What It's Like to Be Out in Classical Music

Maggie Heskin
Courtesy of Concord

Maggie Heskin

As part of its 2020 Pride Issue, Billboard is spotlighting the experiences of artists and executives working in genres that are not always included in conversations about Pride in the music industry. Here, Maggie Heskin — senior director of editorial at Boosey & Hawkes — describes finding a community among LGBTQ trailblazers.

In the past, classical music was very conservative. I got into this business in the ’90s, when it was the end of the old world. It was mostly older straight white men with white hair as far as I could tell. I started at [sheet-music publisher] Carl Fischer, and it was hard for someone like me to be out without getting a look or two, which did happen. I was very sensitive to that, so I wouldn’t go around tooting whom I was with. I wasn’t very brave.

You had people like Leonard Bernstein that were gay and were open, but that was not the norm. There were composers who really broke down some barriers, like David Del Tredici, who is very open and always has been — sometimes, I think, to the detriment of his career. He’s definitely someone I look up to and speak to often. Ned Rorem is another I really admire: He’s 96 and has always been an out gay man. These names are real inspirations to me, and they are my community.

I was walking on Broadway a few months ago and bumped into [composer-performer] Meredith Monk, whose music I’ve worked on. She has been a mentor as an out lesbian in this crazy, conservative classical music world, and it was just so nice to tell her, “My partner and I finally got married a few years ago.”

It’s incredible how my life has changed completely in 20 years. Compared with back in 2000, when I came out professionally, I’m so much more of a calm person in the workplace. I come in now talking about a movie I watched with my wife and think nothing of it because I’m surrounded by gay people, transgender people. It’s very refreshing how diverse the office gets within the LGBTQ world. I wish Bernstein was alive today to witness this.

This article originally appeared in the June 13, 2020 issue of Billboard.

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