UK composer: Racial inequality has increased during Covid

UK composer: Racial inequality has increased during Covid


norman lebrecht

February 19, 2021

A new article by composer Daniel Kildane on behalf of PRS Music:

2020 was a challenging year, not only because of a global pandemic but also because it was a year that vividly highlighted the racial inequalities that still exist in the UK. Learning that black and minority ethnic groups are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to people of white ethnicity filled me, as a person of mixed black and white heritage, with real alarm. It was further worrying to learn that the increased likelihood of death was linked to societal inequalities and discrimination. Delving into Health Foundation analysis, the extent to which black and minority ethnic groups make up a disproportionately large share of high risk ‘key workers’ was eye opening (a point I’ll revisit). Then came the slaying of George Floyd in America, which ignited Black Lives Matter protests across the globe.

Fast forward to the start of 2021, when I had the chance to look at UK Music’s latest Diversity Report. Examining the figures relating to ethnic minorities in music related workforces, Black, Asian and ethnic minority representation descends the higher up the job ladder one goes: 42.1 percent at apprentice/intern level, 34.6 percent at entry-level, 21.6 percent at mid-level and 19.9 percent at senior level. I could not help but draw comparisons between the glass ceilings faced by Black, Asian and ethnic minority people in employment and demographic, geographical and socioeconomic inequalities. For me, the coronavirus pandemic brought the inequalities in my own industry into sharp focus.

As a young composer I remember attending a talk given by a senior figure from a prominent British music publisher. The talk was specifically about how to get published and advice was given to the group of eager listeners as to what they should be doing to have a shot at being published. Have your works performed by respected orchestras, collaborate with well-known conductors and be recognised in your field, were all points that were mentioned. Some years later, I learnt that this publisher had published the work of a very successful stock market investor, who adhered to none of the mentioned requirements. It was at this point that the nepotism within the industry, that never really gets talked about openly when you’re a student, truly hit home. On the flipside, I am continuously being invited to talks, debates and symposiums relating to the lack of diversity in classical music. What we should really be genuine about are the current bad practices in place that ensure that any attempts at promulgating diversity within the music industry are challenged. One cannot be inclusive if the only space you are willing to include minoritised communities is in conversations about inclusion.

The toppling of the statue to the slaver Edward Colston in Bristol, amid the Black Lives Matter protests, was among last year’s most potent images. Reading the views of some colleagues on social media, one of whom is a pedagogue at a London conservatoire, about the way change was being affected was illuminating. It was astonishing to see the number of people who were totally unwilling to understand the reasons why people around the world had had enough. The debates that ensued regarding statues being a mark of history, was to me a weird one, perhaps because I can relate to people being affronted by a statue of a slave trader standing in a UK city in 2020. Yet, when we look at the debate around Brexit and the difficulties it has brought about for many touring musicians, the resounding response from most colleagues is a negative one towards the constraints now in place. But if we look back to a time before the current situation, many a centre-left musician failed to confront the increasingly toxic discourse around migration until it was too late. The point I am trying to make is that if we want classical music to survive and thrive moving forward, it is crucial that the industry becomes more inclusive and representative at all levels now, not tomorrow.

Some organisations are taking the call to change seriously and have started taking tangible action. Last year I joined the Ivors Academy Board after composer Stephen McNeff made the conscious decision to stand down from the Board, to support the Academy’s commitments to championing equality, diversity and inclusion. PRS Foundation’s Power Up initiative launched to specifically tackle anti-Black racism in music and Hal Leonard Europe announced the appointment of an external advisory group to focus on equality, diversity and inclusion. As with all things, time will be the judge of the success of these initiatives, but they definitely feel more genuine than posting black squares on social media along with catchy hashtags.

I increasingly believe that making it is finding the voice to fight for your art, even if you have to step on a few eggshells along the way. The sooner that gatekeepers realise we are all in this together and that we need to sort out our issues relating to equality and diversity now, the faster we can work toward other issues and stop allowing our collective culture to be trod on.


  • E Rand says:

    Yawn x infinity. This is now the most tiresome and repetitive storyline on planet earth. Everything is racissss. Next!

    • Jan Kaznowski says:

      What a tedious story he has to relate. Let’s move on folks, nothing to see here

    • Herbie G says:

      He might have a point. Radio 3 aren’t broadcasting his works so he has obviously been discriminated against.
      He says “black and minority ethnic groups are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19”. Could that just possibly be because these non-white groups are not coming forward to be vaccinated??? That’s why there’s a campaign in the media to encourage them to do so.
      Does he think this virus was developed in an alt-right laboratory with a cunning genetic mechanism that makes it strike down a high proportion of non-white people?
      He praised the BLM demonstrations, which took place when we were told not to congregate in public and to distance themselves. Could that too possibly be why their infection rates are higher than average?
      Is it worth reminding him that this virus originated in a non-white country?
      Those who whinge all the time and put the blame for their failure on everyone else but themselves will never amount to anything. People who steadfastly pursue their ambitions and ignore the naysayers and the prejudices against them are likely to succeed.

    • AnnaT says:

      Is there some reason you spell “racist” incorrectly?

    • Miko says:

      Tiresome and repetitive:
      Exactly how being on the receiving end of racism.

      Tiresome and repetitive:
      The “free speech”, woke bashers who pose as “put upon victims” whilst thinly disguising their contempt for multiculturalism.

    • CR Wang says:

      Racist offended by people who oppose racism?

    • True North says:

      I’m sorry you’re bored by this story you deliberately clicked and found time to comment on, dear. What would you rather we talk about?

    • David says:

      Not everything on planet earth is. But you are for sure.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I don’t believe you would think that, E Rand, if you were a black man.

    • D.A. says:

      To be read in the voice of David Attenborough: “And here… we see… a dinosaur. Majestically ignorant and constantly tired. Tired because of their brazen anger towards positive change, which consumes their tiny brains”.

    • Annnon says:

      And his music isn’t exactly a toe tapping lyrical fount of abject beauty!

    • Wise Guy says:

      You didn’t even listen to the guy’s composition. It explains everything, more than words can do justice.

  • Adrienne says:

    “42.1 percent at apprentice/intern level, 34.6 percent at entry-level, 21.6 percent at mid-level and 19.9 percent at senior level.”

    Doesn’t 19.9%, the worst figure, mean over-representation?

    You do not speak for me, Mr Kildane, because your whining does more harm than good.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    In Classical Music, “diversity” is not something desirable in itself.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But classical music is filled to the brim with diversity, it sticks out on every side – the instruments, the repertoire, the audiences, the entire body of theory – it seems as if all forms of contrast and opposition have found a place in the field. There is even Slipped Disc.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        Dear John, you are just playing with words. You know that’s not what woke activists mean as “diversity”. In classical music, as well as in for our future more importand fields such as molecular medicine, nuclear physics, and rocket science, “diversity” in the working force is not a quality indicator.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed, but it is rather irritating to see the problem spread over the art form as a whole – the repertoire being written by ‘dead white males’ of old, etc.

  • caranome says:

    This is nothing compared to the racism rampant in rap “music”. I know of Eminem, one name white guy in it. Don’t know of any Asians. They are about 70% of US population, so this constitutes systemic racism and underrepresentation.

  • Tony says:

    I give him the guts that he raises this issue up. People who deny this are ignorant. We need a revolution.

  • Rob says:

    I don’t know what to believe regarding this covid thing, I haven’t had flu for nineteen years. Initially they said a cough was not a covid symptom, now they say it is ? We have to be hopeful that talent will always break through. Look at Mahler, he faced all sorts of racist obstacles and rose to the top.

  • Robin Smith says:

    “42.1 percent at apprentice/intern level, 34.6 percent at entry-level, 21.6 percent at mid-level and 19.9 percent at senior level”. Isn’t that higher representation than whites at all levels in comparison with the population as a whole which is 83% white ?

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Mr Kildane’s generation do not excel in Mathematics.

      • SVM says:

        Please do not make assumptions about those of us who happen to be in Kidane’s generation. Plenty of us are mathematically and statistically literate (and therefore have the humility to realise that one cannot jump to conclusions based on a couple of cherry-picked figures).

  • Roman says:

    The figures about job ladder are interesting, but I’d like to compare these numbers with similar data about white musicians. I am not a musician myself, but in big IT companies in general only about 3% of employees of all backgrounds (overwhelming majority of which are white) get to senior positions. Compare it to 20% for minorities in music, and it actually looks like they are doing quite good. Of course I am comparing incomparable things here, but this example shows that the number that is thrown in in the article is meaningless unless a valid comparison is presented.

    The rest of the article is usual “racism racism racism racism” and “let’s hire more diversity managers” (probably getting some free funds for this affair by firing some musicians).

    Also, I think that in order to get more performances, it is worth looking into public taste a bit. I mean, if you want lots of performances, look at Alma Deutscher. If you compose modernist stuff, you shouldn’t really complain. I am not saying that it is good, it is just how things work. The inability to perform with top orchestras may stem from the genre you work in, not from racism.

  • Racist says:

    I’m a xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, diversity-hating racist, full of hate, anger and resentment… when looking at the world’s “progress”.

  • JussiB says:

    The more you force your liberal agenda of equality, diversity and inclusion on people, the more you’ll antagonize them and less likely you’ll get your way.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It depends whether efforts to make people more aware of the problem are made in a clear and reasonable way, or in the style of some orthodoxy slammed in the face of innocent bystanders. The problem does exist, in spite of the many comments here which suggest otherwise.

  • JussiB says:

    In my own experience and observations, generally it’s the minorities that are more racist than whites, but of course the mainstream media won’t report that.

  • Holy wholly different wholesumness says:

    As long as sameness and equality are decreed as some virtue, these dumb statements will continue.

    Look. Be proud and unique: but in your own bloody countries.
    Why the hell do you all want to be like white people in previously predominantly white-countries, that are now drowning and being swamped with foreigners.

    Have you no self-respect? No identity? No pride? No difference? Do you have no difference?
    Let me ask that again, just to be clear: ARE YOU NOT DIFFERENT????

    Of course you are. Then stop trying coming to white countries, that are entirely different, and force them to accept you, by appealing to some stupid guilt-and-blame theory based on a damn lie: sameness.

    There is no sameness. There never was. There never will be.
    (unless we all manage to deteriorate all countries to samness-shitholes)

    Start having some self-respect, and be proud of your different identity (whilst please not corroding away other people different identity, at the expense of some sameness-lie).

  • John Borstlap says:

    Well, the guy gets impatient, things don’t move as fast as he wants. But if his wishes come true, he would loose the social and ethnic justice wrapping paper for his music. Protesting against discrimination is good, but making your music dependent upon it, may be tricky.

    The text is the fashionable protest against the injustice in the world that has to be changed. Every generation has its enemies.

    Some things in his text are especially problematic:

    “For me, the coronavirus pandemic brought the inequalities in my own industry into sharp focus.”

    There is the art form: serious music, and the concert practice of performance. If the latter is meant, it is not an ‘industry’, and where it takes-on the nature of an industry, it is the very thing that undermines the art form, much more than any form of racism.

    “I increasingly believe that making it is finding the voice to fight for your art, even if you have to step on a few eggshells along the way.”

    Which will the eggshels be? It reads as a threat: ‘no matter what, I want to get my way & kick anything that is an obstacle out of the way’ – or worse. Aggression wrapped in social justice speak.

    The music in the video is of the usual ‘angry young man’ type, supposed to emerge from troubled life experience and a critical stance towards the world.

    This is much better:

    …. although his idea of foreign languages needs some enlightenment:

    The music of Mr Kidane, in spite of reflecting the narrow conventions of the educational ‘instructions’, is truly imaginative, he is obviously a very gifted young composer. He should not need the fashionable racist card to get his music performed and appreciated, entirely apart from any consideration of ethnicity. It is a cheapening way of getting attention. And it would be a good idea to leave those outdated aesthetics of half a century of modernism behind and find something more authentic… the seeds are there.

    Here is a video about his background, which may explain a lot:

  • James Weiss says:

    Whine, whine, whine. It’s all some people ever do.

  • Colin says:

    “……figures relating to ethnic minorities in music related workforces,….”.

    Aren’t all of these figures disproportionately high, considering the UK’s racial distribution? What have I missed?

  • Raffaello Moltisanti says:

    “87% of people in the UK are White, and 13% belong to a Black, Asian, Mixed or Other ethnic group (2011 Census data). ”

    Above article –
    “Examining the figures relating to ethnic minorities in music related workforces, Black, Asian and ethnic minority representation descends the higher up the job ladder one goes: 42.1 percent at apprentice/intern level, 34.6 percent at entry-level, 21.6 percent at mid-level and 19.9 percent at senior level.”

    Doesn’t this mean that so-called ‘BAME’ people (a description that many friends of mine who are members of this category I know are repulsed by), are in fact hugely over-represented in this industry not under-represented?

  • Patricia says:

    What a load of claptrap. The best composers have all been European, English or American and have all been white males. Too bad if you find this ‘offensive.’

  • M McAlpine says:

    These people are the most tiresome people. Now even the virus is racist I suppose? Rather than producing this yawn-inducing, victim-howling nonsense, sir, get on with making some music!

  • Greg says:

    “World to End Tomorrow . . . Women and Minorities Hardest Hit”

  • Alexander T says:

    Totally forgettable and derivative sub-Boulez imitation.

  • christopher storey says:

    Yet another near incoherent rant ( or is it ramble ) which does nothing to engender sympathy for what might , in other circumstances , be a properly reasoned argument

  • SVM says:

    Re: “Some years later, I learnt that this publisher had published the work of a very successful stock market investor, who adhered to none of the mentioned requirements.”

    Advice about “getting noticed” is not the same thing as cast-iron “requirements”. Maybe this investor wrote genuinely good music that got noticed through other means (such as someone at the publisher actually listening to the piece or reading the score). Could Kidane please confirm whether he actually listened to this person’s music before assuming that he got the contract through nepotism?

    Having said that, it is true that there are many fine musicians (of all ages) who struggle to get noticed at all, and it is probably true that nepotism plays a part in getting publishers and promoters to bother considering certain musicians whilst not bothering to look at / listen to others. But that is no guarantee of success for those who do get considered — they still have to be good to actually get any opportunities. But my impression is that such nepotism tends to have very little to do with race (unless you want to define a “race” in the absurdly specific sense of “being a close relative of a famous musician, and sharing his/her double-barreled surname”), and much more to do with “studying with the ‘right’ teacher at the ‘right’ conservatoire at the ‘right’ time”… funnily enough, Kidane himself seems to tick *those* boxes, and, as far as I can tell (from seeing his name pop up in various brochures and adverts), he has had multiple judging-panel and speaking engagements completely unrelated to ‘diversity’.

    Re: “It was astonishing to see the number of people who were totally unwilling to understand the reasons why people around the world had had enough.”

    Actually, I think it is astonishing to see the number of people who, like Kidane, seem to be totally unwilling to understand that others may perfectly well “understand the reasons” whilst disagreeing with the logic that connects said “reasons” to the ‘solution’ being proposed/endorsed.

    Personally, I feel that it is a good thing for people to be “affronted” by the realisation that many cities around the world prospered (and, in many cases, still prosper) upon slavery and exploitation. If we remove monuments that remind us of such atrocity, we risk forgetting about it and failing to spot the warning-signs of history repeating itself (it is partly on that basis that many Nazi-era concentration camps have been preserved). Rather than remove the statues of slave-traders and purport to some smug moral superiority, we need to retain them as admonitions to confront the ongoing scourge of modern slavery (and, even if the prosperity of today’s Bristol were built upon a more civilised economic foundation than the Bristol of Colston’s day, we need to prevent a future relapse).

  • IP says:

    Bitterly disappointed. I thought that the young man had written some music surpassing the output of those pale and stale composers by more than the usual degree.

  • Trevor says:

    Oblivious to the irony that every single cause he attributes for ‘inequality’ are nothing more than presupposition and hearsay.
    That’s the very definition of prejudice.
    Quite laughably immature.

    • Symphony musician says:

      However, Trevor, now that racist behaviour is illegal, yet everyone knows it still exists and that some people are discriminated against purely on the basis of their skin colour, how else is anyone supposed to speculate as to the reasons behind ongoing discrimination except through conjecture, i.e. “presupposition and hearsay”?

  • Counterpoint says:

    Am I missing something here? If the BAME percentage of interns is 42%, and 20% at senior level within the UK music profession, compared to 13 to 15% in the wider UK population is it not the case that non-BAME people are grossly under-represented – a matter requiring urgent redress?

  • Inspector Clouseau says:

    This is not to deny that there is a diversity problem in classical music, but those statistics seem to show OVER representation within the sector relative to the population at large. The CIA World Factbook’s latest stats on the U.K. show:
    White 87.2%, Black/African/Caribbean/black British 3%, Asian/Asian British: Indian 2.3%, Asian/Asian British: Pakistani 1.9%, mixed 2%, other 3.7% (2011 est.)

    The stats quoted by Kidane:
    42.1 percent at apprentice/intern level, 34.6 percent at entry-level, 21.6 percent at mid-level and 19.9 percent at senior level

    Sure, those stats show a regrettably diminishing presence of BAME representation at senior levels. But even at senior levels this compares favourably with the UK’s demographic makeup as a whole. Am I missing something?

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      What if someone suggest a moratorium of BAME admissions in music schools until a democratic ballance is restored?

  • Rich C. says:

    Equality of opportunity, not equality of results.

  • marcus says:

    According to this website-, then even by his own lights, BAME music practitioners are over represented as a percentage. Still, lets not let stupid things like facts get in the way of our seat on the outrage bus.

  • HugoPreuss says:

    I am at a “senior level” in my profession (academia) right now – but I started more than 40 years ago. The statistics don’t look good, but they need to be compared with the numbers from, say, ten years ago. And ten years in the future. If nothing has changed by then, I’d acknowledge that there is a problem.

  • D** says:

    The truth is that Daniel Kidane has been very successful. He’s received commissions, and his music has been performed by major orchestras. Many aspiring composers would be happy to have just a small fraction of his success.

    Kidane is critical of nepotism in the publishing industry. Perhaps his comments have a little validity, but does he really understand how music publishing works? Countless composer hopefuls (some very talented) use their keyboards and music publishing software and churn out an endless number of new compositions each year. They fervently hope a publisher, even a small one, will say yes. The vast majority of these submissions are rejected. Much of this music is probably quite good, but publishers are in business to make money. It’s not worth their time or effort if they’re going to sell less than 100 copies. It’s an extremely crowded marketplace, and the demand for new pieces, especially by little-knowns, isn’t overwhelming. Sometimes there isn’t much demand for older pieces, and that’s why there’s a lot of formerly-published out of print music.

    The world has changed, and many composers now realize that going with a traditional publisher isn’t necessarily the best path. This article by composer John Mackey explains the realities very well.

  • J Barcelo says:

    I try to keep an open mind and ears. I’m Latino and know all about discrimination. But c’mon – that overture is awful. A bunch of pointless squawking and scratching. There’s nothing attractive about it – maybe that’s why he can’t get performed.

  • Diverse PoC says:

    Equality: I want money, social security, etc.
    Diversity: I’m different — I want to chill-out, hang around the whole time, and just ‘be’. I have a cool lifestyle and enrich your otherwise boring, normal country.

    To some up: “my cool foreign aura, should be enough, that your fork out money for me, ok. Do you hear me, you white racist scum!”

  • Wise Guy says:

    Here’s my tip on succeeding in composition for Mr Kildane:
    Learn to write music people would want to listen to. Also consider that there are hundreds of stockbrokers who literally write much better music and know the craft far more than you do. That they chose to make money to provide for their families the old fashioned way, by manipulating numbers on a screen, just speaks to their superior intelligence. They probably write beautiful symphonies in their heads during three martini lunches.

  • Ned Keane says:

    The creatures outside looked from Slipped Disc to Daily Mail, and from Daily Mail to Slipped Disc…; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

  • Marfisa says:

    So many Alf Garnetts ranting away amid their piles of rubbish. So sad.