Music school’s response: Every concert will feature an African-American work

Music school’s response: Every concert will feature an African-American work


norman lebrecht

June 02, 2020

From the President of the Manhattan School of Music, James Gandre:

Dear MSM Community,

As a follow-up to the message that I sent to you yesterday regarding the recent convergence of horrific racist events in this country, and in the interest of taking Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words to heart and not sitting “idly by,” we can take action in various ways and today I am announcing a commitment that MSM is making: For the upcoming 2020–21 academic year, all performances will feature work by African American creators or those from the African diaspora.

As part of MSM’s Cultural Inclusion Initiative, formally launched last year and led by Chief of Staff Alexa Smith, we have been working on, among other initiatives, a policy relating to a markedly broader and more culturally inclusive curriculum and performances. Provost Griggs has led those discussions and that new policy will be announced by Dr. Griggs and me no later than at the conclusion of the upcoming fall semester.

The legacy of racism and hate that is tragically sewn into the fabric of America is centuries long, and, sadly, recent events are anything but anomalous. We are engaged collectively in the long climb out of hatred, fear, and ignorance, one that is consistently marred by what sometimes feels like an endless slide backwards after some progress.

Among his many other words of wisdom that still echo in our ears and our hearts, King also said these: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I hope that each and every one of us in the MSM Community continue to take those words to heart and that we all play an individual role in that necessary process toward inclusion of all.





  • Rigoletto says:

    A tragic injustice ocurred in the US.
    What the MSM wants to do is unnecesary and unfair to other pieces by non-black composers.

    • Elisa says:


    • Peter San Diego says:

      (1) It was not merely a tragic injustice, but just one of a long history of such injustices, and one that shows all too few signs of abating, despite decades of attention and attempts at reform.

      (2) Any programming decision is simultaneously an act of inclusion and exclusion. We all, I’m sure, have composers we feel are “unfairly” underrepresented in programming. MSM is taking its time in deciding how to implement the stated goal, with specifics not coming until the end of the next fall semester: thus, effectively, not until 2021. Let’s give them a chance before condemning them outright.

      • Dennis says:

        More whites are killed by cops each year, and per 10,000 arrests than blacks. But you wouldn’t know that because the mass media only cares about black deaths because they fit the Narrative myth of an America overrun by white nationalists and racist cops (when black cops kill whites, like Justine Damond, apparently it’s not racist, just a misunderstanding).

        • Joe says:

          You are such a liar. Mohamed Noor, who shot Justine Damond, was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison. White cops got away with murder again and again. T

        • MacroV says:

          A likely true but irrelevant statistic. White people generally don’t leave the house feeling they’ll be viewed with suspicion by law enforcement or just ordinary people. The great flutist DeMarre McGill had a good Facebook post about how despite all his accomplishments, he’s still viewed as suspect by many. Pretty sure Denis Buriakov, Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson, or any number of similarly-aged white male flutists don’t experience that.

          And deaths per 10,000 arrests doesn’t say anything about the justification of those arrests.

        • Ramesh Nair says:

          Re ‘more whites are killed […] per 10000 arrests than blacks’.
          Readers should be made aware that the generally accepted international scientific term is ‘legal intervention deaths’ eg see

          The critical point is that statistics for deaths can be easily manipulated by using various deceptive practices, such as ‘deaths per 10000 arrests’. This is because in many/most cases of deaths through law enforcement of nonwhite minorities or religious minorities the world over, deaths occurred PRIOR to ‘formal arrest’. These tactics were and are particularly rife in cases where police forces earned a particular reputation for sub-optimal conduct. [ As I have an Indian name, may I also point out the same could be levelled at many local Indian police forces in the subcontinent, where deaths of Muslims and lower caste citizens exceed their proportion of the population.]

          I am not aware of peer-reviewed studies in high impact scientific journals that show white deaths in the USA through ‘legal intervention’ exceeds that of black Americans — indeed, the opposite holds true.

        • Music lover says:

          How many Whites are in the US compared to Blacks? Can you do math???

        • Ramesh Nair says:

          Correction to my recent post. Last paragraph should read ‘I am not aware of peer-reviewed meta-analyses in high-impact scientific journals that white legal intervention deaths per capita of the white American population exceeds per capita legal intervention deaths of black Americans. Indeed, the opposite holds true. Also, the percentage of unarmed black American legal intervention deaths consistently exceeds the percentage of unarmed white American legal intervention deaths.’

      • V.Lind says:

        Thus effectively for half an academic year or less. Let’s indeed see what they do.

        One piece per programme for such a limited time is not a big ask. The fact that most of it is new music may be.

      • agnes00 says:

        As I am a black female composer, and I need no inclusion initiatives. I find that insulting. What I need is that no one takes an interest in my skin colour, and that my work is judged just for its merits. MSM managers can keep their PR stunt, because it is just that.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Agreed. Music is colourless.

          A composer does not need to be white to be good.

          But a composer does not need to be good to be white, but what’s the point?

        • Mr. Knowitall says:

          If programmers judged purely on merits, far fewer concerts would represent only white men. But in contemporary music, who you know, and who you studied with, carries great weight. Traditionally women and racial minorities were excluded from the white boys club of people you need to know and study with.

        • Edward says:

          I feel you might be overread the statement. Think about this is a way to introducing black composers to the wider audiences.

          Or you can imagine this scenario. If one orchestra announces that, in its next season, it will include a piece by a contemporary composer in each concert, will you feel insulting because you are a “living composer”?

        • Adrienne says:

          Well said. I’m also black, though not a composer.

          As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, a couple of times, I’m sick of the constant, patronising fawning.

    • Emil says:

      Unfair in what way? Please explain, because this makes no sense.
      What you’re saying here is that it’s impossible to find a few dozen works by African-American composers of good quality. You automatically assumed that the works selected will be inferior. If so, I’d like to know why. Why do you assume that the works played will be inferior to those by white composers?

      And if you want to claim that there aren’t two dozen good works by African-American composers, maybe wonder *why*, and why there might be a point of highlighting that?

      • John Borstlap says:

        Some of the very best ‘black’ classical music is by old Ravel, who wrote his piano concertos in the thirties after his longwinded USA tour in 1928 where he picked-up something of the soul of black jazz musicians and incorporated it in his concertos. It got under his (white) skin and he gave it one of the most touching accolades, showing that culture can travel easily through all barriers, and is entirely independent of ethnicity.

        Concerto in G:

        Concerto for the left hand:

        • Emil says:

          That’s not my point, and that’s not how any of this works. And also part of the problem, not the solution.

          (As a question: why did Gershwin want Porgy and Bess performed only by Black performers?)

          • John Borstlap says:

            To me it seems better to fight against the idea that music is part of an ethnic identity than get the skin into the field as a musical argument. Discrimination within music life is due to not understanding this distinction, and should be fought against as such, without drawing the music into the argument.

          • Emil says:

            Exactly – so where’s the problem with having pieces by African-American or African composers? By your own logic, it’s the same music, no?
            You see the issue of the identity of composers/musicians and of the music itself as separate. I strongly disagree, but let’s run with your logic anyway. If you’re right, then where’s the problem with correcting one facet of discrimination – the identity of composers – without touching the other? If all composers just compose ‘music’, this doesn’t matter, right?

            On the broader point, though, as long as Verdi is an “Italian” composer, Mahler a “Germanic” composer, Sibelius a “Scandinavian” composer, and Tchaikovsky composed “Russian” music, it is completely non-sensical to claim that there is no truth to “the idea that music is part of an ethnic identity”

    • Mr. Knowitall says:

      Absolutely! Those white composers just can’t catch a break. I can’t remember the last time I saw a program with white composers on it. Rise up angry! Fight the power!

    • Bruce says:

      Right, because they will be allowing performances of works by black composers only.


    • Michael Kaykov says:

      As an alum, I think it is a very good idea. Nobody said that works by non-black composers will be excluded.

      Ah, I might even learn an Art Tatum transcription.

  • Dennis says:

    Such mindless pandering to the Narrative. Where was she and all the other SJWs, celebrity Twitter posturers, protesters, rioters, looters, etc. in seeking justice for Justine Damond in 2017? Did she call for more works by white Australian-American immigrants to be included in concert programs as “reparations” for the injustice to her?

    Never heard of Justine Damond? No wonder…a white woman killed in cold blood by a Somali-born Minneapolis cop…doesn’t fit the Narrative’s myth of racist cops wantonly hunting down blacks all over America (fact – more whites are killed each year by police than blacks), or the idea that white racism is behind “literally” everything in America.

    Neither do so many other facts fit the mass media, SJW Narrative – such as that blacks, while only 13% of the population, account for around half of all murders, including about half of all killings of cops in the line of duty, or that more whites are killed by cops per every 10,000 arrests than blacks).

    And isn’t it funny how people protesting extreme lockdowns and the curtailing of civil and constitutional liberties by decree were declared by the mass media and politicians to be endangering the public, spreading Covid, denounced for not wearing masks, etc…but not a peep from the media along the same lines about these rioters and looters (whom they glorify with the term “protesters”). Suddenly the media has conveniently forgotten their 24/7 Covid obsession…Sickening. This country is doomed. Run by and for idiots.

    • Refal says:


    • Ken says:

      Will we ever get back to unpolitically uncorrect music on this site? As a respite? Yes, I realize that sounds naïve. And that I might “go elsewhere.” And “Beethoven and DSch.” But I’m just asking.

      • Bruce says:

        It will probably take a while. There’s not a lot of music news these days, as you’ve noticed; but a lot of news that artists have to grapple with, from the practical to the moral.

    • George says:

      There is no official “systemic racism” these days.
      Over the last few decades, It’s become a class issue. Granted, the hereditary psychological scarring from centuries of actual government sanctioned racism, coupled with the class barriers faced by black americans for climbing the economic hierarchy is great (since historical racism has forced them start out at the bottom of the economic hierarchy); But their plight being entirely due to the racism of white people, especially on the coasts?… no.

      Fueling the narrative of “systemic racism” is actually counterproductive, as is the sensationalism of “cops are indiscriminately murdering black americans”. I find the current narrative counterproductive. Ideologically possessed “Social Justice” (a reason it’s a cliche term) activists are actually blocking the move towards a better society with their sensationalist obfuscations magnified by most of the news media.

      Repeat a lie over and over and over and it becomes the truth. Find me a substantive racist law and abuse of governmental power that targets black people, instead of the disparities across groups in regards to arrests and income and even police shootings being due to secondary reasons of poverty (a class issue) and subsequently being at higher risk of committing crime disproportionately.

      If they (The kleptocrats who buy both parties and who own the news media) succeed in making us maniacally focus on “race”, then they win. They’ve successfully divided the country and deflected the rage away from them.

      Yes that’s the spirit! Keep the protests focused soely on “Racism” and that “White privilege”. Meanwhile, the stock markets are roaring due to the trillions of bucks the government just handed away to them (stock ownership is very highly concentrated at the top).

      Why do I even need to say a banal disclaimer that the officer who killed Floyd should be charged with murder, as his fellow cops charged as accessories to murder?

    • MacroV says:

      Your first point is fair; there is a problem with policing, well beyond racial bias (much of which may be unconscious). The killing of Justine Damond was unquestionably bad, and also a major stain on the Minneapolis PD.

      As for the rest: you should have quit while you were ahead.

    • Bruce says:

      Actually I have heard of her. That case was a big deal. As I recall, the cop was exonerated, as cops usually are.*

      It was a grim reminder that everybody should be afraid of the police, and not always for the reasons we think. (She probably thought she was safe running up to the police car out of the shadows, not out of some outsized sense of entitlement, but just because it makes sense that if you call the police, you should be able to go talk to them when they come. Not sure if Australian police carry guns, but an American would be highly aware of that, and a black American even more so. She probably didn’t think of, or maybe even know about, the danger.)

      *(WRONG. According to Wikipedia: “On March 20, 2018, Noor was charged with second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder. Prosecutors later upgraded the charges against Noor to second-degree intentional murder. In April 2019, Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter, but acquitted of intentional second-degree murder.[7] In June 2019, Noor was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison.[8] Damond’s family brought a civil lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis alleging violation of Damond’s civil rights, which the city settled for $US20 million,[9] one of the largest-ever settlements in a suit involving a police killing.”)

    • Bruce says:

      Also: “Did she call for more works by white Australian-American immigrants to be included in concert programs as “reparations” for the injustice to her?”

      Well, no. She was dead.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Composers of the A- and B-teams: guess which will have their works played beyond the first season?

  • Olassus says:

    Do we HAVE to see this on Slipped Disc ??? !!!

  • Robert Levin says:

    I did not read in President Gandre’s letter to the MSM Community that his intention is to exclude any composers. He is merely stating a commitment to feature an African American composer in each and every Manhattan School of Music concert. Kudos to President Gandre!!!

  • Toyia says:

    It doesn’t say African-American composers, it says the concerts will “feature work by African American creators or those from the African diaspora.” So that is pretty open. But I wouldn’t expect the dinosaurs who comment on this website to see this statement as important in any way. Bravo MSM.

    • Bone says:

      Dinosaurs LOL! Don’t worry, we are all dying off and soon you’ll have just the society you want!

    • Dr. Michael Kaykov says:

      Absolutely. It is a very good idea!

    • Donald Hansen says:

      There are some people who can never be satisfied, no matter how good the intentions are of others. This is sickening. Please get a life and look at the positive for a change. I second Toyia’s bravo to MSM.

  • AngloGerman says:

    Well they will run out of any good repertoire very quickly at that rate…

  • Irrelevant MSM says:

    Politically Correct in every way possible. MSM is irrelevant in the conservatory world and now they leverage a horrific episode for a PR moment in the sun.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    While I don’t approve of selecting music based on race, anything that will bring in something new, rarely performed and not written by dead white Europeans is good by me. Coleridge-taylor, Still, Dawson, Price! Then let’s start playing music from Latin America. But will doing this bring more minorities into the concert hall? I doubt it.

  • Robert Freeman says:

    My enthusiastic congratulations to President Gandre for a courageous idea that will, I’m sure, produce much good.

  • Very happy to be part of this wonderful community.

  • Just a member of the audience says:

    The outrage at the MSM’s programming plans reminds me of the response when one group (I forget which) announced plans to include a concert piece by a woman on every program.

    Would those objecting to this be outraged if every program included something from, say, a “forgotten” 19th century composer or something written since, say, 2000? I doubt it.

    Why would only some rarely heard voices be worthy of inclusion?

  • RobK says:

    Sheer and shameless virtue-signalling. And not a little patronising.

  • MacroV says:

    I knew it wouldn’t take long for all the charges of PC, etc. to come out from under their rocks.

    Think of it as an opportunity. There are number of excellent black American (and probably non-American) composers whose works aren’t the first considered but still merit exploration: William Grant Still, Ulysses Kay, Florence Price (enjoying her own mini-revival right now), Duke Ellington, George Walker. Hannibal Lokumbe, Wynton Marsalis. Scott Joplin. And surely others.

  • Terence says:

    At least Norman allows a range of views on his website.

    Unlike violinist dot com where Laurie only wants those supporting a politically correct affirmative action agenda to comment.

  • Under the circumstances, it’s fitting and perfectly acceptable for MSM to include a programming focus on African-American composers as a political and social statement. It’s also fitting since MSM is located at the edge of Harlem, one of the great historical centers of African-American culture.

    The Harlem Renaissance, which spanned the 1920s, was one of the great events in American cultural history. It’s travesty that the movement was destroyed through the debilitating and impoverishing effects of racism–conditions that continue to this day. It is noble and appropriate for MSM to work for the cause of justice. Their efforts which enrich all of our lives.

  • fflambeau says:

    Perhaps going too far. Play pieces based on ability and crowd’s wants.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    The over-reach of the state and the death of this man is beyond appalling. You don’t even execute serial murderers in the USA.

    But virtue signalling like this concert is just folderol.

    The sickening 3 horsemen of the apocalypse: diversity, inclusion, equity we need like holes in the head.

    Isn’t the USA neurotic enough already? (Not my words, but those of a retired Foreign Affairs Minister from Australia.)

    • V.Lind says:

      Definition of equity from the OED: The quality of being fair and impartial.
      ‘equity of treatment’

      You have a problem with this? You don’t think that is precisely what is needed?

      I begin to doubt your balance. Or at least your grasp of the language. Second time in two days I have seen an awkward construction in your rants.

    • Mr. Knowitall says:

      Short on facts, as usual Sue. But I do admire your dogged loyalty to your positions, wrong as I think they are. They do execute murderers in the USA, at the Federal level and in quite a few states. If your vacation plans including a killing spree of “jack-booted leftists,” I suggest you avoid Texus.

  • ??? says:

    Why so much hate in the comment section against black composers? There are and have always been many great ones!

    • Adrienne says:

      “Why so much hate in the comment section against black composers?”

      No, just opinions you disagree with and wish to silence.

  • Michael T says:

    “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” Leonard Bernstein

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Mr Bernstein was consequent: he invited the Black Panthers to his home. I don’t see any similar act fron the today’s “woke” celebrities.

      • John Borstlap says:

        When I wanted to have a black panther at a party, it appeared to be very difficult to have all the right arrangements and safety measures, according to the zoo’s management.

      • V.Lind says:

        Do you mean consistent?

        Who is “woke”? Do you refer to people who object to policemen kneeling on the neck of an unarmed man who is crying out that he cannot breathe FOR EIGHT MINUTES? Or who object to a President instructing police to teargas a peaceful protest because it interferes with a photo op?

        I would think of such people as merely decent human beings.

  • polibios says:

    Political agendas have nothing to do wit Art, then I don’t care .

  • Sam says:

    The right solution would have been to simply include these composers – presuming their works merit inclusion, and there is no reason to presume otherwise – without announcing a policy of racial inclusion, since, by invoking group identity, you implicitly destroy the very meritocracy to which these, and all composers want to belong by virtue of their composing alone. It’s as diminishing to black composers as including pieces “by female composers” is to women. Writ large, you have identified the core problem of group identity; it diminishes individual accomplishment. most of us want to be seen as individuals, not ascribed to victim groups.

  • Larry says:

    I appreciate the “sentiment” behind this plan but playing music by African-American composers will do nothing to stop police brutality, fix income inequality, eliminate racism. I would much rather have seen the school make a true commitment to recruiting more A-A students, faculty, staff, board members. That’s how you bring about some change!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    This is all well and good, but will they invite African Americans from N.Y.’s black neighborhoods to come and attend? And even if they do just, is it likely that African Americans who have no knowledge of such music – or have never been exposed to it, other than in the most superficial ways – are likely to come a take a seat? My only point is this: without serious community outreach, this could easily be little more than an empty gesture.

  • Joyce Gregory says:

    They are not telling the truth. They never have. Just want the tuition and funding because they need money. They will take anyone and do anything with this president. He is as much a racist as the next person.