Personal Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
As a child, and before there was the term ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ (‘DEI’), I was baffled by the fact that some people were resistant to the simple principle put forth in the Declaration of Independence (which we had studied at grammar school) that ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’. That seemed perfectly reasonable to me, and it corresponded to the example with which I grew up — in a family of immigrants and performing artists. My life was as ‘diverse’ as could be imagined: a mixed neighborhood, in which everyone, at some point or another, was the brunt of prejudicial statements, and a colorful circle of family friends and dinner guests: straight, gay, black, brown, white, Hispanic, religious, atheistic, Democratic, Republican, and ‘Independent’ performing and/or visual artists. I was involved in the stage productions at my father’s acting school, which gave equal opportunity to all aspiring talent, regardless of nationality, race, color, gender identity, or age. This was the world in which I grew up — and which, at the time, made the existence of prejudice all the more confusing to me.
As I matured, and came to understand how widespread prejudice was, I realized that the way in which I was going to be able to help combat that prejudice was to be a model for ‘DEI’ in my own life and work:
- I was unapologetically vocal in calling out prejudice aimed at my fellow students. During my university years, I ardently supported and participated in the projects of underrepresented student composers and performers.
- As a young conductor, I was invited to lead a major revival of Marc Blitzstein’s opera Regina, an opera with a number of African-American characters. Shortly before the premiere, everyone was invited to a patrons’ reception, but I found out from our Black performers that they had not been invited. I protested by announcing my non-attendance at that event — and making my reason clear.
- As Music Director of Encompass New Opera Theatre (a thirteen-year tenure), the Artistic Director and I consciously reimagined casting options and sought out performers of color for our productions.
- New York’s 92nd Street Y, a major cultural institution in that city, and at which I was the orchestra director (parallel with the 13-year Encompass post), had a single overriding mission: to ‘educate and enlighten’. Our activities proudly supported access to learning across the full spectrum of DEI, and I reflected that in my orchestra admission policy, programming, engagement of soloists, and readings of works by women and Black composers. (Participants ranged from ages 14 to 75.)
- At Coventry University (England), those of us on the Music Department faculty were given unqualified decision-making power by the administration to admit anyone onto our degree programs who was qualified, or who we felt deserved the opportunity to develop. And we did. Our students spanned the spectrum of age (17 to 46), color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and preferences in musical styles/genres. As a team, we cultivated an atmosphere of equity, mutual support, and encouragement, having an agreed modus operandi of being proactive against all bias, bullying, intimidation, and/or any other form of anti-collaborative behavior.
- More recently — and I can only assume because of the personal and profession profile described above — I was invited to Lyric Opera of Chicago to lead a project involving a Black composer, a woman librettist, a gay director, and an all-Black cast of singers.
These are just a few examples of how I have been able to realize the principles of DEI in my own life and work. This ethos has always been, and will always be, applied — in full measure, and unequivocally — to any institution at which I happen to be employed.