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Winter 2020: Life in Music

"We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry,
and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color."

by Maya Angelou

Forward by Jennifer Snow

Many of the articles in this issue highlight the extraordinary work of individuals and organizations that are dedicated to social change through music. It is inspiring to explore how our colleagues are making significant changes in the world. For this issue's "Life in Music" column, Dr. Artina McCain shares her insights and experiences in implementing cultural diversity in her work.

Many are willing to entertain the conversation about diversity, but need tools to make their spaces more diverse. During my academic studies, I longed for the opportunity as an African-American/Black female classical pianist to engage with and learn from pianists whose cultural and ethnic backgrounds were similar to my own. Currently, I have the opportunity to create those spaces for my students. Below are two examples of ways I implement cultural diversity as a pianist and educator.

One of the most direct ways for me to implement diversity as a professional musician and educator is to reshape the cultural terrain in my area of expertise at my own university. I am one of the co-founders and artistic directors for the Memphis International Piano Festival and Competition, an annual competition hosted by the University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music. In the past four years, we have grown from a small local event of master classes to attracting over 100 competitors, both nationally and internationally. One of the many unique opportunities of facilitating an event like this is to purposefully move away from perpetuating an exclusive canon of European thought. Instead, we have sought to hire guest artists/adjudicators whose racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds provide participants a richer platform from which to see what diversity might look like in music. This is achieved by (1) engaging in a richer context of different perspectives; (2) exploring repertoire they would not otherwise encounter; and (3) constructing a musical dialogue that is both cross-cultural and representative of a multiethnic worldview. Not only do guest artists bring with them different aspects of musicality, technical prowess, rhythm and melodic voicing, but they also help to illuminate how multiple, yet varied, perspectives may push the boundaries of how we perceive creativity, imagination, and musicianship.

Another example is the opportunity I have to present and curate diverse ethnic experiences for my students, as many of these students are increasingly diverse in musical and ethnic backgrounds. They are curious about exploring repertoire by composers outside of the standard European canon. I owe it to them to facilitate an education that is valuable and relevant to how they see themselves, both as musicians and citizens of an increasingly ethnically diverse field. They are constantly hearing repertoire that is representative of diverse ethnic heritages while learning from a myriad of artists and traditions. I am always mindful of this. 

In order to implement diversity, we must rewrite the standards of validation until the playing field is equal. If you respect someone's work, invite them into your space. Pay them. Elevate their voice. Repeat. Be the change in your space that you want to see in your educational and artistic communities.

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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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