Statement from the Department of Music on Anti-Black State Violence

Many statements have stressed that we are living in “uncertain times” and in an “unprecedented moment.” The faculty of the Department of Music at the University of Chicago acknowledge the unprecedented and uncertain within the present moment. But we want to stress what we are certain of, and what is not at all unprecedented.

  • We are certain that Black lives matter. We are certain that the lives of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so so many others matter.
  • We are certain that their deaths are the result of a system that encourages state-supported erasure of Black life without end or consequence.
  • We are certain that this system must be dismantled, and cannot be dismantled without solidarity and myriad action from everyone. We recognize the current protests—unprecedentedly pervasive—as an expression of this truth.
  • We are also certain that American policing fails in the most basic ways: it does not protect Black life, and it was never designed to do so. As the last several weeks have again confirmed, it consistently honors the interests of property over people, of whiteness over all, and does not prevent but rather celebrates brutality.
  • We are certain, then, that reforming the police system is not the answer, and that justice will come only with more structural efforts such as defunding and divestment.
  • Finally, we are certain that we as a department must take action, and that this is no time for purely symbolic gestures. We have many ideas, from the event-based—year-long teach-ins and experimental colloquia on the subject of Black music and life; listening and viewing parties—to the structural: reforming our curriculum and pedagogy, increasing the departmental presence and role of Black scholars and performers, and committing departmental resources to South Side neighbors. We continue to move toward a permanent transformation of the department and we feel strongly that these actions should be determined laterally rather than top-down. To this end, we are creating a permanent working group with members drawn from across the department: faculty, staff, performance program, and students. This working group will play a central role in the department’s sustained efforts toward systemic and lasting change. 

What does any of this have to do with music? Everything. Music pervades all we are and do—and is implicated in all we are and do as well. Music can augur change and emancipation. But it can also veil institutionalized racism and white supremacy. In the history of this department, and this university, it has served both functions. We as a department therefore cannot hide behind music. Though we celebrate it as the object of our great love and fascination, this in no way relieves us of the burden of political commitment. So as opposed to Leonard Bernstein’s nostrum—“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before”—we assert something else: we can secure our community’s freedom from violence, and from the terror and grief it causes, only when we don’t separate life and art, when we vigorously combine our commitment to make a more just and equal world for ALL of us with our desire to make and contemplate music.

Jessica Swanston Baker, Philip V. Bohlman, Seth Brodsky, Anthony Cheung, Thomas Christensen, Martha Feldman, Berthold Hoeckner, Jennifer Iverson, Travis A. Jackson, James Kallembach, Robert L. Kendrick, Sam Pluta, Augusta Read Thomas, Steven Rings, Olga Sanchez-Kisielewska, Barbara Schubert, Anna Schultz, Lawrence Zbikowski

Undersigned by

George Adams – Humanities Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow
Aaronson Bell – Operations and Technology Assistant
Mwata Bowden – Lecturer, Director of the Jazz X-tet
Nicholas Carlson – Director of the University Wind Ensemble
John Corkill – Lecturer, Director of the Percussion Ensemble
Claire Franksen – Department Assistant
Danielle Garcia – Manager of Production and Operations for the Performance Program
Peter Gillette – Department Administrator
Landon Hegedus – Communications and Production Assistant, UChicago Presents
Eugenia Jeong – Lecturer, Director of Piano Studies
Scott Landvatter – Bibliographer for Music and Dance
Jean-Christophe Leroy – Director of the Afro-Cuban Folkloric Ensemble
Clare Longendyke – Lecturer, Piano Artist-in-Residence, Director of the Chamber Music Program
Daniel Meyers – Manager of Communications and Development, UChicago Presents and Department of Music
Ted Moore – PhD student in Composition
Tricia Park – Lecturer, Violin Artist-in-Residence
Maria Savannah – Performance Program Coordinator
Claire Snarski – Graphic Designer
Mollie Stone – Lecturer, Director of the University Chorus and Women's Ensemble
Margo Strebig – Director of Communications and Public Relations
Trista Trone – Student Affairs Administrator
Jessica Wolfe – Director of Production and Education, UChicago Presents
Seth Parker Woods – Lecturer, Cello Artist-in-Residence
Wanees Zarour – Director of the Middle East Music Ensemble