Thursday, October 1, 2020 San Francisco Conservatory of Music Puts Muscle Behind Commitment to Inclusion

Members of the review committee for the new Black composers initiative
Joseph Young with Berkeley Symphony | Credit: Dave Weiland

DuMarkus Davis

San Francisco Classical Voice

By Michael Zwiebach

Sept. 29, 2020

A curtain of indifference seemed to be pulled aside 
in the arts this summer: many performing
organizations have taken first, sometimes sluggish
steps to change repertoire and structure to make
these things more inclusive of Black and minority
voices. But few have moved as determinedly
as the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

To begin with, SFCM established a President’s
Advisory Council on Equity and Inclusion,
anchored by Black students, alumni, faculty, and
community leaders, and then raised $1.5 
million to fund a series of recommendations from
the committee. The school’s commitments include
creating ten fully funded scholarships for Black
students, recruiting more Black faculty, staff, and
board members, expanding inclusion and anti-
racism training for faculty, staff, and students, and
developing coursework on the Black experience in

But the crown jewel in this push to expand
diversity is a partnership now underway between
SFCM and the San Francisco Symphony to
commission 10 new works from different
composers over the course of 10 years, some 
to be performed by the Symphony and some
by the Conservatory. The commissions are each
worth $15,000.

Crucially, all the applications go through a
blind review process, like orchestral auditions, so
that name recognition and connections do not affect
the results of the search. The review committee 
consists of composer and pianist Anthony Davis;
singer and SFCM Roots, Jazz, and American Music
faculty Carmen Bradford; conductor and Berkeley 
Symphony Music Director Joseph Young; 
composer Germaine Franco; composer and
SFCM faculty Elinor Armer; composer and
conductor John Adams; SF Symphony Music
Director Esa-Pekka Salonen; Oakland
Symphony Music Director Michael Morgan; and
SFCM Music Director Edwin Outwater.

“The San Francisco Symphony is pleased to
partner with our colleagues at the San
Francisco Conservatory to maximize the value
these commissions will bring to early-career
Black American composers,” said San
Francisco Symphony CEO Mark C. Hanson. And
Joseph Young emailed SFCV that “The Emerging 
Black Composers Project is a bold initiative
that will help to make lasting changes to the
American music landscape. I am honored to
be part of a project that will create opportunities
for my brothers and sisters so their voices will 
be heard.”

DuMarkus Davis, Class of ’18, is on the
Alumni Council and the Advisory Council, and
the founder of Musicbuk, an Atlanta startup
he’s been known to describe as “Uber for
music teachers.” Davis was a signatory to the
call for action letters to SFCM President David
Stull that led directly to these initiatives. He
was highly impressed at the favorable response of
Stull and the SFCM senior leadership, saying, “I
definitely think that what’s going on is a huge
step in the right direction. I’d go so far as to say
that the Conservatory has really laid the
blueprint for what other classical music
organizations and conservatories should model
themselves after if they truly want to work
on building a bridge and amending relationships
with the Black community.”

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