As a composer, I have always been interested in the intersection between the arts and social issues. As a person, I have always been passionate about the cause of justice for everyone. I believed that I had done a lot in my artistic and personal life to join my passions together and make a bit of a difference in the world. And I felt that here in Vermont was a good place to be for both artistic and social justice reasons. Then in 2018 I learned that Kiah Morris, a Black Vermont state representative from Bennington, had been harassed so badly online and in person by a number of people that she resigned from the legislature and feared for her family’s safety. Not only that, but Vermont’s attorney general, citing First Amendment reasons, declined to prosecute the main offender. Suddenly I realized that Vermont wasn’t in such a good place after all and I was hopelessly naive about what life was like for people of color in our state.
Since then I have done two things. First, my wife Jackie and I have embarked on a sustained course of self-education, including reading, joining the ACLU, the Vermont chapter of the NAACP, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Peace and Justice Center and others, as well as taking a life-changing Civil Rights program in Montgomery, Alabama last year. We feel this is a lifelong commitment, because racism is old, it’s tenacious, it’s flexible, and it’s in all of us, me included, despite my best efforts. The good news is that there are a lot of great resources out there. Four of the best books I’ve read are White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, Stamped From the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist, both by Ibram X. Kendi, and Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. All of them taught me a great deal and changed my perspective.
On the artistic side, in the past year in particular I have written a number of works that have reflected my increased commitment to racial justice, including my work for solo flute, Black Venus that pays tribute to dancer, singer, and civil rights activist Josephine Baker. I have also made a greater effort to familiarize myself with the work of more Black composers. In a blog post last summer I referenced the powerful 2015 choral/orchestral work, The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed by Joel Thompson. In addition, just one of many other composers I have enjoyed listening to is Valerie Coleman. Check out her Umoja as well as other works. I also recommend the music of our Monteverdi Board of Directors member Matthew Evan Taylor , professor of music at Middlebury College.
I cannot prescribe what others need to do, though it’s clear to me that unless we acknowledge our history honestly we are doomed to repeat it. All I can do is continue to do my work, both personal and artistic, and recognize that I have a lot to learn.
Monteverdi Music School has been a center for music lessons and music activity in Central Vermont for 26 years, and now establishing its outreach to the online community!