CMC BC is proud to help introduce BIPOC Voices, a new resource to help opera companies, orchestras, and individuals find and program music by culturally diverse composers. BIPOC Voices is currently accepting submissions of works for voice and instruments, and looking to make free demo recordings of some of these works. You can learn more at www.morebipocvoices.com.
We’ve asked Rich Coburn, the visionary founder behind this outstanding new initiative, to write about the project and his article follows:
We are pleased to welcome the CMC BC as our newest official partner. We are very appreciative of their support, financial and otherwise. In that context, I was pleased to accept Sean Bickerton’s invitation to share a little bit about what we are trying to do.
So what does BIPOC Voices hope to achieve? Most obviously, we are hoping to see more works by diverse composers on the operatic and symphonic stage. This is the easiest outcome to measure. But behind this desire lies something more.
When we think about anti-racism, we may think of many things. But crucially, we don’t all think of the same thing. In fact, I believe that very few people have a clear view of what a complete lack of racism or other harmful prejudice would even look like in a society.
Let’s be clear: humans have evolved to make snap judgements. We save mental energy of thinking through things completely by jumping to conclusions. And in many areas of our lives, this evolution serves us very well. So while we can agree that prejudice today has serious and wide- reaching consequences, it is naive to imagine that our prejudice-forming habits will promptly disappear following some protests, legislation, or operatic programming.
So how will BIPOC Voices be helpful, then? Let me illustrate by way of example. I have seen many white people who are determined to work towards anti-racism. Some of these people seem to falter or hesitate when they are forced to face their own—completely natural—lack of profound understanding surrounding these issues. Maybe they don’t want to inadvertently say the wrong thing or to overlook something important. I think this hesitation is a beautiful thing, because it often means they are preparing to listen.
Despite my brown skin, I must admit that I often find myself in a similar position. Firstly, as a half-Black, half-white person who grew up largely around my white family and friends, I have different perspectives and life experiences than many of my mixed colleagues may have. My awareness that, despite surface similarities, I may not understand them makes it uncomfortable to be in a position where I may be perceived as speaking for them. In such a situation, I often hesitate myself to try and reflect on the broadest understanding of the issues I can find.
Let’s dive into this even further. My Black ancestry comes from Guyana in South America. My mother was born there. The culture, history of racism, and perspective of Caribbeans is very different from that of Black people in America. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to spend time living in Virginia—just months after the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville—that I began to understand the profound depths of the differences between Caribbean and American Black culture.
At the same time, I begin to understand some of the false assumptions that people had made about me, not understanding that my Caribbean heritage was different from the Africa-American they assumed I had. And we haven’t even begun to speak about the differences between African-American and African-Canadian history and culture.
The lesson that has stayed with me as a result of this experience is that we are all different. It is an error to assume you understand someone, no matter how similar they may superficially seem to you. To be sure you understand them, you must stop and listen carefully.
As it happens, the vocal arts are a particularly powerful tool to encourage us to hold space for histories and perspectives in a way we might not otherwise. In normal conversation, we often busy ourselves thinking of what we are going to say next or of how we agree or disagree with the speaker. It is rare for us to truly stop and listen deeply to what they have to say without passing it through the filter of our own prejudice or opinions. The vocal arts give us the gift of time and space to listen without being forced to rebut. And this gives us the chance to understand ideas in a deeper way.
If we want to deal effectively with complex problems such as climate change, the advent of AI, or racism, the single most effective thing we could do may be to learn to listen to each other better. Hearing and understanding the multitudinous valid perspectives surrounding these issues gives us a better chance to make changes that address root causes. And it helps us propose solutions that inspire people.
And so the goal-behind-the-goal of BIPOC Voices is to foster more deep listening by all people in all cultures. We hold this as a guiding principle as we build the resource. We are doing our best to listen to as many of our future constituents as possible. We hope that those using the resource, as well as their audiences, will be encouraged in the same direction. Only when we understand each other more deeply will be able to, together, take more powerful and impactful steps towards anti-racism.
You can learn more about BIPOC Voices at BIPOC Voices.