American Public Media is putting out a list of the hosts' top ten favorite songs/pieces of music, so I thought I'd give you a preview of what I decided to showcase:
I'm no stranger to social media drama - I actually think I'm pretty good at it, but lately I've been trying to keep my nose a little cleaner, considering my job and all. Sometimes though, I can't help but to "get with the shits", as they say.
For the past couple weeks, I've been seeing a drawing of a lunch room, with different composers at each table, with the caption, "Who are you sitting with?". The London Symphony Orchestra decided to throw a hat into the ring by creating their own version, and they posted it to Twitter. When I saw that ALL of the composers in that make-believe lunchroom were white, I had to interject. I did so by retweeting it, with my own caption that got LOTS of attention:
Tens of thousands of impressions, and about 60 retweets later, the London Symphony Orchestra responded by tweeting a special dedication to Florence Price. While this doesn't erase their high levels of cultural incompetency, I did think it was a nice gesture.
At this point, I was really fired up, and when I read an ad from another orchestra that didn't include any black composers, I tweeted them, saying it was a shame that they decided to only include white men composers in the announcement. Their reaction was a little different. Instead of doing something equitable, or even reaching out to me, they reached out to folks at my job. What was their goal in doing that? To get me punished, or worse, FIRED??
Me and my boss are fine, but the fact that they would do something like that has had me bothered all week. When I told my colleague, Steve Seel about it, he said I had "stepped off the plantation", and that was their way of reeling me in. I really appreciated hearing that from Steve, because it's a story I'd heard before.
While waiting in the green room to play with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra one year, the harpist told me a story about her husband going golfing, and meeting some Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians on the green. She said that they were awe struck by his presence, and kept asking, "What are you doing here? You must have a good job to go golfing in the middle of the day". After telling me this story, Lydia used the same phrase Steve did - they were surprised to see a black man who had "stepped off the plantation".
I'm feeling better now, but there's so much work to do in the world of classical music. It all boils down to racism, and whether I'm behind the mic, on the stage, or elsewhere, I'm never going to stop fighting for equity, equality, and cultural competency in this industry I've dedicated my life to. I can't do it alone though - CALL OUT CULTURAL RACISM IN CLASSICAL MUSIC EVERY TIME YOU SEE IT! It's the only way real change will ever come.
By the way, I fixed the lunchroom meme. Who you sittin' with?
Earlier this week I traveled to Rochester, NY, to give the opening address and to facilitate the opening panel discussion at the Gateways Music Festival! It was a great honor, and I hope you'll learn more about this important endeavor, and more importantly, I hope you'll DONATE to it!
A few people asked for a copy of what I'd written, so I thought I'd share it here:
My name is Garrett McQueen, and it is my EXTREME pleasure to be with you today, and to lead a really great panel discussion that I think you’ll enjoy hearing.
First, a little about me for folks who don’t know who I am – I spent the first decade or so of my career as a professional bassoonist. I’ve performed with a number of orchestras across the country, and I spent 5 seasons as a tenured member of the Knoxville Symphony down in East Tennessee.
In 2016, I got the opportunity to host and produce content for WUOT-FM in Knoxville, and that eventually led me to my CURRENT position as national host and producer of classical music at American Public Media in Saint Paul, MN.
I share a bit of my story with you so that we all can think a little about the idea of opportunity, and what that means for us.
Everyone here – everyone in this room, at some point, was given an opportunity – we don’t have much control over what the opportunities ARE most times, but we DO have control over what we do with those opportunities.
Each and every person playing at the Gateways Festival this week was given the opportunity to do so, and with opportunities given, there are opportunities NOT given.
Over 200 Gateways hopefuls were actually turned away this year, simply due to what the festival is capable of handling at this point – this is where YOU come in!
Whether you’re here performing with the festival, or if you’re here as a guest to observe what’s going to happen today and for the rest of this week, it is YOUR responsibility to make the most of this opportunity.
When you go grab a coffee later, or lunch, or a drink, or whatever, tell everyone why you’re here! Tell people that this thing called classical music NEVER belonged to white Europeans and their ancestors, and I’m gonna say that again – THIS THING CALLED CLASSICAL MUSIC NEVER BELONGED TO WHITE EUROPEANS AND THEIR ANCESTORS – it belongs to ALL OF US.
Tell people that this thing called classical music has enriched the lives of so many people of color, specifically BLACK people, and that you want to share that enrichment with them – enrichment through a deeper understanding of our relationship with this artform, both historically, AND contemporarily.
Tell people that the power, the equity, and the sustenance of Gateways depends wholly on them!
Ultimately, this is all bigger than classical music – we have to support, enrich, and vie for each other in EVERY way we can, and supporting and promoting Gateways is a very specific, but very important way to do that.
The late great James Baldwin once said: To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.
I’m in rage.
I’m in rage that I can’t see US ALL here. I’m in rage that there are black musicians who NEED this experience – folks who NEED this level of fellowship and family- folks whose only outlet in classical music is the result of some white - serving diversity initiative, who don’t get to experience this. You should be in rage too, and I hope that rage, and the NERVE will inspire you to do whatever you can to make sure this festival doesn’t just survive, but grows – we aren’t all free, until we are all free.
Now at this point in career I’ve done enough public radio membership drives to know that not all of you will answer my call, but I wanna offer just one more thought to you that I hope will inspire you:
There are those of you who will continue to be a part of the oppression of black musicians, and there are those of US, who will be a part of the LIBERATION of black musicians - period.
...which group are you a part of?