APOLOGY TO BLACK WOMEN: I’M SORRY FOR MY DISCRIMINATION, I FAILED IN MY MISSION AND I WILL CORRECT MY MISTAKES

Yes, I said it. I’m failing in my mission. The Daffodil Perspective champions women but I’ve not featured music by black women on every show, I’ve not featured music by women of colour on every show.

I apologise to all black women for marginalising you and discriminating against you. I apologise to black female composers for not featuring your music enough, not featuring it in a fair and equitable way. And not just black women, I apologise to all women of colour for my behaviour and my inexcusable racism.

I apologise to the people who’ve supported me through this, I haven’t deserved your thanks and praise. At this point in time I’m not worthy.

Through all the events in the past few days there’s been various reflections on racism, organisations jumping on the virtue signalling bandwagon, many disingenuous comments circling the internet amongst sincere responses to do better.

The past couple of days I felt complacent through it all, I felt superior to these organisations. I thought I do a gender equal, inclusive show, I play black and minority ethnic composers every week. I’m doing so much better. I stood up on Twitter and Facebook saying I practise what I preach, saying I play at least 2 BME composers on every show.

I proudly showed my face to the world, making it clear that a mixed race brown woman produces The Daffodil Perspective. That this amazing work is all mine. I wanted to show people who I am and what I accomplished (all voluntarily I’ll add).

And on a personal note on Facebook I opened up about the different types of racism, the casual racism I endure on a daily basis, as well as the sexism. For black and minority ethnic women like me it really is just a double punch in the gut every day.  I’m subjected to both sexism and racism all the time and it’s exhausting and painful.

I’m not going to lie, The Daffodil Perspective is light years ahead of the curve when it comes to curating diverse programmes. Last year alone I featured 16 times more music by women than the 15 biggest world orchestras combined, 10 times more female composers than the Proms and 22 times more BAME composers than the Proms.

I feature black and minority ethnic composers all year round. I don’t just talk about them during black history month or black music month. I play everyone all year round.

Just because I did better than almost every major ensemble on the planet doesn’t mean I did good. I didn’t. I discriminated, I was unfair, I was a hypocrite and I was subject to internalised racism and it showed. I failed to be there for my fellow women of colour.

I do play 2 BME composers on each show but I don’t practise what I preach.

The truth is I’ve been failing since day one.

My mission from the beginning was to champion female composers. That is still my mission, that is what my show is all about, championing female composers. The show is gender balanced and I include composers of all genders, all skin colours, all sexualities on the show however the main principle is to showcase music by women.

This mission should embrace all women, it must embrace all women.

I’ve not been doing my job.

I checked my statistics for my 1st year of the show again,. I didn’t look at Florence Price, who was my most played composer, played her on a third of the shows last year (she’s my favourite composer of all time anyway).

Aside from Florence Price I only played 7 black female composers in my 1st year. That’s out of 204 female composers I played on the show!

They were Margaret Bonds, Regina Baiocchi, Errollyn Wallen, Eleanor Alberga, Valerie Coleman and Ella Jarman Pinto.

I checked how many other women of colour I played in that 1st year and the number is 6. The composers were Michiru Oshima, Chichun Chi-Sun Lee, Chen Yi, Keiko Abe, Yi Qiao and Reena Esmail.

So 13 non white female composers out of 204. That’s half a percent! I mean, that’s appalling., For a show that’s supposed to champion women it’s atrocious.

I’m just over halfway through the second year of the show now and I’ve played 8 black women, 15 women of colour overall this year. I’ve played around 90 composers so that’s about 10% black women.

This year I’ve played Rosenphanye Powell, Margaret Bonds, Florence Price, Shirley Thompson, Hannah Kendall, Zenobia Powell Perry, Unsuk Chin, Nora Holt, Tanya Ekanayaka, Gabriela Lena Frank, Ming Hsui Yen, Betty Jackson King and Michiru Oshima.

I’ve not played a single non white female composer in the last 2 shows.

I’ve failed.

Here’s where my failure is so much worse than other classical music organisations. Most mainstream organisations don’t really play black composers period. They’re not inclusive, most mainstream classical organisations are completely whitewashed, obsessively marginalising the work of everyone who isn’t a white man, mostly dead white men at that. Up until this week most of them didn’t even pretend to give a damn about diversity or inclusivity or racism. They’ve got excuses up to their toffee noses in reasons why they refuse to program women and people of colour.

I do care, I do give a damn about diversity and inclusivity. I experience racism all the time as a mixed race woman and I held myself up to be better, more inclusive and more accepting.

I’ve actually done my research, I’ve done so much research in the past two years I’ve probably done enough for a Masters degree at this point. I know dozens of black female composers. I know the huge amount of brilliant music that is written by black women. I know lots of awesome albums featuring their music, I love all this music and really do want to play it on the show.

Including music by black women really was on my mind from before I created The Daffodil Perspective. As soon as I discovered female composers two years ago I started searching for black female composers, the first one obviously was Florence Price and I soon found many more.

There’s Zenobia Powell Perry, Julia Perry (no relation), Undine Smith Moore, Dorothy Rudd Moore (also no relation), Betty Jackson King, Irene Britton Smith, Dolores White, Errollyn Wallen, Shirley Thompson, Eleanor Alberga, Hannah Kendall, Jessie Montgomery, Rosenphanye Powell and the list just goes on of incredible, trailblazing women fighting against all odds and creating breathtaking music.

One of the first albums I discovered was Videmus: Watch and Pray by Pamela Dillard – Spirituals and Art Songs by African-American Women Composers. It’s just phenomenal and I’ve been dying to play it since the beginning.

Also on my mind from the beginning was pianist Maria Corley’s gorgeous album Soulscapes: featuring piano music by African-American women including L. Viola Kinney, Undine Smith Moore and Zenobia Powell Perry.

Let me be clear, there are not enough recordings of these women, really hardly any, especially in comparison to certain other composers whose over-played, over-recorded music saturates the classical music market. Most of the historical black women have no portrait albums. Most of the recordings of historical black women are on albums with various composers, and usually the album is branded as music specifically by black women, African-American women, black composers. Most of them have only a few pieces recorded at most, it’s bloody awful.

And it kills me that there are no recordings at all of Shirley Graham du Bois, 1st black woman to write an opera. I want to hear her music so badly. Then there is Avril Coleridge Taylor, no recordings of her music exist either, it’s just so painful. Yet there have been 72 new recordings of Tchaikovsky in the past 2 months alone!  5 recordings of just Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 have been released in the same time! 5 recordings of this one piece in 2 months and yet there are no recordings at all of Avril Coleridge-Taylor’s Sussex Landscapes? Ugh, makes me so mad.

The awful truth is I didn’t think about including black and minority ethnic women on every show. This is how deep internalised racism goes, I didn’t think. I didn’t realise I had my own internalised racism going on and affecting the show. I mean I’m supposed to be showcasing women yet I am marginalising all non white women. I’ve really only been showcasing white women. I don’t care how I much I obsess over Florence Price, she’s just one composer. This is not equality, this is not diversity, this is not championing women if I’m ignoring all women of colour.

And not because I don’t adore them, just because I always have too much awesome music to play and not enough time. I kept thinking about playing these albums, playing these pieces and never doing it. Thinking it’s fine. Well that’s terrible, having too much music to play isn’t an excuse. Ignoring black women, even unintentionally, is discrimination, not thinking about including them on every show is discrimination. Not including black women when I curate a programme of women is discrimination. I detest discrimination and racism yet I’ve been exactly that for 18 months.

I veered completely off course, I ignored all these brilliant black women that I fell in love with, they’re the ones that made me want to do this show in the first place. They are what made classical music interesting for me, they inspired me, I related to them.

So, right now I apologise to all black women for marginalising you and discriminating against you. I apologise to black female composers for not featuring your music enough, not featuring it in a fair and equitable way. And not just black women, I apologise to all women of colour for my behaviour and my inexcusable racism.

I apologise to all who’ve supported me on this journey, I haven’t deserved your admiration.

I wanted this show to be a beacon of hope, a beacon of light, to be a model for inclusivity and diversity, to demonstrate how to program women. At the moment it’s not the beacon I want it to be, I haven’t created a good model and I haven’t created justice for all.

I wanted everyone to be able to see themselves on my show. I even said in an interview that I wanted it to be representative of our society. I wanted to inspire people like me, mixed race women who want to be composers and musicians. You haven’t been able to see yourselves properly on The Daffodil Perspective and I’m so sorry. It’s not been representative of our wondrous, diverse world and I’m truly ashamed.

Especially as I’m mixed race myself, I’m the same mix as Florence Price – mixed black and white. I feel marginalised myself, I was always the only non white musician in school and on music courses. I live in the UK, surrounded by white people and I constantly felt out of place growing up. One of the reasons I stopped playing music at 18 was because I felt I didn’t fit in, that there wasn’t a place for me. I don’t want young women to go through what I did yet I’m perpetuating the same cycle of discrimination of which I’ve been a victim.

Well no more. Female black and minority ethnic composers will make up at least 20% of female composers on every show from this point forward.

I’ve been so pleased to do this show, over 18 months it’s continued to develop, evolve and improve. Now I’m pleased to re-evaluate it, re-commit myself to championing all women, programming for justice for everyone and prioritising women of colour. Not just black and minority ethnic composers but musicians as well which I started doing well in the middle of last year but fell to the sidelines trying to fit it all in 90 minutes. Not a good enough excuse but that’s what happened.

The show format will change, reflecting on the show’s format up to this point it’s been very rigid. Other than Herstory Rewritten I was showcasing three albums of the week. Because most of the historical black women I adore only have maybe 1 or 2 pieces recorded, not many portrait albums, they’ve not often been on my albums of the week. Most of the albums of black composers I’ve seen only feature one woman as the token which is not something I’ve supported or wanted to showcase. Again it’s not an excuse.

The Daffodil Perspective will be better, I’m going to program women of colour fairly on every show. I feature 6 female composers every week on the show. Going forward at least 2 of them will be women of colour including at least one black female composer on every single show. I promise to make including black female composers and women of colour in general, a priority.

The next show is coming on the 19th June. In the meantime I’ve made a playlist of some amazing music by black women, I promise that all the composers on this playlist will be featured on the show within a year.

Hope you enjoy all this music as much as I do.

Once again, I offer my sincerest apologies to black women, women of colour and everyone for my behaviour, my discrimination and marginalisation. I promise to do better and be worthy of your admiration. The Daffodil Perspective is committed to fighting racism now and forever. I hope you’ll continue to support this show as I make it the inclusive, diverse and safe space for everyone to see themselves.

 

Elizabeth de Brito

Producer of The Daffodil Perspective

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is ‘greatness’ in classical music?

Everyone’s got this image of all the ‘great’ composers. They’re all dead white men. British journalist Fiona Maddocks said in 2011:

“For all the many good, even excellent women composers, why has there not yet been a great one? Where is the possessed, wild eyed, crackpot female answer to Beethoven, who battled on through deafness, loneliness, financial worry and disease to create timeless masterpieces?”

What do we mean by greatness? And how do you define greatness?

Let’s have a look at one example: Dame Elizabeth Maconchy was denied the Mendelssohn scholarship by RCM director Sir Hugh Allen because she’d “only get married and never write another note.”

Maconchy tried to get her music published by musical powerhouse company Boosey & Hawkes but Boosey rejected it because:

‘they would not consider publishing orchestral music by a young lady, perhaps a few songs’

So, women are only allowed to write nice little songs and leave the symphonies to men? Maconchy went on to write several huge orchestral works including her symphony for double string orchestra.

 

Maconchy also wrote 13 of the most extraordinary string quartets in history. In total she wrote over 200 works over a 60 year career, became a CBE then a Dame. She also battled and triumphed against TB, a disease which had already claimed half her family.

These comments by Boosey are not unique, similar comments were made, and are still being made, to many female composers throughout history. Given so much rampant sexism and prejudice it’s a wonder any music by women exists at all.

Does greatness mean the courage to carry on and write music that you believe in despite what other people think? If so, surely Elizabeth Maconchy has to be one of the great composers?

Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) was the first woman ever to be appointed as Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatoire. She shared equal responsibility for the women’s piano divison with Henri Hertz. They did exactly the same job but because he was a man he got paid more, that is until Farrenc demanded equal pay.

Along with teaching Farrenc wrote 3 incredible symphonies and a bucketload of other incredible music including lots of piano music and chamber music.

Does greatness mean the courage to stand up and fight for your right to be treated the same as others for the same work? If so, surely Farrenc must also be a ‘great’ composer right?

Florence Price (1887-1953), in her own words, had ‘two handicaps, those of sex and race.’

Price was born in 1887 and grew up in suburban Arkansas during the harsh era of Jim Crow racist legislation, she saw incredible violence and racism, eventually moving to Chicago to escape. Despite being a prodigious talent and going to university at 14 it would be another 30 years before she was able to write her Symphony in E Minor and that was because she ‘had the good fortune to break her foot”. This was after becoming a single mother and sharing a tiny flat with her student Margaret Bonds. Her Symphony in E Minor was premiered in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Florence Price became the 1st African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. She went on to write 3 more symphonies, a piano concerto, a violin concerto, a piano sonata and lots more music during a 20 year career that took off in middle age.

Does greatness mean knowing all the unfair obstacles that you face, holding your ground and not giving up, even after decades? If so, then surely Florence Price must be a great composer?

Why do we only associate greatness with this overly Romantic notion of deaf, half insane composers struggling away in leaky attics?

Let’s look now at Dame Ethel Smyth. Her uptight military Dad wouldn’t let her her study music so she locked herself in her room and refused to eat or come out until he allowed her to study music at Leipzig Conservatory. 14 years old Smyth was already a legend.

Smyth did go on to study music and she became a phenomenal composer but then she was constantly the victim of impossible double standards.

“On the one hand, when she composed powerful, rhythmically vital music, it was said that her work lacked feminine charm; on the other, when she produced delicate, melodious compositions, she was accused of not measuring up to the artistic standards of her male colleagues.”

This is a constant rhetoric for women who compose music. Only write delicate, pretty little music even though you’ll be judged for not writing huge power music that men write.

Ethel Smyth carried on regardless, she wrote several operas and numerous orchestral music plus a brilliant Mass in D.

Dame Ethel Smyth was the first woman composer to be knighted as a Dame and up until 2016 she was the first and only woman composer to have an opera performed by the Met Opera in New York.

In addition to being a phenomenal composer Smyth was a strong advocate for women’s right. She joined the Women’s Suffrage movement and worked with them for two years. Smyth also had numerous affairs with women, was apparently obsessed with the married Emmeline Pankhurst and fell into unrequited love with Virginia Woolf. Smyth was a badass alright.

Marianna Martines (1744-1812) wasn’t allowed to be paid as a professional composer because of her gender but she became the first woman to be admitted to the Accademia Philharmica, the same prestigious institution Mozart to which the ‘great’ composer Mozart was also admitted.

The Czech composer Vitezslava Kapralova (1915-1940) was exiled in Paris for the last 2 years of her life because of the war.

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was a brilliant composer and pedagogue who taught practically every major composer of the 20th century. She also became the 1st woman to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

All these women, and hundreds more, wrote lots of brilliant music. They were respected, even adored by their male peers, they won recognition in the form of commissions and prizes, Smyth and Maconchy were knighted. Despite all the veneration these women received during their life every one of these composers was obliterated from the canon after their death.

A frequent sexist argument against women composers being more well known is that their music just isn’t good enough. Nothing is further from the truth. In so many cases it’s not merely good enough, it’s better by far.

But I don’t want to make this a battle of the sexes over who composes better, more meaningful music. It’s not a fight to show women write music as well as men. They just do.

The only reason Louise Farrenc, Ethel Smyth, Florence Price, Elizabeth Maconchy, Marianna Martines, Barbara Strozzi, Amy Beach, Vitezslava Kapralova and all the hundreds of other women composers are not as equally regarded as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Britten and Tchaikovsky etc is because of their gender.

The fact that Dame Elizabeth Maconchy is a woman is the only reason her music is performed about 1/100th the amount of her contemporary Britten.

Centuries of deep institutional level prejudice and sexism is what is keeping the music of these women from concert programmes. Women have been systematically, consistently and constantly marginalised.

Again I ask, what is greatness?

Is it accolades? Maconchy and Smyth are Dames, Elisabeth Lutyens a CBE.

Number of symphonies written? Louise Farrenc wrote 3, Emilie Mayer wrote 7, Gloria Coates wrote 16.

Is greatness obstacles hurdled? Firsts achieved?

Is greatness staring bankruptcy in the face while battling syphillis in an attic in Vienna?

Or is greatness the ability to create and keep creating stunning music in spite of many people telling you that you can’t?

All women who compose music are great.

Florence Price once asked Sergei Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra to judge her music not on the basis of her race or sex, but on musical merit alone. He never went on to programme any of her music, read into that what you will.

Let’s do what he seemingly couldn’t and judge women on the basis of musical merit alone.

Let us redefine what greatness means, rewrite history and create a more gender balanced future for the benefit of everyone.