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Music faculty awarded $32,000 in grants for diversifying string music curriculum

Music faculty awarded $32,000 in grants for diversifying string music curriculum

In an effort to expand the slate of music commonly taught to young musicians, a group of School of Music faculty has assembled a collection of beginner repertoire for string instruments featuring Black and Latino/a composers.  The published collections, made possible by private and federal grants, will be distributed to schools and educators free of charge. 

The support will enable four School of Music faculty – Professor of Cello Wesley Baldwin, Lecturer of Violin Evie Chen, Assistant Professor of Jazz and Classical Double Bass Jon Hamar and Professor of Viola Hillary Herndon – to publish and distribute the first set of graded anthologies, as well as to produce recordings to accompany them.  Guest artists will come to campus in Fall 2022 to record the pieces.   

The publication and distribution of the curricula is supported by a grant of $22,000 from the Sphinx Organization, an organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. The recording of the pieces is supported by a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), an independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations and develop their creative capacities. 

The inception of the project came following a conference talk in Poland which Herndon attended.  The speaker described the challenge of finding music representative of her heritage and culture.  Herndon wanted to contribute to rectifying that problem and make such pieces of music easier to find.  That soon proved a challenging task.

“I wanted to assign more music from diverse composers, but for myself, it was so hard to figure out where to start,” Herndon said.  “So I thought, ‘If I’m going to expend all of these resources in order to find these pieces of music, what about teachers who don’t have the time or support to pursue that?’”

“For bass, there are fewer options than any other string instrument because our history is so much shorter,” Hamar said.  “We borrow everything from everybody, which is good from an inclusion standpoint.  But the things that are still required for many auditions in the industry do not include composers from diverse backgrounds.”

The collaboration between these four faculty allowed the project itself to expand, developing volumes in violin, viola, cello and bass (each with piano accompaniment), as well as string ensemble.  Each volume contains about 30 pieces by Black and Latino women and men, with composition dates as old as the 1700s and as recently as last year. 

“We’re trying to broaden, not restrict,” Baldwin said.  “we’re going to make these resources for people who are open to expanding their literature to have a really accessible way to get started.”

“Ever since my master’s recital, and extending to my dissertation, I’ve been playing pieces that haven’t been common in the repertoire,” Chen said.  “And you can use that as a teacher to better your students, your studio, and yourself.”

As part of the initiative to broaden this access, the distribution of the volumes will be expansive, including member institutions of the National String Project Consortium, the largest university string music education program in each state, and El Sistema, a nationwide collection of programs which brings music education to children in low-income families. There will also be additional copies available that individual teachers can apply to receive. The result will be an expansive choice of music used not only in schools and universities, but also community music programs and private instruction studios.

The project will extend further than these beginning volumes, as well.  While their attention is at present focused on completing the current set, the project will continue with intermediate and advanced volumes, as well.  Publication of this first set of volumes is expected around the end of 2022.

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