of music associated with an identity that fits their social position. In other words, young people will invest in learning kinds of music where there is a social scene that they fit into or feel comfortable in, where they gain social approval, and where they can cultivate an expressive voice they value.[5] For middle-class girls and young women, a ‘respectable’ identity is seen as valuable, and therefore learning classical music is an acceptable, even an obvious pathway. Similarly, Mari Yoshihara has also pointed out the ongoing associations of classical music proficiency with being a ‘good girl’ and a ‘virtuous young woman’.[6] At the same time, this classed, raced and gendered identity associated with classical music makes it a less attractive option for working-class children and young people, as well as those from some minoritized racial groups (both male and female).

Focusing on the ‘respectability’ performed in the dress and demeanour of classical musicians – and their representations in the media – makes visible the values and identities that are normalised within classical music education and practice. By drawing on an historical understanding of respectability that foregrounds the role of white women’s embodied sexual propriety as upholding wider standards of morality, the whiteness of the ‘nice girl’ playing classical music becomes visible. This fits with findings from wider studies of the engagement of racialised minorities with classical music.[7] The racialised, classed and gendered legacy of classical music – visible in its iconography and classical musicians’ ‘style’ – shapes the ways in which it is encountered by Black middle-class people, East Asian classical musicians, and other racialised groups who are minoritised in the UK. [8]

Adapted from: Bull, A., 2021. La « respectabilité » et la musique classique. Étudier les intersections de classe, de genre et de race pour comprendre les inégalités dans les formations musicales. Agone 65, 43–64.

English language version available to download here:

Bull, A. 2021. ‘Respectability’ and classical music: Examining the intersections of class, gender and race to understand inequalities in musical training. Agone 65, 43-64.


[1] Beverley Skeggs, Formations of Class & Gender: Becoming Respectable, London: SAGE, 1997, p. 47.

[2] Lynda Nead, Myths of Sexuality: Representations of Women in Victorian Britain, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988, p.5.

[3] Nead, p.6.

[4] Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Conquest, New York: Routledge, 1995, p. 15.

[5] See further discussions of this issue in literature on music education and young people’s identities, such as David J. Hargreaves and Nigel A. Marshall, ‘Developing Identities in Music Education’, Music Education Research 5, no. 3 (November 2003): 263–73,; Alexandra Lamont et al., ‘Young People’s Music in and out of School’, British Journal of Music Education 20, no. 03 (2003): 229–41,

[6] Mari Yoshihara. Musicians from a Different Shore, Philadelphia: Temple University Press (2008). p.106.

[7] Meghji, ‘Encoding and Decoding Black and White Cultural Capitals’; Vincent et al., ‘Raising Middle-Class Black Children’.

[8] Yoshihara, Musicians from a Different Shore; Mina Yang, ‘East Meets West in the Concert Hall: Asians and Classical Music in the Century of Imperialism, Post-Colonialism, and Multiculturalism’, Asian Music 38, no. 1 (13 June 2007): 1–30,

Dr. Anna Bull is Senior Lecturer in sociology at the University of Portsmouth.

The Problem of the Composer Anniversary

This post is written by Dr. Sharanya Murali.

What is the effect that ‘anniversary’ programming has on representational politics, both in the classical music industry and on the repertoires developed by them? Scholarship has established that the canonicity of western classical music has been constructed over centuries, through violent discursive acts of erasure of Black and Global Majority composers and repertoires, to appear white and is not in itself naturally representative of whiteness. One of the key ways in which white canonicity is upheld and continually re-inscribed, I suggest, is through the politics of anniversary programming, which establishes the hegemony of white European composers, creating and participating in a cycle of demand for the same. Perpetuated, thus, are notions of virtuosity and accomplishment that impact the demographic make-up of orchestras.

The Beethoven 250 celebrations—known as such both in the eponymous social media hashtag and in British seasonal programming at the Southbank Centre, the Barbican and the Wigmore Hall, for instance—are remarkable because they have occurred through and alongside, at least in part, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and in the UK; a racial justice movement that demands, materially, the end of white supremacist violence on Black communities, and represents the centring of Black experience and joy.[1]

During times of political reimagination, such as Black Lives Matter, cultural practices like anniversary programming perpetuate dominant racial anxieties—and classical music histories—by relying on the narrative of ‘universalism’ of western classical music, eliding structural and genealogical concerns about representation, and indeed, overlooking opportunities to canonise instead the harmonies of those systematically overlooked.


[1] In an attempt to memorialise Black violinist Elijah McClain, who died at the hands of police violence in August 2019, musicians gathered to play their violins in Aurora, Colorado, only to have the vigil interrupted by pepper sprays, used by police in riot gear (Evelyn 2020).

Dr. Sharanya Murali is Lecturer in Theatre at Brunel University London.

Staging Music via Biography

This post is written by Dr. Michael Pinchbeck.

I am a writer, director and theatre-maker concerned with staging scores and finding ways to transpose musical composition into dramaturgical strategy in performance. A question that drove my recent work on The Ravel Trilogy (Bolero, Concerto, Solo) was: how do we ‘biograph-ize’ a piece of music? Each performance is inspired by a piece of Maurice Ravel’s music, and aims to perform its tempo, mood and atmosphere by mirroring its structure and content. Put simply, the script follows the score; the musical dynamics are stage directions.

At the same time, the work considers the (auto)-biographical context behind the making of the music, how Ravel wrote it, who he wrote it for, and who played it or performed to it. This methodological approach has led to a particular hybrid of verbatim theatre, ‘composed theatre’ (Rebstock and Roesner) and ‘orchestral theatre’ (Curtin) and seeks to engage both audiences of classical music and theatre-goers in what might be termed an ‘immersive concert’. Working with orchestras, concert pianists and a classically-trained violinist has also enabled us to explore the virtuosic technicality and formal aesthetics of classical music, whilst at the same time inviting the audience to sit in the orchestra or hold the instruments.

The provocation I am arriving at here is this. As Arts Council England shifts its agenda from excellence to relevance, and emphasis is on organisations to seek new audiences and new modes of engagement (e.g., immersive experiences, concerts-in-the-round, Proms on catch-up, or the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra accompanying Rod Stewart at the Brit Awards) then: How do we ensure that classical music remains relevant and resonant with new generations? How do we breakdown potential barriers to accessing both the form and its historical representation? How might ‘biographizing’ music and/or its composers be a strategy to do so?

Dr. Michael Pinchbeck is Reader in Theatre at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is also a theatre-maker.

How Chineke! is Changing the Game

This post is written by network member Ishani O’Connor.

‘For too long, classical music has looked like the preserve of a certain kind of person performing for a certain kind of audience. Many have likely seen little wrong with that, largely because they saw themselves in the picture. But the world keeps reminding us again and again that there are those who scarcely see themselves in the picture and consequently feel that they don’t belong there…’ — John Gilhooly, Chair, Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) – citation for the Chineke! Foundation on winning the first Gamechanger Award at the RPS Awards, 28 November 2019

‘I hope by us, the Chineke! Foundation, being recognised positively as Game-changers, that it’ll carry a message throughout our industry that we all focus not on what is lost, but by what is gained by creating greater diversity, inclusion & ultimately, belonging. We recognise that change isn’t always or necessarily for the better, however, we hope and believe in this instance a serious game in terms of history and tradition has been changed in a positive direction’. — Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, accepting the RPS Gamechanger Award.

Founded by renowned double-bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE in 2015, the Chineke! Foundation’s mission statement to ‘champion change and celebrate diversity in classical music’ has been practiced and enacted over its four short years of existence with a rapid ascendency in the classical music industry: impacting classical music seasons with the music of historically neglected Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) composers and commissioning many new works from contemporary BME composers; nurturing and supporting new BME talent entering the industry; increasing the diversity of audiences; establishing partnerships with learning departments of concert venues and with music hubs to work extensively in schools and community spaces across the country; and in its media presence in newspapers, on TV, radio and online. Chineke!’s work has changed the perception of classical music and the musicians who belong on the greatest stages of the world, but the ripples go beyond the industry and into the wider society, at time of great social division and inequity.

At the end of the second decade of the 21st century, the proportion of black and minority ethnic (BME) representation in orchestras worldwide falls considerably short of reflecting the ethnic make-up of the population as a whole. In the UK 1.7% of the membership of our 14 leading professional orchestras are BME compared to the overall population of BME representation of 15% and as much as 50% or more in major cities. Young BME musicians have few role models in the classical music world or in the media to inspire them to take up a musical instrument or to consider seriously a professional career pathway in music.

Through the work of Europe’s first majority BME Chineke! Orchestra and its sister project, the Chineke! Junior Orchestra for young BME musicians aged 11 to 22, and with a Learning & Participation Programme that has taken the joy and stimulation of creative music-making into inner-city schools across the UK, Chineke! is changing the perception of who can and should play in our professional orchestras and who belongs on stage; it has had a remarkable effect in attracting large numbers of BME people to concerts throughout England and in Europe.

The impact the professional Chineke! Orchestra has made on the annual concert seasons of the major venues of the UK and the new talent which the Chineke! Junior Orchestra has nurtured have almost single-handedly created the right conditions for young BME talent to blossom and therefore, in turn, has transformed the classical music sector in recent years.

Chineke! has commissioned eight new pieces of music by contemporary BME composers including Errollyn Wallen, Hannah Kendall, Daniel Kidane, James B. Wilson and Roderick Williams. Classical artists such as cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his sister Isata Kanneh-Mason, the concert pianist and recording artist, have passed through the Chineke! stable.

For the past four years, Chineke! has led the way as a learning organisation whose active mentorship of new BME talent and effective engagement with BME audiences is demonstrating to the wider industry how to increase ethnic diversity in classical music and therefore increase equity within the ranks of its orchestras.

However, after this initial burst of energy, how can we sustain support and commitment and where do we go from here? Now that some of the changes in perceptions are actively shifting the balance of power within the gate-keepers of the industry, how will this important work be supported, grown and developed to increase the likelihood of a lasting commitment to BME musicians who are still in the minority and thus create an established legacy and a secure future for everyone? Do we have the leadership in the marketplace, at institutions and in the media, who are courageous and representative enough to show a real commitment to change?

Ishani O’Connor has been the Learning and Participation Manager for the Chineke! Foundation for the past two and half years. Along with an expert and dedicated Chineke! management team, she manages the Chineke! Junior Orchestra’s annual calendar of concerts which take place on the stages of the Southbank Centre, where both Chineke! orchestras are resident and also at other private and public events. She also works closely with Chineke! partners – venues, music hubs and other charities to bring Chineke! musicians to schools and community spaces across England. Ishani has an MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy from Goldsmiths College, University of London and a BA in American & Commonwealth Arts from the University of Exeter. Ishani has played violin for 40 years and is a trustee of Dulwich Symphony Orchestra where she devised and ran an orchestra outreach project in a local state comprehensive school for three years. Ishani has worked closely with communities delivering arts-based, socially focused projects to bring people together. She helped to register a new charity for the residents of the Draper Estate in south London where she was a fundraiser and organised cultural festivals, classical music concerts and theatre for the community. In the past, Ishani has worked for BBC TV as a researcher for Specialist Factual-Arts and as a producer for an independent TV company making educational films for schools and universities. Ishani has a deep belief in the power of mentorship, having had such a positive experience of music teaching and performing in youth orchestras growing up, she feels that developing support for young people in music and arts education is fundamental to our society.

Curating Diversity in Classical Music

This post is written by network member Uchenna Ngwe.

Over the past few years, more work is being done to actively confront the lack of diversity within classical music. Some important and progressive projects have created new spaces and opened up existing formats to encourage more active participation from communities and individuals who have traditionally been underrepresented in the arts.

While this work has proved invaluable, interventions tend to focus on contemporary performance and composition without exploring the full historical cultural richness of participation in classical music.

The way we interact with classical music today relies on myth and legend to excite audiences with tales of the ‘Great Composers’. Concentrating ‘diversity’ solely on performances of work by canonic composers continues to give the false impression that the societies Mozart and Beethoven were composing in, for instance, were culturally homogenous. A growing body of work is recognising the contributions women have made in the field as musicians but the Western-centric lens that this is viewed from often fails to consider the existence of historical participants of Black British, African and Caribbean descent — male or female — when selecting material for performance. In this way, ‘inclusive’ programming can reinforce ideas that Black composers simply didn’t exist until the mid-20th century at the very earliest.

The plainsightSOUND research project challenges narratives within classical music that exclude the stories of participation by performers and composers of Black African and Caribbean descent and aims to facilitate curation of more representative programmes in classical music spaces.

Unlike traditional concert programming, where there are certain conventions that an audience might expect — for instance, interval placement, type and order of repertoire — curating involves more than placing a work of art in a space or a piece/performer in a concert. A complete context of the presentation needs to be considered, alongside an awareness of how the curator’s artistic and creative decisions can affect not only the audience experience but those of the performers as well.

If we are to say that we truly care about uncovering and amplifying diverse voices within classical music, we must consider not only its full history, but the complete environment that we frame performances in.

Uchenna Ngwe is a second-year PhD student at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Her explorations in creative practice investigate the lives and work of historical Black classical musicians in Britain from the perspective of a performer-curator-activist. Based in London, Uchenna is a freelance oboist, music educator and artistic director of Decus Ensemble – a flexible, mixed-instrumental group dedicated to performing lesser-known classical music works for chamber ensemble. 


Invisible canons: towards a personal canon of female composers

This post is written by network member Dr. Angela Slater.

There are many instances where the pedagogical canons that professional and amateur musicians were exposed to during their formative years have left generations after generations of people unaware of the existence and wealth of works by female composers. As evidenced in numerous political speeches, and academic research, the powerful sway that the canon wields through our educational institutions and beyond have ensured the continued hegemony of repertoire and, by association, the suppression of women composers and their works, consciously or otherwise.

My own experiences as a female composer working in the contemporary classical industry gives both substantive and anecdotal evidence how this has come to be, and its continuing influence. For example, it was only in my PhD on composition that I began to realise in any formal way that there had been female composers of the past. It did amaze me how I had not come to question this before such an advanced stage, and how by asking this question, I was suddenly exposed to a world of far more music from diverse human experiences. I think this is proof of the acceptance and power that common discourses have over us as they go by unquestioned as the seal of worth and approval.

Through my research into women composers and their works, I began to reflect on my own pedagogical journey by digging through my old graded exam books and syllabuses. The process made me question the formal structure of the canon, its manifestations, and its inner workings. Exploring the writing of Marcia Citron and Anne C. Shreffler, who offer perceptive insights into issues of gender and the canon, is revealing. For example, Citron perceptively observes that ‘Canon formation is not controlled by any one individual or organisation’ (2000: 19). On this point, Shreffler identifies key aspects of canon formation as ‘frequency of performance and academic engagement, both of which show a presumption of longevity and staying power; frequent programming well after initial honeymoon period; and historical significance, realised in retrospect’ (2011).

Related to this, Lucy Green’s (1997) work has shown how this becomes embodied in practitioners’ perspectives on the ability of female students. In a number of cases, teachers judged the work of girls to be of lower quality than that of boys, quantifying this in loose terms tied to concepts of musical ‘genius’ and unity of form. All of this builds a picture of how women’s creativity has in the past and continues to be undervalued and undermined in our societies.

I surveyed the ABRSM examination board piano syllabuses from 1999-2019 so I could begin to substantiate some of the things that had emerged anecdotally. This survey reveals unsurprising but still startling evidence that illustrates a structural imbalance in graded music examinations as a whole. The survey shows overall representation of women composers within their syllabus for piano grades 1-8 remains low from 1999-2019 with a peak of 11% in 2011-12. Across the overall time period of two decades we can see that women composers only account for 3.4% of composers presented. The picture worsens when you delve deeper into which works actually make it into the main examination books, a significant barrier to access to these works for teachers and students.

Such syllabuses hold enormous weight over our views of music. Citron observes ‘Textbooks and anthologies, the repository of the canon, wield enormous power as determinants of canonic status’ (2000: 24-5). We might see these educational resources becoming certified endorsements of what is worthy of being taught. Challenging such hegemony is important as we move forward.

Through looking at the pedagogical and broader societal canons to which I was exposed it is plain to see that women composers were largely excluded from these. I doubt my musical education was particularly different from many other young people growing up at the same time. As noted above, canons are both created and sustained through a large group of people with shared values. We might see the formation of an established societal canon as emerging from a number of influential individual canons coalescing around a common body of works. The influence of this conceptual structure is almost inescapable, and I acknowledge this from the outset, even as I begin to critique it. Therefore, when I started to discover and engage with a body of works by female composers, I began to conceptualise these as my personal canon of female composers.

Through this I realised that if we can influence the personal canon of many concert- going members of the public then we can begin to in some small way infiltrate the larger canon. Illuminate Women’s Music was founded on this mission to begin to introduce and educate the larger concert-going public, arts organisations, university communities and digital communities about the historical lineage of women composers and the living women composers working today. By taking these works across a broad geographical area to a range of concert venues and demographic of concert-going audiences, and offering repeat performances by emerging professionals, this music is receiving some of the necessary elements of works that potentially go on to reach canonic status.


Citron, Marcia. Gender and the Music Canon (University of Illinois Press, 2000).

Green, Lucy. Music, Gender, Education (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Shreffler, Anne C. ‘Musical Canonization and Decanonization in the Twentieth Century’, in Der Kanon der Musik: Theorie und Geschichte. Ein Handbuch, ed. K. P. M. Wald-Fuhrmann (Munich: Hanser, 2011), pp. 1– 18.

Angela Elizabeth Slater is a UK-based composer and the founder of Illuminate Women’s Music. She is passionate about bringing music by women from the past and present to audiences around the UK and beyond. In her AHRC-funded PhD at University of Nottingham, Angela developed an interest in musically mapping different aspects of the natural world into the fabric of her music. She frequently associates these concepts and phenomena from the natural world with ideas of movement, forging close links between her gestural language and techniques found in dance. Angela enjoys working with professional and amateur musicians with equal enthusiasm. Highlights include the Atea Wind Quintet, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Bozzini Quartet, Assembly project, Aurea Quartet, BBC Singers, and Psappha, amongst others. Recent significant achievements include being a Britten-Pears Young Artist through which Angela worked with Oliver Knussen, Colin Matthews and Michael Gandolfi, developing Soaring in Stasis which received its premiere at 2018 Aldeburgh Festival. Her work Eye o da hurricane (for string quartet), was shortlisted in the British category ISCM world music days in 2017. Angela recently became the New England Philharmonic’s 2018 call for scores winner resulting in the world-premiere of her orchestral work Roil in Stillness in April 2019. Angela also became the 2018 Young Composer of the Year for the London Firebird Orchestra, leading to a new work, Twilight Inversions, which received its world-premiere on 11th June 2019. Angela was the 2019 Mendelssohn Scholar resulting in her furthering her studies with Michael Gandolfi at NEC this year. In June Angela has had further exciting performances including the Hildegard National Sawdust ensemble performing Shades of Rain for piano trio in Brooklyn, New York followed by a world-premiere of her work Of Spheres by the Semiosis quartet as part of the IAWM conference at Berklee College of Music (Boston). Angela also had her piece A Pattern of Shadows performed in Finland by the Avanti chamber orchestra as part of the Savellyspaja 2019 festival. Angela has also recently attended the prestigious Choreographer-Composer Lab at Phoenix Dance Theatre with the intention of furthering her artistic ambition and collaborative practices with other artforms.


Let’s talk about inequalities: why increased awareness and discussion of inequalities does not necessarily lead to social change

This post is written by network member Dr. Christina Scharff.

Over recent years, discourse around diversity and equality in the classical music profession has been gaining increased traction. There have been a range of initiatives to promote women, musicians with disabilities, as well as Black and minority-ethnic players. Keychange, for example, is an international campaign which encourages music festivals and conferences to sign up to a 50:50 gender balance pledge by 2022. HERA is an intersectional, feminist opera company and SWAPR’ra was formed by a group of artists in the opera industry, who seek to effect positive change for women and parents in opera. formidAbility promotes accessibility and inclusion for those with disabilities in the opera scene, and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s Resound is a professional disabled-led ensemble. In 2015, the double bass player Chi-chi Nwanoku launched the Chineke! Foundation, which supports Black and minority ethnic classical musicians working in the UK and Europe. The foundation’s flagship ensemble, the Chineke! Orchestra is Europe’s first majority BAME orchestra. These initiatives have been widely discussed in the classical music industry; indeed, a recent announcement for a talk by Chi-chi Nwanoku states that “the lack of diversity in British orchestras, and the arts in general, is at the forefront of current debates in the UK classical music industry”.

This presentation explores how classical musicians respond to and make sense of recent efforts to diversify the classical music profession. Based on qualitative in-depth interviews with early-career, female musicians, the presentation traces shifts and continuities in discussions about ongoing inequalities. In particular, the presentation contrasts and compares how two cohorts of female, early-career musicians talked about gender, racial and class inequalities in 2012/2013 (n=64) and 2019 (n=18). While inequalities, and particularly gendered hierarchies of power were overwhelmingly disavowed in the earlier study, the 2019 research participants openly discussed classed, racialised and gendered exclusions. Thus, wider debates about inequality in the classical music profession seem to have had an effect on how female, early-career musicians make sense of the industry they work in.

Drawing on a discursive analysis of the interviews conducted in 2019, this presentation provides a detailed examination of how inequalities are talked about. The analysis shows that many research participants were aware of the lack of diversity in the classical music industry, used political language to discuss inequalities, and provided incisive accounts of ongoing hierarchies of power. As opposed to earlier research findings on the ‘unspeakability’ of inequalities in the cultural and creative industries, including the classical music profession, the research participants’ openness to talk about ongoing exclusions certainly marks a shift. However, there were also some striking continuities, mainly in relation to the use of neoliberal rhetoric in talk about inequalities, and the reliance on individualist responses to ongoing hierarchies of power. For example, numerous research participants shared experiences of sexual harassment, but stated that they had not reported it. All research participants worked on a freelance basis and felt that the reputation-based nature of informal recruitment meant that they could not speak out against sexual harassment. In this context, they often invoked the image of a strong, empowered woman standing up to call out inappropriate behaviour and conduct. Possible, collective responses were rarely mentioned. Sexual harassment, and its inappropriateness, was thus discussed amongst musicians and this marks an important shift. However, the research participants’ reliance on individualist solutions meant that the awareness of sexual harassment did act as a first step towards facilitating wider, structural change. Instead, the focus on individualist solutions often led to a sense of powerlessness and sometimes even failure, where research participants blamed themselves for ‘failing’ to speak out. The research participants’ engagement with sexual harassment, along with their wider use of neoliberal rhetoric in discussions about inequalities, cautions against providing an overly celebratory account of musicians’ increased awareness of racialised, classed and gendered exclusions. As is the case in relation to wider industry initiatives that seek to tackle the lack of diversity, careful, scholarly attention has to be paid to the ways in which inequalities are conceived, talked about, and what is done to mitigate against their persistence.

Dr. Christina Scharff is Reader in Gender, Media and Culture at King’s College London.