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30 June 2021
Kristy Swift

Hear Us, Hear Them: Music History and Thoughtful Change”

I love teaching music history and I love working with students. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be surrounded by creative, curious, high-achieving, and precocious students at a prestigious college-conservatory of music that attracts people from all over the world. Don’t get me wrong, for all the good we do, and there is a lot, we also have our fair share of challenges at my school just like everyone at every other university. The 2020-21 academic year upped the ante for all of us in DEI initiatives and Covid-19-work-arounds. Simply put, we all have a lot of work to do in making our individual corners and the world at large a better place in big and small ways. Change within the academy often comes as a response to a problem. To be sure, many of my colleagues have put forth Herculean efforts this past year to create safe and welcoming spaces for everyone, but one of the most compelling examples of creative problem solving resulting in thoughtful change that I have seen arose from a group of students in my fall 2020 Protest(ed) Music class. Enter their new ensemble Hear Us, Hear Them.

Hear Us, Hear Them, established in 2020, is a Black-led Cincinnati-based ensemble co-founded by Harry Mathurin-Cecil (DMA choral conducting) and Jaime Sharp (MM voice). According to them, their project grew from one of our class discussions on, of all things, Richard Wagner’s music, well-known anti-Semitism, place in music history and performance, dialogue with world issues, and the students’ urgency to critique for some and dismantle for others the music history canon. The specific materials we used to frame the Wagner discussion are below, but generally the course aimed to center musicians who have protested entrenched power structures and inversely to examine those whose music has been protested such as Wagner. Admittedly, deeply curious about artists who challenge, disrupt, and resist, I certainly claim no expertise on this topic. Further, and deeply personal, beyond the academy and my attempts at allyship, as a white privileged heterosexual cis woman, other than the inequity I have experienced because of that last bit, what could I personally ever need to protest on my own behalf? That said, Hear Us, Hear Them wildly surpasses any learning outcome I have ever created. I take no credit for these students’ accomplishments as their work was well beyond our class and my teaching, but I will take every opportunity to promote them and to urge music history teachers to follow the energy of similar passionate students who are deeply committed to making the world a more equitable place through music.

The Hear Us, Hear Them ensemble aims to celebrate, include, and promote BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, (dis)abled musicians, people of all identities and their musics. Artistic Director Mathurin-Cecil describes the group’s mission as “representing the voices of the unheard” and “normalizing” the inclusion of marginalized voices so that they become central to music performance and study rather than token additions. For more information about the ensemble and their virtual concert “We Are The Storm” on 11 July 2021, 5:00–6:00 PM, visit their website at Hear Us, Hear Them. That is museworthy.

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Rienzi Overture Deutsche Oper Berlin Directed by Philipp Stolzl, 2010

Degenerate Art Los Angeles County Museum, 1993


Gottfried Wagner
“On the Need to Debate Richard Wagner in an Open Society: How to Confront Wagner Today Beyond Glorification and Condemnation”
In Richard Wagner for the New Millennium: Essays in Music and Culture
Edited by Matthew Bribitzer-Stull, Alex Lubet, and Gottfried Wagner
Palgrave Macmillan, 2007: 3–24

Richard Wagner
“Judaism in Music”
In The Theatre, Richard Wagner’s Prose Works 3
Translated by William Ashton Ellis
Broude Brothers, 1966. Originally published in 1896: 79–100

A.j. Goldmann
“A ‘Gay Jewish Kangaroo’ Takes on Wagner at Bayreuth”
New York Times, 24 July 2017. Accessed 30 June 2021
A Gay Jewish Kangaroo Takes on Wagner at Bayreuth New York Times 24 July 2017.

Barry Millington
“Nuremberg Trial: Is There Anti-Semitism in Die Meistersinger?”
Cambridge Opera Journal 3 (1991): 247–60

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