New Voices Essay Contest Second Place Winner: Sierra Wojtczack

Last year, I CARE IF YOU LISTEN partnered with 21CM to hold the second annual “New Voices” essay contest, inviting college students of any age to submit essays on the theme of the 21st century musician. We are delighted to present our second place winner, Sierra Wojtczack of the State University of New York at Fredonia. Wojtczack highlighted how the recently created database, the Institute for Composer Diversity, has streamlined efforts to identify and program the music of “underrepresented gender identities and ethnicities.” The project has had a personal impact on Wojtczack as well; her essay shares how her research has affected her own musical practice and views on institutions’ programming.

The Institute for Composer Diversity (ICD), based at the State University of New York at Fredonia, began in 2016 by Dr. Rob Deemer as a database to help his student composers learn about women composers. Now, the project houses a number of resources for promoting diversity in music. The original database has flourished to include living and deceased composers of underrepresented gender identities and ethnicities. There are research initiatives that reveal scholarly works about underrepresented composers and data about recent orchestral programming. The website also offers links to various organizations that share similar missions, such as Listening to Ladies, Maestra, and the Boulanger Initiative. Overall, I believe the ICD offers a wealth of knowledge that musicians can easily access to educate themselves.

Elisabeth Blair, Founder of Listening to Ladies--Photo by Dan Diffendale

Elisabeth Blair, Founder of Listening to Ladies–Photo by Dan Diffendale

I was directly impacted by the ICD through my experience interning as a data miner/data inputter. Between 2017-2018, I was able to directly access thousands of names of underrepresented composers. What began as a mental list of women composers who wrote cello music developed into a shared goal between myself and my cello teacher to learn more uncommon repertoire. Now, the majority of the solo repertoire I learn in my lessons is by underrepresented composers. I use the composer database as a resource to find works for myself and my peers to perform. As a composer, I also seek to expand the list of pieces by underrepresented composers, as well. This year, I collaborated with a fellow cellist and wrote him a new piece after he announced that he was looking for works written by Hispanic women composers.

The ICD has done important work in revealing how major orchestras are lacking in diverse programming. It is particularly important to highlight these deficits because it draws attention to how certain music is shared to audiences. The typical audience of classical music is aging and tends to consume music by deceased white men. Composers such as Beethoven and Mozart are constantly programmed; their historical renown makes their music accessible and easily consumable. However, more effort should be taken into incorporating works by underrepresented composers.

Sample Programming-- Photo courtesy Rob Deemer, Founder of the Institute for Composer Diversity

Sample Programming– Photo courtesy Rob Deemer, Founder of the Institute for Composer Diversity

It is surprising how major groups such as the New York Philharmonic only had 8 women composers featured out of 80 programmed composers [in the 2019-2020 season]. I believe that groups with more money and leverage such as this should use their power to promote a wider variety of composers and works. With these resources available, there is no excuse as to why large organizations cannot seek a wider variety of works to perform. If groups are afraid of losing audience members, then they can easily pair underrepresented composers with better known composers.

I believe more people with power and privilege should become more aware of the many resources the ICD has to offer: If they educate themselves, they can also educate their audiences and draw a larger demographic of music lovers to their concerts. The ICD has great potential to make the classical music field accessible to more people that may feel as if they have no role models that inspire them. In the long term, hopefully the general musical population and its consumers will become more diverse and more welcoming. People should not be afraid to create or live in obscurity for unnecessary reasons related to their identities.


Sierra Wojtczack is a composer and cellist studying music composition at SUNY Fredonia. She is an active member of the new music community, serving as Vice President of Ethos New Music Society. Sierra is an intern for the Institute for Composer Diversity and incorporates her knowledge of underrepresented composers into the repertoire she studies.