Tuesday, 14 June 2016

A lesson from Hamilton

So on Friday I zipped down from DC to Baltimore to attend the League of American Orchestras conference. Whose theme this year was diversity, aka "The Richness of Difference."

A three-day conference; I was there for only one day, so of can't know everything that went on.

hamilton blogBut one thing I'm sure of. Symphony orchestras — or just about any major classical music institution — can't match the diversity impact of Hamilton, which (not exactly to anyone's surprise) just won the Tony award.

And demonstrated so powerfully the richness of difference, which, with all respect, the League can only dream about.

Here are two tweets I saw (and I'm sure there were many more), which show how rich the Hamiltondifference was:

from @WendyRosenfield:

…best #TonyAwards in years and it's because work abt and including many ethnicities made it that way. Attn must be paid!

from @TheClariceUMD:

showing us that EVERYONE can be, and should be included in theatre, and that all stories matter. #TonyAwards

Why can't we do that in classical music?

Why — instead of just talking about these things — why don't we have a classical music event with Hamilton's richness of difference?

So many reasons.

First, hiphop..

One reason Hamilton hit so hard, and seemed both so current and so right, was that its music was hiphop.

But classical music doesn't do hiphop. Or any other African-American musical idiom. Oh, something might creep in, now and then, but it's coming from outside.

IDENT You could say — and people did — that hiphop was a surprise on Broadway, and that a musical with music of a kind that gets on the pop charts was a return to past glory, and greatly refreshing. All true. But Broadway at least is open to popular culture, in ways that classical music isn't.

Second reason: Broadway is open to African-American culture.

I'm not saying there haven't been problems, and that Broadway could go much further. But going back many years — A Raisin in the Sun, August Wilson, The Wiz (and, I'm sure, much that I don't know about) — we've had, on Broadway, prominent African-American voices.

We don't have that in classical music.

And at the bottom of this…

…lies the deepest problem, which is how attached we are to the classical canon. All those great masterworks, which — through no fault of their own — are lily-white.

I won't blame our masterworks for that. But if our main mission is to perform those them — to keep our canon front and center — then of course we don't generate Hamilton, or anything like it.

That's not what we do.

Which then means that to be more diverse, we have to change what we do.

Easy to type those words, but to put them in action — that would be a deep, systemic shock, to everything the classical music world holds most dear.

Original Content: A lesson from Hamilton

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