Home Blog Diverse Repertoire: Why It Matters by Conductor Pierce Cook

Diverse Repertoire: Why It Matters by Conductor Pierce Cook

by Emily Bovan

Symphonette and Tutti Strings Conductor, Pierce Cook talks about the importance of picking diverse repertoire and shares his favorite Black composers: 

If you are in any industry for any period of time, and you are making any effort to be any good, you come up with your own little trade secrets. Now, my mother always taught me not to keep secrets, so I plan to start sharing all of mine. Here is my first hard-won secret! 

Has anyone ever told you that you need some R n’ R? We all do. That’s rest and relaxation. Unless of course you are talking to me about having a quality music program. Then, we are talking about Relationships and Repertoire. They go hand in hand: neither one more or less important than the other. But for this post, let’s talk about the repertoire. 

The music that TRYPO ensemble conductors and YC2 coaches select for their ensembles is of paramount importance to the experience of the young people in the groups. It’s the basis for the entire experience we have together! The decision can’t possibly get more consequential than that. So, what makes good music? Well – that’s another sub-conversation! But for now let’s discuss one of the things that makes good music – diversity. You need diversity in your diet – nobody questions that. You need diversity in your workforce and diversity in your community – we don’t question that anymore.

We need diversity because every voice deserves to be heard, and because every voice has a perspective to add that makes everyone better. 

So for Black History Month, we wanted to put a spotlight on the Black Composers like Adrian Gordon, William Grant Still, Kelijah Dunton, Omar Thomas, Lee Holdridge, and Valerie Coleman that TRYPO large ensembles have featured recently. These are talented composers who wrote quality music that deserves to be played. If we are anything, we are discerning about what music we put in front of young people, and their pieces are some of our favorites of recent memory.

So why not just stop there and be happy that black people are represented? Well – I can speak for myself. I had to try a little too hard to find Mother and Child (Still), Elegy for Harp and Strings (Holdridge) and High Rise (Gordon). Not because the pieces are not good, but simply because they were not front and center where people go looking. I mean, I had to DIG. Lucky for me, sometimes when you dig, you find gold. But, I can’t expect every conductor to dig like that. The music of these composers was not nearly accessible enough to me.

So, is it great that we live in a world where black people can compose and be published and earn money and be loved and respected? I mean, I guess? This is technically progress. But to borrow a phrase from our Executive Director Lindsey Nova, it’s a “yes/and.” It can be both. We have made progress, but, there is much work to be done. 

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