Nohema Fernandez

Major events in our lives frequently have a significant impact on the way we look at ourselves. A wedding, a divorce, a school graduation, an encounter with serious illness, the birth of a child, the recognition of imminent death...a major event in our lives, whether a joyous right of passage or a sobering test, can easily set us on a path contradicting any cozy images that may have developed a hold on us. Similarly, the approaching end of the twentieth century has spurred a growing concern with a timely, long overdue examination of ourselves as members of a global society. As musicians/educators we have not proven immune to the circumstances that weave through American society and our profession. During the first half of the twentieth century we distanced ourselves from slavery and, looking at Marian Anderson and Louis Armstrong, congratulated ourselves for the achievements of Afro-Americans. We basked in the glow of an immigration policy that welcomed us or our ancestors to this land of freedom and opportunity. We long fostered the comfortable image of an integrated American society in which all citizens have equal rights and share one unified culture. Reality would soon make us see things differently. Through the 1960s and 1970s, a climate of war, civil unrest, and a new celebration of the individual developed a new awareness of ourselves as a multi-faceted society of unequal opportunities. The 1980s further sensitized us to our differences. Increasingly through the 1980s, fortunately, we also started to feel slightly less threatened by cultural or racial differences, more accepting of diversity. Indeed, the approach to the end of the century promises furthered understanding of the richness that we derive from our culturally diverse society and of the changes that must still occur to guarantee equal opportunities to all.

It is the approach to this major historical crossroads, the turn of a century, that prompts an inward look and evaluation of who we are and what it is that we value. Culture is a phenomenon that is fluid rather than aligned with a particular geographical or historical view. Culture and views of culture can be counted on to change. As we near the year 2000 we are increasingly aware, as a nation, that we are not a homogeneous cultural mass but that we are a richly varied society within which we share much common ground because—not in spite of the fact that—we have so many individual differences.

We must recognize the importance of our societal role as individual artists/educators. Social and artistic values are determined by all, but it is our responsibility to sensitize policy setters to them.

This country's artistic life has always been distinguished by the remarkable range of cultures from which its artists have drawn their inspiration. In the clash of cultures, artists have always had a special capacity to illuminate the differences among peoples and expose the reasons for conflict. They may not provide solutions, but their insights can be crucial in helping us understand and accommodate diversity and change.1

Each of us has a responsibility "to acknowledge the diversity of our heritage, to encourage voices too rarely heard, and to create an environment in which all cultures can flourish."2We do have the power to fulfill that responsibility

  • a) in our daily professional activities—through the manner in which we interact with our colleagues and students, and the decisions on what we teach, what music we program and study; and
  • b) by taking an active role in the creation of new funding and new initiatives at the state and federal levels.

Those of us in the arts have an extremely important role in recognizing and reflecting changing cultural perspectives and social values:

The sense of America's heritage is being transformed by an increasing sensitivity to the population's racial and ethnic diversity and its multitude of unique artistic expressions. Through the arts, people communicate a better understanding of their own distinctive culture, as well as an understanding and appreciation of other cultures.3

We can eliminate barriers to better cross-cultural communication by embracing (rather than merely accepting) our cultural differences. Indeed, through the musics of varied cultures we can discover not only our differences, but our similarities as human beings. Only through willing participation in the challenges of this process can we discover the joys of cultural diversity and true communication across cultural barriers.

The College Music Society established a Committee on the Status of Minorities in 1980 as a result of the membership's belief that our profession had a crucial need to engage in dialogue about racial/ethnic bias and the value of non-eurocentric curricular issues. Ten years later, in 1990, it was renamed the Committee on Cultural Diversity in recognition of the broader issues that concern us all, both "minorities" and members of the dominant majority of American society. The Committee has facilitated a continuing forum for dialogue among CMS members on issues of diversity, ethnic musics and their curricular value, racial and ethnic biases, cross-cultural communication, and mentoring minority students. Panels, discussion groups, and newsletter articles provide an avenue for such a dialogue. In addition, the Committee's valuable Racial and Ethnic Directions in American Music (1982), compiled by T. J. Anderson (CMS Report No. 3), provided a provocative view of the involvement and views of different ethnic minorities in musical higher education, as well as a study of the limited number of minority individuals in faculties and student bodies across American colleges and universities.

It is incumbent on us at this time to once again examine minority and cross-cultural perspectives, recognize our potential for effecting sweeping changes, and initiate action in our profession and society. As such, the opening discussion in this volume, "Minorities in Music," is intended to stimulate the reader's own thinking. Drawn from an emotional discussion held during the 1989 CMS Annual Meeting in St. Louis, it explores the meaning and implications of the term "minority." The rest of the contributions also stem either directly from the authors' presentations at CMS meetings or from dialogues that arose in the course of meetings.

As these pages are a result of our continuing dialogue on cultural diversity, it is our hope that they themselves will provide a springboard for future ideas and a renewed awareness of the power within us to affect our profession and our country.


1The Arts and Government: Questions for the Nineties, A Report of The American Assembly (New York: Barnard College, Columbia University, 1990), p. 12.

2Report of the Executive Committee of the Board, American Council for the Arts, January 1991.