Erin Lancour, a music therapy major in the viola studio at Western Michigan University's School of Music, and Haden Plouffe, a composer/pianist studying composition, recently began questioning whether their school was doing enough to expose them to and promote the work and performances of composers who aren't white, male, and deceased. In a conversation with Cara Lieurance, Lancour and Plouffe explain that their spring rehearsal group was turned into an activist group by Tré Bryant, a Black composition student whose works they planned to perform before the shutdown occurred. With a list of objectives in place and only a few days to spare, they registered their group with the university, and called it the Dalton Diversity Directive.
Haden Plouffe took on the role of researcher. In the Maybee Music and Dance Library, he discovered that scores by Black composers like William Grant Still hadn't been checked out in over a decade. Plouffe plans to reconnect that resource back to students and professors, and make them aware of music by composers of color already in the stacks. For Erin Lancour, vice president of DDD, bringing more LGBTQIA+ artists and composers of color to campus is a top priority.
Both Lancour and Plouffe agree they'd like the School of Music to move away from presenting all-Black or all-female "novelty" programs, and instead make diverse composers the norm, heard side-by-side with long-performed classical works. With help from faculty advisors Christopher Biggs and Yu-Lien The, they plan to pressure the teaching faculty into taking a critical look at their materials, broadening their teaching to include more composers of color and LGBTQIA+ identities. "Representation matters," says Plouffe.
Here is their mission statement, from the Dalton Diversity Directive's website:
Our goal is to help spread diversity in the School of Music (as well as the entirety of the College of Fine Arts and Western Michigan University at large) chiefly through but certainly not limited to the promotion of the study and performance of music by composers of color and LGBTQIA+ identities. With this we aim to encourage the School of Music to provide more enriched educational opportunities, as well as directly assist students in finding and studying the aforementioned diverse musical material available.
Another important goal of ours is to provide a voice to both current and prospective students to be able to speak up on issues that they may encounter on a day-to-day basis regarding the lack of diversity at our institution. It is our belief that no student should feel alienated from the education that they are receiving at our university, and should instead feel both represented and empowered.