Campus Reform | Music prof pushes to purge 'dead white guys' in 'national overhaul' of curriculum

Music prof pushes to purge 'dead white guys' in 'national overhaul' of curriculum

An Arizona professor is calling for a "national overhaul of the music curriculum" so that it includes fewer "dead white guys."

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the professor published a database of viola pieces by underrepresented composers.

The database is void of any pieces composed by white men, who are considered to be overrepresented.

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Molly Gebrian, a music professor at the University of Arizona, recently came to the conclusion that White men are too often the learning subjects for viola students and decided to make a new database of viola pieces, excluding any white male.

Gebrian says that women and minorities are underrepresented while the classical music world “only performs music by dead white guys,” according to The Daily Wildcat. Gebrian believes this is potentially harmful to students of color who fail to see themselves represented in the musical world.

Gebrian created an entire database of viola pieces, composed only by women and people of color. With the help of her students and colleagues, the database now has more than 1,100 composers and compositions. 

Gebrian hopes that the database will make it easier for other viola instructors to teach their students pieces other than the ones composed by “dead white guys.”

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In addition to the database, Gebrian also changed the audition requirements for her class. 

Incoming students are now required to play at least one work by an underrepresented composer. She also suggested changing competition piece requirements and concert themes to focus on bodies of work by people of color and women composers.

Gebrian encouraged her colleagues to follow her lead. 

“Really, what we need is a national overhaul of the music curriculum,” Gebrian told the Daily Wildcat campus newspaper. “But there are more and more individuals realizing this is not okay. The status quo is absolutely not okay. And that's how change has to start, [with] individuals doing what they can to affect change.”

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Undergraduate viola performance major, Dorthea Stephenson, noted that classical music is “a very isolating world" for people of color.

“Typically you’re the only person in the room that looks like you,” Stephenson told the campus newspaper. “Not only is there no one else in the room with me here, but I’m not engaged with other musicians or composers of my culture.”

Campus Reform reached out to Gebrian for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @LeanaDippie