Black Lives Matter Takes Spotlight at Harvard Music Conference

Organizers of the Harvard Graduate Music Forum Conference pushed its audience to expand music’s use as a political tool at this year’s forum titled Black Lives Matter: Music, Race and Justice.

The topic of the Harvard Graduate Music Forum Conference last year was Musical Cartographies. In 2015 it was Work and Play: The Economies of Music. Co-Chair Ian Copeland said this year’s topic, by comparison, was of heightened importance and a “bigger undertaking than in previous years.” In fact, the venue itself was changed to a bigger location this year to accommodate the larger interest.

Black Lives Matter was chosen as a topic in September, yet fell unexpectedly into an era of protest and unrest in the United States. Copeland in his opening speech said that “music studies must join the growing discussion” on race in this country. 

The event took place largely as a panel discussion organized along more specific topics under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter. The first, an academic paper session called  “Representation and Resistance” was focuses largely on Black representation within the field of classical music.

Eun Lee, a producer from an activist orchestra called the Dream Unfinished said she would like to see “the day when black classical practitioners are no longer a rarity.” She also said that the work of black musicians historically is understudied and marginalized.

The second event “Academia, Responsibility, and the Movement for Black Lives” took the form of a roundtable. Its focus was on the role that educators and researchers play in the Black Lives Matter movement. Treva Lindsey, a historian at Ohio State, said that she changed the subject of her class from an introduction to feminism to one on feminism and activism as part of her “responsibility in this movement.”

Matthew D. Morrison, a music professor at New York University, said “we are politically involved as musicians and scholars.”

However, “students are scared off by the terms politics,” said William Cheng, a Dartmouth music professor. This led Cheng to name his course on music politics  “changing the world with music.”

The conference continues Saturday with several more events including a paper session on “Improvisation, Struggle and Liberation,” which BU News Service’s Crystal Milner will be covering in depth.

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