A Statement Against Racism

Dear members of American Composers Orchestra’s community:

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Ahmaud Arbery. Nina Pop. These are only the most recent of too many tragic deaths as our country grapples with centuries of racism.

ACO reaffirms its solidarity with the Black members of our musical and national community. We also realize that our core values of diversity, empowerment, and creativity must be further strengthened with a pledge to fight racism within our own organization and the world of classical music.

Virulent racism spans centuries, and no single message of support and solidarity can do justice to the challenges that lie ahead. In the end, anti-racism is not a statement in an email or on social media. It is an ongoing conversation towards action; it’s work we must embrace every day, as individuals and as an organization.

ACO is committed to doing that work. We will do it through the artists we support. We will do it by finding and sharing resources about anti-racism and bias. And we will do it through seeking, welcoming and empowering all voices in all parts of our organization.

We begin by sharing work from artists whom we are honored to count as part of ACO’s community: bassoonist Monica Ellis and composers Carlos Simon, Jonathan Bailey Holland, and Valerie Coleman. These artists are allowing us to offer their work as a way to reflect on the past and face the future. We also include information about colleague organizations that are leading the way towards a better future and educational resources recommended by our staff and colleagues.

The Artists Speak

Image of Carlos Simon

A participant in ACO’s Emerging Composer Reading Sessions and the recipient of two ACO commissions, Carlos Simon wrote Elegy, which is part of his recording My Ancestor’s Gift.

He writes: This piece is an artistic reflection dedicated to those who have been murdered wrongfully by an oppressive power, namely Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

The stimulus for composing this piece was prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch’s announcement that a grand jury had decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson after the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The evocative nature of the piece draws on strong lyricism and a lush harmonic charter. A melodic idea is played in all the voices of the ensemble at some point of the piece either whole or fragmented. The recurring ominous motif represents the cry of those struck down unjustly in this country. While the predominant essence of the piece is sorrowful and contemplative, there are moments of extreme hope represented by bright consonant harmonies.

Interlude: https://youtu.be/nzXk_dn7Lfc

Elegy: A Cry from the Grave: https://youtu.be/SxH61S9QXMs

Headshot of Monica Ellis and her bassoon.

Virtuoso bassoonist Monica Ellis, a member of the famed Imani Winds, offered these observations and a performance as part of the #TakeTwoKnees movement spreading throughout our musical community.

For the beautiful Black boys in my life – For my 14-year-old nephew who is kind, gentle, a leader and sincerely woke but also already 6ft tall. From afar he looks older than his years and is therefore susceptible to police profiling, which terrifies me.

For my 11-year-old nephew who is talented, funny, fiercely loyal, loving and only 11 so what could possibly happen, right? But we remember #TamirRice who was snuffed out at only one year older than he.

And finally, for the love of my life, my 6-year-old son, who at this tender age knows no hate, only wants to love, play, be loved and live the best life he, and all Black people, are entitled to live.

I fear for my Black boys, but also must lift them up. May this world find its way to a better place for us all.

Her performance can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/monica.ellis.37/posts/10222132170435287

Headshot of Jonathan Holland

Composer and ACO Board Member Jonathan Bailey Holland created his chamber work Synchrony in 2015.

He writes: Synchrony is about duality on many levels, and in many ways: from the instrumentation and their possible combinations – oboe and bassoon, violin and cello, oboe and cello, violin and bassoon, etc.; to musical form and structure – call and response, imitation, repetition; to the external influences – black and white race relations, class relations within and between races, morality vs emotion, double standards of laws and socially accepted behavior, confronting symbols vs confronting ideology. While these issues pervade the news these days with an alarming frequency, I, as an African-American composer of classical music, live this duality every day.

Synchrony by Jonathan Holland, performed by the Radius Ensemble: https://youtu.be/Ce4ifHYIgys

Headshot of Valerie Coleman

Flutist and composer Valerie Coleman wrote her work Phenomenal Women on commission from American Composers Orchestra with Imani Winds as the soloists.

Coleman writes: The spirit and process behind the movements are informed by the efforts of phenomenal women who energize me through their transcendental efforts: the struggles that poet Maya Angelou faced in her life and her impact in the lives of women globally; how Olympic Gold medalist Boxer Claressa Shields grew up in Flint, a town ravaged by contaminated water; athlete Serena Williams’ ongoing perseverance on the tennis court to become one the greatest athletes of all time; Michelle Obama’s grace under pressure as the First Lady, mom and advocate for families and children; and the courage of immigrant mothers who have risked their lives to enter the United States and are fighting to reclaim their children. Phenomenal Women is about celebrating women’s efforts to overcome adversity, no matter who and where you are.  

The piece has already been performed by the Atlanta Symphony, the Albany Symphony, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra since its premiere with ACO in 2018.  Watch Valerie speak about the work in her own wordshttps://youtu.be/mM7HdxA384I


Learn more about organizations leading the way in our field.

Read and listen to resources to combat racism, and share them with your friends and family.

Write and call your local elected officials to ask how they are addressing systemic racism to ensure Black people do not suffer police brutality.

Sign up with groups like Campaign Zero to join a larger effort.

Thank you for being part of ACO’s community and joining us on the journey ahead.

Sincerely yours,

Derek Bermel, Artistic Director
George Manahan, Music Director
Sameera Troesch, Board Chair Elect
Frederick Wertheim, Board Chair
Ed Yim, President and CEO

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