5 Questions About #HearAllComposers

On March 14, 2017, Irish composers Amanda Feery, Emma O’Halloran, and Finola Merivale started a tweet storm aimed at ensembles and music organizations in Ireland for the lack of gender, racial, and socio-economic diversity on their concert programs. United States-based composers Mika Godbole and Annika Socolofsky quickly took up the charge stateside, and thus a global social media campaign to encourage inclusive programming was born. We asked 5 questions to Amanda, Finola, Mika, and Annika to learn more about their #HearAllComposers initiative.

What is #HearAllComposers and who’s behind it?

#HearAllComposers is a social media campaign designed to bring attention to issues of gender, race, and socio-economic discrimination in the new music world by positively promoting an inclusive array of composers and their work. It was started by Amanda Feery, Emma O’ Halloran, and Finola Merivale – three members of a larger group in Ireland called Sounding the Feminists.

Amanda Feery

Amanda Feery

What was the impetus?

Amanda: The campaign was a reaction to underrepresentation in Irish concert and festival programming. We ‘tagged’ Irish ensembles and music organisations, inundating their notifications, to show them the sheer amount of female, trans, queer, and WoC voices making music. Here is a Storify of the campaignAs part of the campaign we called for these groups to commit to equal representation in their programming. While we started the campaign to target Irish organisations, we were delighted the momentum took off in the U.S, with ensembles and composers getting behind us.

Mika: I’m a Philly girl, so when the orchestra announced their 2017-18 season, I excitedly checked out their season online. I felt disheartened to see many of the old stalwarts of orchestra repertoire. I love the music of Jennifer Higdon but she’s being programmed twice! I reached out to them on Facebook, urging them to do better, and they were quick to respond, but I didn’t feel satisfied. I texted Annika Socolofsky to vent about it, and we both felt similarly frustrated with the programming decisions made by many of the big orchestras near us. Lucky for us, Emma, Amanda, and Finola were already leading the charge so Annika approached them about dealing with the same issue stateside.

Annika: Mika Godbole and I were incredibly moved by the first week of the #HearAllComposers campaign, and had been wanting to make a statement about the lack of inclusive programming by American orchestras. So one week after the first campaign, we worked with Amanda, Emma, and Finola to launch “Round 2” of #HearAllComposers. For this round, we tweeted links to recordings of orchestral pieces by minority, LGBTQ, and women composers, tagging major American orchestras in each post, similarly inundating their notifications. We also reached to out various ensembles and performers who backed the campaign, including Third Coast Percussion, Kronos Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, Amanda Gookin, and Bearthoven.

Annika Socolofsky

Annika Socolofsky

What’s the scope of the campaign so far?

Annika: So far, we’ve sought to raise awareness for the cause of inclusive programming and have called for ensembles to think more critically about how they curate their repertoire. These issues run much deeper than just programming and commissioning bias, so the next step is to look at how we can address issues of gender, race, and socio-economic class at various stages in a composer’s career.

Do you plan on organizing other events outside of the social media sphere?

Finola: #HearAllComposers was definitely just the first step. Most of the future work will take place outside the social media sphere. We know it will take a lot of time to create real change, and we are working as part of Sounding the Feminists on various projects, but things are still in the early stages.

Mika: Several ideas have been floating between all of us including a website, compiling and sharing lists of inclusive festivals and initiatives, and making sure we are staying open to a variety of future possibilities.

Mika Godbole

Mika Godbole

How can people help?

Annika: I think the first step is listening. This means listening to voices and opinions of systematically repressed composers, but it also means listening to their music. Get acquainted with composers who are outside of your immediate circles. Make an effort to reach out to new demographics and regions with your calls for scores. Yes, it takes work to find these voices and parse through pieces, but the talent is out there and it needs to be supported. It needs to be supported by performers, artistic directors, bloggers, reporters, fellow composers, universities, and panels. A great place to start is by checking out the music under #HearAllComposers on twitter.

Finola: I agree with Annika! As audience members, if you’re unhappy with the diversity in a concert, speak up and try to start some positive discourse with the organisers about what you would like to see. If you’re a performer or organizer, keep checking your programs to double check how diverse it is, and ask yourself if you can do better. There is so much incredible work out there by under-represented composers, and it’s possible for us all to find it.

Mika: Another positive step would be to reach out to your local orchestras and write to them (it’s super easy, especially if they have a Facebook page). They are doing their best to stay afloat, so it helps for them to hear from concert-goers. We’re still trying to understand the process that an orchestra goes through in programming their season, and we are aware that many factors influence their decisions. We recognize that there is a fine line between taking risks and keeping orchestra patrons happy. All the same, we want to challenge these behemoth organizations to take a closer look and find that balance.

Perhaps these two goals don’t need to be at odds — there might be a way to do both. The orchestral repertoire is a result of works receiving many performances over time, with some outlasting others, but the key element is that they were given a chance. If we don’t infuse the classical repertory base with new sounds, it will remain a static block of accepted works, just a cultural artifact being passed on from one generation to another. If we treat it like the living, breathing art form it is, we have a chance to keep things fresh. No one can predict which works will survive but how can we know unless newer works, especially those by marginalized people, get the opportunity to be performed multiple times? In that sense, orchestras have an immense mantle as cultural beacons intrinsically thrust upon them because the premiere of a new work can be infused with the energy of musical mastery while being disseminated to thousands of listeners.

Such an event can only be born of a strong partnership between an orchestra of fearless musicians, an administration that wants to rectify inequalities, and composers who need to be heard. We can all demonstrate how it is possible to enliven the stage with someone like Errolyn Wallace AND Gustav Mahler, or have a northern Europe night with Saariaho, Thorvaldsdottir, Nielsen, and Sibelius. The programming combinations are beautifully vast. Again, we are learning that these decisions require many different factors to be in place, what with addressing budgets and all of that nitty-gritty business. Ultimately we all want the same thing — a flourishing music culture, support for ALL artists, a broad audience base, and let’s add some coffee and donuts. Who doesn’t want coffee and donuts?