ASCAP, Wise Music Trust Sign on to Classical Music Diversity Initiative 'Amplifying Voices'

Shelley Washington
Peter Yankowsky

Shelley Washington

Launched by New Music USA, the program promotes the work of composers from marginalized groups through collective action.

In January 2020, New Music USA launched Amplifying Voices, a program designed to promote marginalized voices in orchestral music by fostering collaboration and collective action between orchestras across the U.S. Now, the organization is announcing that ASCAP, Wise Music Trust and The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization have signed on to back the initiative, which has since won the participation of over 35 orchestras.

According to a recent analysis by the Institute for Composer Diversity, just 6% of all works programmed in the 2019/2020 orchestral seasons were by composers from underrepresented racial, ethnic and cultural heritages, while works by women composers, both living and dead, accounted for just 9.5%.

To help rectify this longstanding imbalance, industry partners ASCAP and Wise Music Trust have come aboard to support the Amplifying Voices Learning Lab, which will facilitate conversations with composers, orchestras and industry guests on topics including best approaches to co-commissioning, centering existent repertoire by BIPOC composers and aiding discovery of those compositions by audiences around the country. Meanwhile, the Sorel Organization has contributed to two new consortia led by Dallas Symphony and Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, both of which have committed to commissioning a woman of color.

“We’re thrilled to welcome more orchestras, composers and partners to the Amplifying Voices movement – which has grown to include over 35 orchestras following our launch in January 2020,” said New Music USA president and CEO Vanessa Reed in a statement. “Music by women and composers of color has for so long been omitted from orchestral programming. Sustained, collective action is the only path to achieving tangible, sector-wide change.”

One of the upcoming conversations made possible by ASCAP and Wise Music Trust is the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Women in Classical Music Symposium, scheduled for Nov. 11 at 12:15 p.m. CST. During the panel, collective action will be discussed with representatives from four Amplifying Voices consortia: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra executive director Jennifer Barlament; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra music director JoAnn Falletta; Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra composer-in-residence Shelley Washington; and Berkeley Symphony music director Joseph Young.

The Sorel Organization, ASCAP and Wise Music Trust join the Sphinx Venture Fund, which signed on to support the Amplifying Voices initiative last December. In January, New Music USA put out a national call asking orchestras to come forward with proposals for co-commissions and a commitment to promote existing repertoire from composers belonging to marginalized groups.

Consortium leads under the initiative are the Arkansas Symphony, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Berkeley Symphony, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Las Vegas Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles.

Partner orchestras include the Aspen Music Festival and School, Auburn Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Boston Landmarks Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Buffalo Symphony, California Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, New Jersey Symphony, New World Symphony, Richmond Symphony, ROCO and Seattle Symphony.

Composers selected under the initiative include Valerie Coleman, Juan Pablo Contreras, Tania Leon, Brian Raphael Nabors, Jessie Montgomery, Tyshawn Sorey and Shelley Washington.

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“The music world is richer when we hear from a diverse spectrum of voices,” said ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews. “ASCAP is committed to creating inclusive opportunities for composers to have their work heard and Amplifying Voices’ plan to organize eight consortia spanning the country will open doors for both composers and music lovers. We are excited to support this program, which will provide a valuable platform for these incredibly talented music creators.”

Added The Sphinx Organization president and artistic director Afa. S. Dworkin, “At a critical time in our nation's history, Sphinx looks forward to helping to amplify the most important voices in classical music. There is a rich tradition of excellence in repertoire by Black and Latinx composers, ranging from Florence Price, William Grant Still, Margaret Bonds, Manuel Ponce, Silvestre Revueltas and countless other voices who have shaped the fabric of classical music. This is a hopeful avenue to live by our commitment to diversity and profoundly shift our canon. By giving the spotlight to diverse voices, this New Music USA initiative can help to evolve our entire field.”

Learn more about Amplifying Voices here. Orchestras interested in becoming involved are invited to contact Scott Winship at