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Classical music: Who's allowed in?

Two men hold instruments with flowers on them. Music notes and a face float behind them.
Daniel Bernard Roumain, Matthew Evan Taylor
Graphic: Elodie Reed
Composers and activists Daniel Bernard Roumain, (left) and Matthew Evan Taylor (right) have not let the feelings of being unwelcome stop them from participating, teaching and leading in the world of classical music.

Powdered wigs, white men, aristocracy — these are just a handful of images and stereotypes historically associated with the world of classical music. But what if we’re wrong? In this episode, guest-hosts James Stewart and Adiah Gholston talk with teenagers, composers and professors to unpack some of our assumptions around classical music: Where its roots really lie, who it’s made for, and where it’s headed.

This is the latest episode of Homegoings, a podcast that features fearless conversations about race, and YOU are welcome here.Follow the series here.


Sign up for the Homegoings email newsletter for updates on new episodes, events and more. Sent every other week on Fridays.


In the 18th century, French composer Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a multi-talented, biracial virtuoso who was even nicknamed “The Black Mozart.”

But you might not know Chevalier, or his music. Because the majority of it was erased as slavery was reinstated in the French empire after the Revolution. And about that nickname? It’s an unfortunate title. Chevalier was older than Mozart, far more famous in Paris and all of France at the time, and had more prestigious appointments in the musical world. One historian wrote that it might be more accurate to call Mozart “The White Chevalier.”

So, what now? In a world that continues to celebrate and teach the works of old, dead, white men, and erase the works of composers of color — how do students of color find their way into a space where they aren’t represented? And why do classical composers continue to work and stay in a field they haven’t been historically welcomed into?

“Playing the violin, not only changed my life, but it statistically saved it without a doubt.You know, young men of color around the world — if you think about what is in their hands — for me, it was a violin and it is not too much of a stretch to say if it's not a pen, if it's not a laptop or a mouse, it's a gun.” — Daniel Bernard Roumain, composer and activist.

Note: Our show is made for the ear. We highly recommend pressing play on the audio posted here. For accessibility, we also provide a transcript of the episode. Transcripts are generated using a combination of robots and human transcribers. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. 

A black and white drawing of a person in a white wig and black coat
Public domain
French composer of the 18th century, Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Chevalier was a multi-talented, biracial virtuoso who was nicknamed “The Black Mozart.”

Musical experiment

Christine St. Clair: A quick announcement before we get started: Phones are off and away all throughout the school day, including lunch and recess. That's part of the school day. I know nobody in here would ever not put their phone away.

Myra Flynn: What's up everyone. This is Myra Flynn, your usual host. Except not today, because I'm going on vacation. It's official, I get to have a vacation like a person and I'm going to get off the computer for a little while. And I'm so lucky because I have some amazing colleagues who are gonna take my place. One of those people is somebody you might recognize their name in our credits. I always say, ‘James Stewart does so many things on the back end of making this show come to life.’ Indeed, he does. Hi, James. Can you tell us about some of those things?

James Stewart: Yeah, Sure. So, for Homegoings I end up doing a lot of what you said, at the back end; dealing with the podcast feeds and building out the website and making sure that we are getting the best quality sound that we can with Myra talking to all of these wonderful individuals.

Myra Flynn: Yeah. So, basically without you, nobody can hear anything. Without James, you can't hear the show. So we're really thankful to you, James. And also there's this other person which I'm really excited. I've kind of poached you a few times for Homegoings. But this is Adiah Gholston. Hi, Adiah.

Adiah Gholston: Hi!

Myra Flynn: And can you just tell the people what you do at Vermont Public?

Adiah Gholston: So, if you listen to Vermont Public closely, you might have heard of my name. I am the producer for All Things Considered. I am the person that kind of stacks the newscast and picks, you know, what you're listening to on the daily.

Myra Flynn: So, I'm so excited I have these trustworthy, awesome colleagues and people. You'll all be in great hands listening to this episode. And this is what we call, I think we call it, “passing the mic” at our job, something like that, passing the mic. So here, here's the mic. Take it, James. Take it.

James Stewart: I will absolutely take it. But before you go on vacation, Myra, I wonder if you could do a little musical experiment with us.

Myra Flynn: Oh, I mean, they don't call me Myra “musical experiment” Flynn for nothing, James. Let's go.

James Stewart: Do they call you that?

Myra Flynn: It's a really unconventional name.

Adiah Gholston: That's a really long name.

James Stewart: So here's the deal. I'm going to play for you a piece of music and I'd love for you to just use your imagination. While you listen, I want you to think about who's playing this music. I want you to think about what they're wearing. Where are they? I want you to think about what they look like. Then I also want you to think about who wrote this music. What did they look like? What is their social-economic status? Where are they? How are they dressed? And also, even more importantly, what's the color of their skin?

Myra Flynn: That's a lot. I'll try. Let's see. OK. I'll try. I've got to think about this person's everything. All right. Let's go, James. I'm ready. I'm ready.

James Stewart: Adiah, are you ready?

Adiah Gholston: Yes.

Myra Flynn: Oh good! Adiah is doing it too. OK. Cool. Cool.

(Musical excerpt)

Myra Flynn: Mhm. An experiment indeed, James.

James Stewart: So, I'm curious, Myra, Adiah, what did you hear? What did you imagine?

Myra Flynn: Yeah. So, OK, if I'm thinking about this person. So, fun fact, I've actually been classically trained in piano since I was age four. It's been a minute. I kind of switched to R&B later in life and if you don't use it, you lose it. But I know what these composers of classical music tended to be about. I think about somebody who is at least aristocratic enough in some way to be invited into spaces where this kind of music was invited into at the time.

Adiah Gholston: I definitely pictured kind of like Marie Antoinette, kind of like, time period, just like a big ballroom full of just like these aristocrats with these big powdered wigs and all their big dresses with all these ruffles and jewels and stuff.

Myra Flynn: For some reason I think of this as a “him,” only because I don't know that I've heard a lot of female classical composers out there. So, I've definitely associated classical music always with men. And when it comes to this person's skin color, like, definitely white.

Adiah Gholston: The person I imagine conducting this or writing this, is definitely, like, white.

Myra Flynn: I mean, I'd play classical piece after classical piece and never came across a person of color.

Adiah Gholston: Yeah, a white male, that's kind of what I picture.

Myra Flynn: Yeah, those are my assumptions. I feel embarrassed assuming anything about anyone, but you asked for it.

James Stewart: See, I've done this experiment now with a few people, including music educators, and everybody has that same response. So, I'm curious about us diving into today, about what presuppositions do we bring to classical music and wondering, why is it that we associate a specific race to it? What is the history that has brought that to us?

Myra Flynn: Well, that sounds like the kind of delicious nuance I love on Homegoings, James. I mean, if I had been able to see or hear myself in the world of classical music, maybe I would have stuck with it a little bit longer.

Adiah Gholston: I played the cello for, like, two years or so when I was in intermediate school, and then I kind of grew up just like, in choirs and stuff like that. And it's kind of sad. It was just always an assumption, and I've never questioned that the people writing these pieces were anything other than white. I think, like you said Myra, maybe if I knew that there were more Black people or that, like, we did have a space in there, maybe I wouldn't feel “othered” in that space, basically.

Myra Flynn: Yeah. I'm so guilty of not even searching for my people in what are considered, you know, the fundamentals. And so I just, I think that this is just really cool that you're diving into this, James. I'm excited — excited to be proven wrong.

From Vermont Public, this is Homegoings. Today on the show, some of our assumptions around classical music: Who gets to make it…

Matthew Evan Taylor: That was my experience, where it's just like, yeah, only white people write it. Only white people and Asian people play it.

Myra Flynn: …and who is it really for?

Daniel Bernard Roumain: I would say that statistically speaking, playing the violin not only changed my life but it statistically saved it.

Myra Flynn: This is Homegoings. Welcome home.


A person with a brown violin in a blue coat with a white light shining
Daniel Bernard Roumain
Daniel Bernard Roumain, (DBR), is a Black Haitian American composer. He teaches music at Arizona State University; and works with symphonies around the world.

James Stewart: So, does anybody listen to classical music?

Student 1: My dad likes to listen to classical music during breakfast. So, like, on the weekends we usually listen to classical music.

Student 2: I normally don't think very highly of classical music mostly because I think of it as like a rich boy sort of genre.

Student 3: Don't get me wrong. I kind of hate classical music.

Student 4: And some part of me feels like it's not being made anymore, and it's just like some white guy in the 19th century in a wig and a long pirate coat jplaying the piano.

James Stewart: Welcome to Homegoings, season 1, episode 10. I’m James Stewart, filling in for Myra Flynn, and these are the voices of students from Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, Vermont. I took a trip to their classroom, and we did the same musical experiment together that Myra and Adiah did earlier. As you can hear, they share a lot of the same assumptions about classical music. We’ll hear more of their voices and reflections throughout this episode.

The piece I played them is a violin concerto by French composer of the 18th century, Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Chevalier was a multi-talented, biracial virtuoso who was even nicknamed “The Black Mozart.”

But you might not know Chevalier or his music. Because the majority of it was erased as slavery was reinstated in the French empire after the revolution. And about that nickname? It’s an unfortunate title. Chevalier was older than Mozart, far more famous in Paris and all of France at the time, and had more prestigious appointments in the musical world. One historian wrote that it might be more accurate to call Mozart “The White Chevalier.”

Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR): I think the closer you get to it then it becomes confusing like, you know, the anecdotal information that you're giving about this gentleman say, well, ‘Why, how come I never knew about this person?’ So there was the succinct answer to your question, there is racism and erasure within classical music, because there has always been racism and erasure within our global communities.

James Stewart: That is the voice of composer and activist Daniel Bernard Roumain, or as we’ll be calling him this episode, DBR.

DBR: I'm a Black Haitian American composer, and by composing, I mean the forming and framing of ideas.

James Stewart: DBR is the real deal. He’s served as artist in residence at the Flynn Center in Burlington, Vermont; he teaches at Arizona State University; and works with symphonies around the world. I sat down with him to ask why, in his opinion, does there seem to be so much white-washing, so much erasure of diverse voices, within the world of classical music?

DBR: Oh, how much, how many days do you have? It's like anything when you get too close to it, you can't see it. You have to pan out and see things sometimes from a much broader, much more general view.

James Stewart: So, let’s do that. Let’s zoom out a bit, because the erasure of Chevalier’s music isn’t the only story. There’s the sad words of Clara Schumann who gave up on composing because she was a woman. Scott Joplin had entire operas repossessed to cover debts. The music of Florence Price spent decades unplayed and forgotten in an attic. Julius Eastman’s music was thrown out on a New York City street when he was evicted from his apartment. And that is just the tip of an iceberg. There are so many more names of women and people of color from music history that so few of us know about: Madalena Casulana, Margaret Bonds, William Grant Still, Isabella Leonarda, George Walker. Dig into their music and you’ll find beautiful, wonderful pieces. Why are these names so much less familiar to us even today?

DBR: If I had to give an answer, I would say that racism and erasure and exclusionary practices continue in classical music because I think it's very, very hard to undo any tradition, no matter how distasteful, unjust, unfair. Traditions are linchpins. They have deep roots.

I have a home here in Tempe, Arizona. That's where I'm talking to you from. I recently removed all of the grass in the front and backyard and replaced it with rock. Rock is much more environmental. You know, this is the desert, and I didn't want to keep watering a lawn. But I've replaced it with rock, and as you can imagine, grass and weeds continue to grow. So, every morning before I do my walk, I'm removing grass and weeds from what was a green, grassy lawn. Let me tell you my friend, a single piece of grass or weed can have deep roots and it may look frail, it may look unassuming, innocuous even, nonthreatening. Let me tell you, I reached the other day for what I thought was just a banal, and it had little thorns in it that actually really hurt me.

I hope you can understand the analogy I'm trying to make here. The metaphor I'm trying to make here is what seems like a single kind of blade of grass might have really deep roots that are absolutely impossible to remove by hand. It requires help and understanding and a technique, even. And once I remove one, another one pops up, you know? I can't get to a place of equity in that rock bed, right, in my own front lawn.

That's the perfect analogy here where, you know, if the rock represents the best of us, if the rock represents change and the idea of equity and literally a foundation upon which you can lay other ideas and it's a better, more environmentally friendly, and really it's about sustainability, that rock — it is indigenous, that rock. It was here before I was, it'll be here when you and I are gone, that rock. Well, guess what? That rock continues to be infiltrated by the horrors of somebody putting grass here. Those roots run deep, and I feel outnumbered.

James Stewart: Outnumbered. Let’s talk about numbers and real representation in the classical music world today. I was surprised to learn that there are over 2,000 professional or semi-professional orchestras in the U.S. employing close to 45,000 people. That’s a lot, right? Except only a little more than 2% of these musicians are Black. And that percentage: Those are the people actively playing this music for a living. For those that are studying it and hoping to get into the industry, the trend is sadly similar. There are just under 100,000 students in music schools and colleges around the country.Of that number just over 8% of students and only 5% of the faculty are Black. I can see why Myra and Adiah don’t see themselves in the world of classical music.

DBR: I feel that everyone is equal. I do, but I am not the general manager at the Met. I do see the goodness in all people, but I am not the executive director at the Boston Symphony or the artistic director of the New York Philharmonic. 

I personally believe that we can never have enough diversity. You can never have enough representation. In all likelihood, you and I won't live long enough to see the kind of diversity that at least I envision. I know that in my own education, I never attended a university that had a single Black composer. I had to seek them out — at my own expense, by the way. Most composers will not study with me and they won't study with me because there isn't agreement on how important that is. And I don't have the unilateral power to make that kind of change happen. Oh, I know. I'm hearing myself talk right now and I'm like, are you kidding me? But, but yeah, you know, and that's the thing. I mean, every composer sees me, they don't hear me.

James Stewart: I mean, all of these things being true, I asked DBR how he got into classical music in the first place. Why would anyone pursue a world they haven’t historically been welcomed to be in?

DBR: Yeah, it was, I think in large part, environmental, in large part cultural. I was in Margate, Florida. In 1975, every elementary school had a music program — an orchestral program, a band program. I started playing violin when I was 5 years old in school. It was public school. The violin was free. I had a music lesson once a week. And culturally, my parents — for them, music education was a small part of the total education. So culturally, so even beyond race, to be a good Haitian student, you played an instrument. I quite literally grew up with it.

That was Broward County in 1975. Broward County 2023, as we’ve offered less arts program, it will be very difficult for you to find an orchestra program in any elementary school in Broward County, less in the middle schools and less in the high schools. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for a young Black boy in Broward County, in Margate, Florida to pick up the violin. That boy, that person, will be utterly alone. Because again, it wasn't just me playing the violin. It was 100 of us and their parents. But I wasn't the only one. There was a culture, there were other kids doing it. I had examples all around me, and I always say that statistically speaking, playing the violin not only changed my life, but it statistically saved it, without a doubt, without a doubt. 

You know, young men of color around the world. If you think about what is in their hands for me, it was a violin, and it is not too much of a stretch to say if it's not a pen, if it's not a laptop or a mouse, it's a gun. 

Student 5: Like, it feels like since like, the world and like, everything around me is just, like, moving like quickly, I feel like just like, the slow beat is, like, helps me just, like, slow down and, like, calm myself down a little bit.

Student 6: Because like, everything around me feels like it's going at a slow pace and then like my brain feels like it's going super fast and it's, like, I need something to catch up with that so I can actually cool myself down and focus on stuff.

Student 7: I like listening to music in a different language, more specifically like the music from my country, I guess. Like, I, I have a feeling, like, if I could listen to it more, then it would be faster to learn the language, because I don't know the language of my country.


A person in a brown coat holding a shiny gold saxophone
Matthew Evan Taylor
Matthew Evan Taylor is the assistant professor of music at Middlebury College in Vermont. He is also on the composition faculty at the Longy School of Music of Bard College. He teaches music theory, improvisation and composition. To put it simply: Matthew is deeply immersed in the classical world.

Adiah Gholston: Hello, Adiah here! I’m back! Like the students you just heard, I also grew up with music including classical music, mostly through my school choirs and my short stint playing the cello. And I also grew up listening to R&B music, and for me, these were two separated genres that existed in two separated spaces within my world. The way they were presented, consumed and seen was different. But despite their differences in culture, so many of classical elements found its way into Black art.

Like this one …


Adiah Gholston: This is “The Infernal Dance” from Stravinsky's “Firebird.” And though it’s a classical piece, it has had zero trouble crossing the racial divide. In fact, it features one of the most famous sounds in hip hop. You'll hear it in Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous,” NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” and “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa and The Soulsonic Force. It’s called an orchestral hit, or as many may know it as: the hip hop cliche.

Matthew Evan Taylor: That's something that happens in classical music that's being used in hip hop in a completely different way. Right? And it's happened so much now it's completely unrecognizable as what it was originally. Right. So and that's, that's kind of the beauty of Black culture is that Black culture absorbs what's around it, deals with it, and then produces, right? And so the things that you produce will not be a replica of what we heard  either, it's going to be completely brand new, or it's going to be some sort of alteration that makes it hip to us. 

Adiah Gholston: This is Matthew Evan Taylor. I sat down to talk with him in his small — but cozy — office at Middlebury College, where he is currently the assistant professor of music. He is also on the composition faculty at the Longy School of Music of Bard College. He teaches music theory, improvisation and composition. To put it simply: Matthew is deeply immersed in the classical world.

And he’s Black.

And being Black has not stopped him from approaching his field with grit, creativity and total freedom. His compositions have been performed to audiences across the United States and Europe: by the Cleveland Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, the Metropolis Ensemble. And his music even sounds free, as improvisation is one of his signature styles of composition.

Matthew says his journey into classical music hasn’t exactly been linear.

Matthew Evan Taylor: As the Beatles would say, “a long and winding road.”

Adiah Gholston: Mainly because where Matthew grew up, in Birmingham, Alabama, an orchestral program simply did not exist.

Matthew Evan Taylor: Growing up, I had no attachment to classical music in particular, didn't even know there was such a thing as composers other than the dead people that had written fifth symphony or you know, whatever. We didn't, really so there wasn't really any engagement with it. Like, I would hear Mozart or Beethoven in some of my favorite Warner Brothers cartoons.

That started to change when people thought that exposure to classical music meant that you would be smarter, right? Which was really just kind of a racist trope that got propagated just basically, you know, classical music is civilizing, like all things that are generated by what by white people is civilizing for the rest of the world. So like, there were all these points in that time period where classical just was always kind of, like, trying to impose that it was bigger and better. That was my experience, where it's just like, yeah, only white people write it. Only white people and Asian people play it. 

Adiah Gholston: I asked Matthew about change. How does it come about in this insular world? And as an assistant professor, if he had any thoughts on how we teach or introduce classical music to potential students and audiences alike. How do we keep folks engaged with a genre that is revered only by its past?

Matthew Evan Taylor: You know, the problem with the model of classical music is that we're worshiping the music of people that are long dead, and they're not there to explain their music to us. Other people are explaining their music to us, whereas myself, or Jessie Montgomery, or Mizzima, Zoli, or Carlos Simon, people like that are alive and well and can tell you exactly what's going on, you know, with their music.

Adiah Gholston: And I think it's, this is more with ballet, but which I think maybe they have  kind of have the same issue as classical music… I think of Solange…

Adiah Gholston: Solange, a Grammy- award artist — composed a new score for the New York City Ballet called, “Playtime.” It was a pretty radical moment as she became only the second Black woman to score a piece for NYC Ballet.

Adiah Gholston: I remember, because she's Solange people came out to see her.  And I just remember it being like, this really big thing within the Black community. Why are they scared of bringing new people and alienating their audience? And why is this audience so resistant to consuming new different art or like, embracing this new audience with them?

Matthew Evan Taylor:  They tokenize us. They use us as a means of capturing an audience. Orchestras are, are frankly, they're not big money makers. So they need to hold on to the people that they have. This is the thinking. They need to hold on to the people they have while growing the audience. But if the people they are holding on to have different tastes than the audience that they're trying to reach, which is basically what that is, that's what it means. Then you're in a rock and a hard place. So then you see like these kind of showy, like, “look, we're it, we're what we got. Solange on stage. We're part of the hip hop 50, all these things that have we got — Sir Mix A Lot with the Seattle Symphony.” I'm glad those things happen. But like, where's the proof that that's going to continue? Yeah, so you need some like consensus consistency. Yeah. There is no reason for people to turn up if they get shown something that they like, and then they never get to see that thing again.

Adiah Gholston: Do you feel like classical music is yours? Do you feel like you belong in it? 

Matthew Evan Taylor: I don't know. Because I, you know, I have people, there's some people's whose music I really like, that are considered classical musicians. I like my music. Which is good, because I keep writing it. Yeah, I don’t know that classical music belongs to me or I belong to it. I'm a musician. And the culture I'm trying to contribute to the musical culture. So like, I belong to American music, and American music belongs to me, be, really.

During the pandemic, I really had a chance to do some deep investigation and what it was I was writing why I was feeling disaffected from it. So for me a key to expressing my Blackness through my music is the use of improvisation. 

Another thing that I started doing that I still wanted to do more of is I started incorporating sounds from like, my grandmother's church. Specifically, hymn lining. There's this practice where like, you know, someone in the congregation will start singing a line, and then the whole congregation will just start responding. Right? 

Adiah Gholston: Yeah, like a call and response.

Matthew Evan Taylor: Yeah, it's a call and response. But it's a very particular thing where it's like, it can happen anytime in a service. And people do not agree on what the melody is when they respond. But it's one of the most beautiful sounds you'll ever hear. Because it's just all these people who don't care if they can or can't sing. Those like little those things of ego just don't matter. They're, it's, they're called upon to sing and respond to this person.

Right. And I just love the story that I have in my head of how that could have come to be, you know, thinking of, you know, church services, on plantations, where the congregants are often new to the area, because they've just been bought, and they're brought in, and maybe they're brought in from somewhere else. And they've heard that call before. But back where they were, the response was different. And so they're bringing their response from their original place there. And like, just having that be something that I've always loved that that story I haven't checked if that's true, 

Adiah Gholston: For the record, I checked. And turns out, Matthew isn’t far off. The origins of hymn lining can be traced to the English Church in the 17th and 18th centuries. And hymn lining, this call and response singing, was done to allow the congregants—who were illiterate—to participate in the worship experience. After the first slaves arrived on the American shores in 1619, the custom of hymn lining continued with fervor among those enslaved, because — this was a way to learn English.

Matthew Evan Taylor: That kind of singing currently, my work I'm doing is centered on breath. And actually, that is also how I'm expressing my Blackness now. I tell the players, you're only when you're breathing in, when you inhale, you're gonna, you're silent and you're listening. And when you exhale, you sing your moves. You express.  So that becomes the whole structure, the repeated breathing, becomes the whole structure of the piece. And you only count the piec    e of breaths and not beats, not minutes, not chords, not anything, just breaths, this piece is 100 breaths long, this piece is 27 breaths long. And it's Blackness to me, because all of the message, It's like a rebellion, in a way, because I'm told by society, you've been told by society doubly, because you're also a woman, that my breath doesn't matter as much as those in power. Right? We, you know, I've had family that lives in places that has asbestos in the wall, as faulty or carbon monoxide, you know, monitors are breath doesn't matter as much, right? So I feel like it's very audacious for me to write a piece dare say, this is a piece about breathing, you're going to breathe with me, But it's also really connected to one of the cries of Eric Garner, “I can't breathe.”  Like, what is breath? It's the proof of existence. If you stop breathing, you know, you'll be in agony. Right. And I have as much right to the air, that we're all breathing as anybody else. 

Deep listen

James Stewart: Adiah Gholston, Matthew Evan Taylor and Daniel Bernard Roumain. If you’ve been following along with our first season of Homegoings, then you know that each of our episodes ends with a deep listen; sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s spoken word, but it’s always profound. Today we have something just as special. DBR mentioned in our interview that he wrote the score for a documentary film entitled Homegoings. I know, right? It was serendipity to me, too! DBR graciously offered us a piece of that music to share with you.

As mentioned earlier, we’ve scored this episode with the voices of eighth grade students from Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, Vermont. Shout out to Christine StClair and the principal of the school for letting us come and speak with the students. We’ve paired DBR’s music and student’s voices together. So sit back, take a breath and let the listen in. This is “Home” by Daniel Bernard Roumain, and candid thoughts about music from the students of Tuttle Middle School.

Student 7: There's always gonna be like, there's like a man and he makes like, good music and like, whatever. If there's a woman that makes good music, it's always gonna be, like, “Oh, it's good for a woman.” It's not going to be, like, seen as just music.

Student 8: Like, he's almost as good as this person, but not quite, because he's Black. 

Student 9: I don't necessarily know if it's what I wanna do but, like, I write songs basically just like, I just take one small inconvenience in my life and I exaggerate it so much. Yeah.

Student 10: I like, imagine myself, like, on a giant stage with, like, a big orchestra playing with them. Like, I just wanna play like a giant string instrument, like a double bass. And I want to be, like, on the stage. I want everyone to see me and I, I just like playing music with a bunch of people because I feel like you all have, like, this connection and love to music and you're all like, in the same group, even though you might look different or speak a different language. Music, I feel like it's a universal language.

Student 11: Like a band or something like that. It's like a really good community. Yeah, because, like, you do have something in common with everyone and it's like a good place to just kind of like, like be supported and like, you get to do what you love.

Student 12: I hope that, like, everywhere I go, I can find at least one person, like varying of age, race, gender or like anything playing music.

Student 13: I think like, music has been, been getting more diverse ever since, like, rap and ska and reggae started getting popular and I think it's gonna keep getting more diverse.

Student 14: I think people shouldn't just, like, listen to whatever is like, popular and like everyone else is listening to. I think people should just, like, listen to what they relate with or like, find interesting. 

Student 15: Like, people relate through music and you can connect through music. So find a group of people that you can connect through music with it.

Student 16: Let a lot more people just not be as stereotypical to classical music and just have a lot more of an open mind that could also help inspire other people.

Student 17: I but, like, I think I'll be, like, more fond of the music if, like, more people got into it. Like, like an Indian got into it or, like a Black person started, like, becoming famous into it. Then I'll be, like, recognizing classical more if they be like, because you don't always see that now.

Student 18: And you're a white man and you're looking at photos around of white men who made music, it's going to be easier for you. But if you're like a girl or someone of color and you look up on the wall and you see someone that resembles you, it'll inspire you more to that. You can do it because other people did it.


This episode was mixed, scored and reported by James Stewart and Adiah Gholston. Myra Flynn composed the theme music.Other music by James Stewart, Maurice Ravel, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Igor Stravinsky and Blue Dot Sessions. Brittany Patterson and Myra Flynn edited this episode and Elodie Reed contributes to so many things on the backend of making this thing come to life, including our Homegoings artist portraits.

Special thanks to educator Christine St. Claire and the principal and students of Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, Vermont for sharing their thoughts with us.  Also thanks to Corey Dockser, our data journalist here at Vermont Public.

See you in two weeks, for another episode of Homegoings. As always, you are welcome here.
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James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.