A new report published by Orchestras Canada last month promises to shed new perspective on classical music in Canada – and on how the orchestra can do better for the communities it aims to serve.
Co-authored by Soraya Peerbaye and Dr. Parmela Attariwala, “Re-sounding the Orchestra: Relationships between Canadian orchestras, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour” serves as a preliminary investigative look into Canadian orchestral culture, with a specific focus on interrogating the orchestra as a colonial, political and educational entity. The product of over one year of research, interviews, and roundtable discussions with arts administrators, orchestral artistic directors, Indigenous musicians and musicians of colour, the report is an effort to consolidate research and recommendations for a more equitable framework for orchestral music – including discussion around gender and racial diversity, cultural appropriation, and decolonization.
The report was presented at an Orchestras Canada national conference in Ottawa on June 12, and is publicly available for download here on the Orchestras Canada website.
Organized into three main chapters, “Re-sounding the Orchestra” begins with a presentation of insights gathered from interviews and roundtable discussions on the relationship between an orchestra and its surrounding communities. The second chapter takes the Orchestras Canada 2017 IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility) initiative (of which this report is a part) as its basis, and presents an overview of issues related to equity, diversity and coloniality in Canadian orchestras. The third, titled “Re-visioning Western classical musical training for the 21st century”, discusses how issues of equity are connected with orchestral training, mentorship and collaborative processes, including potential new directions for classical music education. The report ends with recommendations by the authors for how Orchestras Canada as an organization might move forward in the pursuit of defining – and creating – a more equitable orchestral culture.
As co-author Attariwala details at the beginning of the report, this is an important opportunity to open up discussion around the often-problematic legacies of the country’s musical institutions. “Who belongs in the orchestra, and whose music belongs in the orchestra?” she asks. “What is the relationship between orchestras and other musical cultures? Can those relationships exist equitably and according to current definitions of cultural ownership and sovereignty?”
They’re challenging questions to answer, but the current report is an encouraging start towards reconsidering and reinventing those orchestral relationships. It’s a valuable document, not only for orchestral personnel, but for anyone interested in the creation of more equitable futures in the arts – and hopefully, the beginning of more discussions to come.
“Re-sounding the Orchestra: Relationships between Canadian orchestras, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour” was published in June 2019 by Orchestras Canada, and is available online on the Orchestras Canada website: https://oc.ca/en/resource/re-sounding-the-orchestra/.