Music professor Emily Yap Chua believes every musical work is a manifestation of the composer’s lived experiences. That’s why she teaches her students about the well-known artists throughout history, such as Bach and Beethoven, but also about current-day composers from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
“It’s not just about the book study of music,” Chua said. “There’s meaning and significance behind each piece of music, which can be very inspiring.”
This academic year, the music department launched an effort to highlight the work of diverse composers and performers as part of the “Lift Every Voice” initiative. Each performance has featured at least one work by a composer who is a person of color or a woman. The programming also included regional premieres of works composed within the last 20 years, bringing attention to more modern selections.
“It’s been really great to bring this kind of representation by the artists and also reinforce the idea that music is a living art form,” Chua said. “We’re performing music that’s new to the audiences and represents typically underrepresented composers.”
The recitals featured artists such as Corrine Byrne, a New York-based soprano who sang a selection of classical and contemporary art songs by a wide range of accomplished female composers, and cellist Michael Samis, who performed works by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce and British composer Dame Ethel Smyth. Most recently, Katherine Jolly, winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals, included a song cycle by African-American composer Evan Williams in her recital program.
The program has had a positive impact on students.
“I am very happy and proud to be a part of a department like this,” said Erika “Eddie” Opie ’19. “[The ‘Lift Every Voice’ initiative] has really helped to bring a new perspective to classical music, and I really appreciate them taking the time to show and teach us students all the different sides to music.”
In some cases, the composers themselves attended the concerts. During the fall, Monica Fosnaugh, English hornist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, performed a work composed by Margaret Griebling-Haigh, who also attended the performance and answered questions from the audience. Chua said the department’s voice students, orchestral groups, and student musicians will continue performing newer concert pieces featuring diverse composers in the future.
President Bradley W. Bateman applauded the music department’s work and said that the rest of the College is also making strides to be more inclusive.
“Randolph strives to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of people of all races, genders, and cultures, and this kind of programming is essential to those efforts,” he said. “I appreciate the work by the music department to make this happen, and I have really enjoyed the result.”