Letter to the editor

To the Editor,

Guest composer Valerie Coleman inspires CCU musicians

I have so much to say about our Valerie Coleman residency here at Coastal Carolina University in the Edwards Center for Inclusive Excellence. In our week with her, the masterclasses, rehearsals, and recital allowed us to see the artist in action. But it was a series of discussions, including a panel during the recital, that really allowed our community the ability to connect with Coleman on a deeper level. Here’s my first shot at putting this experience to words.

Valerie Coleman is a once-in-a-generation artist unlike any other, a force of nature, and despite her many historic accolades (first Black woman commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, the list goes on and on), one of the humblest people I have ever met in my life. She was the perfect first guest artist to come to our campus and contribute to our conversation about representation in musical repertoire as a part of what I now call the [Represent]atoire Project.

Students, faculty, staff, and community members continue to share incredibly vulnerable and personal stories with me in the aftermath of this residency. Conservatories around the country have reached out asking how to replicate this at their institutions. A completely full hall here on a Friday night is just our proof of concept that what we believe to be true really is true. Music has been a country club for far too long, and it is time to let more people into our space. There is no limit to how many people can make art, no limit to how many people can write music, and no limit to how many people can define our culture. This is the law of abundance. When we let more people in, nobody loses; the entire creative ecosystem just expands. We all benefit from that.

The Friday night recital oversold. People stood in the back of the hall and sat in our giant windowsills. Many local news organizations were there to film and discuss our project. The recital broke the fourth wall, and with the audience howling, Coleman’s music became a sermon in its own right. There were tears in the panel discussion, myself included.

As artists, we have access to the most powerful form of magic, the ability to create something out of nothing. I believe music is the most capable tool we have, and it is an unlimited resource. Let us use it so that:

Maybe one day, it would be unimaginable for an unknowing band kid to go a decade without playing one piece of music by a composer from their own community, whatever that may be.

Maybe one day, a Hispanic student won’t be shocked when music handed to them shows that a renowned composer has their same family name.

Maybe one day, a little Black girl will not have to search through google images to find someone that looks like her playing the flute. As Dr. Tiffany Hollis reminded us, “You can’t be what you don’t see.”

This project would not have been possible without the support of so many amazing allies. I am endlessly grateful. Wendy Weinhold. Elizabeth Baltes. Claudia Bornholdt. Jen Boyle. Tripthi Pillai. Michael Benson. Jeff Jones. Philip Powell. Preston McKever-Floyd. Jessica Pelltier. Markyta Sirett. Joshua Moore. Amanda Masterpaul. Tiffany Hollis. Sarah Jackson. Hailey Cornell. Diamond Gaston. Rachel Huggins.

Stay tuned. This is not the end of this project. We are just getting started.