Growing up as a mixed race teenager in Hertfordshire, a talented and promising pianist and clarinettist, Elizabeth de Brito, felt completely disengaged from the world of classical music as it was being presented to her: “surrounded by nothing but white men.” Feeling marginalised and ignored, she spent 12 years completely away from classical music until she started to find the hidden composers with whom she could identify, composers like Cécile Chaminade, William Grant Still, Chen Yi, Florence Price, Tania León, Mari Iijima, Galina Ustvolskaya, Ruth Gipps, Maria Szymanowska, Karen Tanaka and Anna Thorvaldsdottir.
It was, she told the Music Works podcast, the moment when she grew up. She also knew she had to do something to address this glaring imbalance.
“I went out searching for all these female composers and black composers, and all these people, that I’d never heard of… [ and I thought] I’m in a position to create change now.”
By then Elizabeth had a background in radio and so creating a radio show was the obvious next step. The Daffodil Perspective was born with the declared mission to give a platform to all those brilliant overlooked composers who had been effectively written out of the repertoire.
She knew that she had to move beyond the kind of tokenism that saw the occasional performance or broadcast satisfying what programmers and promoters saw as new pressures to increase diversity. Her avowed aim was to bring those composers into the mainstream, challenging the very idea of what constitutes the perceived “core repertoire.”
“If you play Beethoven 100 times over the course of the year and you’re playing one black female composer, there’s something not right there…It’s not about just fitting it in and bringing people to the table, it’s creating a different table where there is space for all these different people and all these different voices.”
The logic is straightforward: if you add in all these female, black, Asian and other ethnic minority composers, that immediately expands access to the range of music out there. And by making this music more accessible that gives more people more of a choice to be interested in classical music.
It should be a win-win, but challenging prevailing attitudes can be hard. Promoters often have fixed ideas about what their audiences like or will tolerate and fight shy of anything that seems unknown or new. There’s also the prejudice against contemporary or modern music as hard to listen to, atonal and difficult to engage with as well as a general lack of knowledge and understanding out there.
To combat this, Elizabeth also offers repertoire consultancy to help anyone who wants to make their programming more inclusive, but doesn’t know where to begin.
As she says: “[if] you’re not serving the whole population…who are you serving?”
You can find out more about Elizabeth’s work here: http://www.thedaffodilperspective.com, and also listen to The Daffodil Perspective by following the link below. We guarantee you’ll be blown away by the resources she offers and come away with a whole new and enriched perception of the music that is out there. These composers are only overlooked and unheard if we don’t see them or listen to their music, and, thanks to Elizabeth de Brito, we now have no excuse for that.
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