This is a picture of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers - where two bodies of water meet but do not immediately mix. The Ohio River was the nation's only physical boundary separating free from slave states, and represents a dividing line between the South and the North.
Ultimately, slavery was abolished; both rivers become one. However the work remains to bring justice and equity for all.
For many of us, it's been an artistically limited year - in that silence, I've been contemplating racial inequality and stratification, its echo within the world of classical music, and my role in all of it.
For years, it's felt as if Asians were only accepted and valued in classical music as vessels for Eurocentric masterpieces. In addition to unintentionally perpetuating tropes characterizing Asians as submissive, deferential and hardworking (among many others), it's also become increasingly clear that the realm of classical music inadvertently serves to undergird the model minority myth.
Though I feel lucky to have taken part in some beautiful and extraordinary performances over the years, looking back on certain concerts inspires discomfort. In particular, a pantomime ballet staging of Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin still haunts me in its grotesque characterization of Asians as exotic and animalistic. At the time, the performance didn't bother me very much (I was ecstatic just to play clarinet on that piece!), but after visiting the Tunnels of Moosejaw (SK, Canada) on our move to Cincinnati, my eyes slowly opened to the historical trauma of what it means to be an Asian immigrant. I saw how Chinese immigrants were treated during railroad construction years, sometimes living underground for months at a time and used as a disposable workforce, and learned of the draconian immigration laws imposed against Asian people. In the midst of racist and incendiary terms like "China Virus" and "Kung Flu", I felt a disturbing return a hundred years later to this narrative of Asians as dirty, set as an object of blame, and like so many people of color, stigmatized as the 'other'.
I want to express that the struggles of Asian people are not analogous to the struggles of African American people, but simply that they are linked, and that modern yellow privilege has been made possible by anti-blackness. Attempting to understand these histories has led me to explore how I can support and validate BIPOC voices within the classical music world, and to that end, I am delighted to be commissioning several new works by composers of color. I am so grateful for this opportunity from ArtsWave, and it means a lot to me to be a part of the growing community of voices and the shared culture we need to cultivate in classical music. I look forward to sharing more updates soon!