by Jenna Spinelle
The Recording Inclusivity Initiative (RII) from All Classical Portland, winner of the 2021 Local That Works competition, is a project that addresses the gap of classical compositions written by composers from communities historically excluded in classical music. This initiative prioritizes compositions that have never been professionally recorded.
The idea for the initiative developed in 2017, and formal planning began in 2019. A call for nominations went out to the local Portland community as well as the global audience of All Classical Portland listeners in early 2021, resulting in nearly 100 nominations. An expert panel narrowed those nominations down to five recipients whose works were to be recorded at Bodecker Foundation’s state-of-the-art recording studio in Portland, Oregon. Of the five composers named as recipients, three are living contemporary artists who received co-residencies at All Classical Portland and Bodecker Foundation as part of their award; the other two compositions were posthumous. The recordings from these composers will be released in 2022.
The RII organizers deliberately built-in a long runway for the planning process, and being thoughtful about every step of the process allowed for greater success in the long run. All Classical Portland plans to expand RII to public media stations across the country, with a goal of reaching 50 stations by the end of 2023.
Organization Background: All Classical Portland is a classical radio station based in Portland, Oregon. It was established in 1983 to advance knowledge of and appreciation for classical music; to build and sustain culturally vibrant local and global communities around this art form; to reflect the spirit of the Pacific Northwest; and to foster integrity, quality, and innovation. All Classical Portland has listeners and contributors in all 50 states and more than 100 countries around the world.
All Classical Portland created RII in partnership with the Bodecker Foundation to provide classical composers from under-represented backgrounds with the resources they needed to create and distribute high-quality recordings. Over time, organizers hope RII will serve as a resource hub for composers and musicians from historically excluded communities in classical music — women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ identifying, people living with disabilities, or communities having experienced other severely limiting institutionalized inequities — to connect with funding and performance opportunities, as well as a project that public media stations across the United States can replicate.
All Classical Portland submitted nine grant applications to support RII. Five of those were funded, marking more than a 55% success rate. The project’s largest supporter is the Bodecker Foundation, which also provided its state-of-the-art recording studios in Northwest Portland. Other funders included the Oregon Cultural Trust, IBEW Local 48, the Sorel Organization, and the Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland.
Tools & Technology
The All Classical Portland team created a website to provide information about RII and collect nominations. Prior to the opening of the nomination period, the team also created a resource guide for panel members and other ambassadors in the classical music community locally, nationally, and globally to share with their networks to help spread the word about the initiative. The toolkit included social media graphics, talking points, email templates, and more to make sharing information about RII as convenient and effective as possible.
Five professional-quality recordings will be released in 2022 and distributed by the Navona label at PARMA Recordings, Naxos Records, and All Classical Portland. The three living composers selected as finalists also received a week-long residency at All Classical Portland and Bodecker Foundation, and a $2500 award. All Classical Portland’s team will continue to share resources and funding opportunities with those who applied for RII but were not selected as finalists, including providing their information to other stations who are launching their regional RIIs.
After completing RII fundraising, nomination, judging, and recording processes over the past year, All Classical Portland is building a how-to kit that it will share with other public radio stations across the country as part of a nationwide challenge to increase inclusivity in classical music. RII will continue to raise awareness about the diversity and equity deficit in classical music and change America’s playlist by amplifying and celebrating the music of underrepresented composers and musicians.
Here’s How it Happened
RII grew out of All Classical Portland’s JOY (Joyous Outreach to You/th) project, which began in 2017 and includes the Internationals Children’s Arts Network (ICAN), “Where We Live,” a monthly radio series addressing the intersection of art and local social justice issues, and an Artist in Residence program. JOY presented opportunities for the station to identify representation gaps within classical music, and to focus energies on and off the airwaves to create a station — and a playlist — that more accurately reflects their community. If the recordings do not exist, they cannot be played on the radio.
With this in mind, the idea of RII was formed, and All Classical Portland decided to take direct action in the recording process, to bring the music of historically excluded communities including BIPOC, women, people living with disabilities, or other marginalized individuals, to life and to the airwaves. Conversations about the project began in 2017; fundraising, formal planning, and other back-end work started in 2019.
Nominations opened in January 2021 through an online nomination form created by All Classical Portland’s team. The team filtered out duplicate nominations and any other submissions that did not fit the initiative’s criteria, then gave the remaining submissions to the RII selection panel, which reviewed submissions. Chaired by flutist Adam Eccleston, with the support of four RII executive advisors, the panel included eight classical educators, musicians, recording professionals, and administrative support, the majority of whom are from backgrounds traditionally under-represented in the industry.
All Classical Portland provided the panel with guidelines on selecting diverse instrumentation and musical styles in addition to diversity of the composers themselves. With those guidelines in mind, each panelist selected their top 10 entries (five posthumous and five living composers). The panel then met in two, three-hour sessions to deliberate and ultimately choose 10 finalists; then from those ten, a final five were selected. The advisors also conducted interviews with living composers who would travel to the Bodecker Foundation’s studios for weeklong residencies. Finalists were announced in March and April 2021, and recipients were announced in May 2021.
The inaugural group of recipients was:
- Jasmine Barnes, a Baltimore-based composer, for Taking Names, a piece that lists names of Black Women and Black Trans Women who have died by racially motivated violence.
- Lauren McCall, a composer and music educator from Atlanta, for A Spark and a Glimmer, a composition inspired by visual artist Alison Saar’s sculpture installation Feallan and Fallow.
- Keyla Orozco, a Cuban composer, for her work Souvenirs, which was inspired by places she’s lived, including Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Caracas, New York, Washington DC, Havana, and Santiago de Cuba.
- Mélanie Bonis (1858-1937), a prolific French pianist, organist and composer who wrote more than 300 pieces, including works for piano solo and four hands, organ pieces, and chamber music.
- Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004), an African-American composer and conductor whose catalog includes ballets, film scores, vocal works, and chamber music; he was named after African-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
All Classical Portland initially thought that it would select two living composers and three posthumous recordings, but instead decided to honor three living composers and two posthumous recordings after reviewing the submissions and seeing that there was an urgent need to give contemporary composers an opportunity to put their music out to a wider audience.
Recording sessions took place from May through September 2021 at the Bodecker Foundation’s Halfling Studio in Portland. All musicians involved in the recordings were compensated for their time.
Here’s What Worked
1. Getting the word out
The ambassador toolkit All Classical Portland created to spread the word about RII nominations worked very well and led to a higher number of nominations than expected. It led to nominations from as far away as France and Cuba, a much bigger reach than All Classical Portland anticipated. Moving forward, the pieces in the toolkit can be easily modified by other stations that want to take a similar approach.
2. Taking the time meaningfully engage
All Classical Portland’s President & CEO Suzanne Nance and Communications and Operations Manager Kristina Becker also emphasized that taking several years to think through and plan RII was a significant contributor to its success. Organizers were not rushed to meet tight deadlines and could take the time they needed to consider sensitive cultural issues in a way that was truly equitable, respectful, and inclusive at every step of the process.
This approach was in some ways the opposite of a traditional public media approach, which is often driven by tight fundraising deadlines and somewhat spontaneous energy generated by new ideas and/or staff enthusiasm. Nance and Becker also reported that logistics like contracts and scheduling recording sessions took longer than they anticipated, so having a long runway was key. This also enabled them to thoroughly document each step of the process for use in the how-to kit.
Here’s What Could Have Worked Better
1. Being agile for the unexpected
When planning for the RII rollout began in 2019, there was no way to know that its first year would happen during a global pandemic. COVID-19 restrictions limited the number of musicians who could be in the recording studio at the same time and forced the panel’s meetings online. Being unable to accommodate larger ensembles did limit the types of pieces that could be nominated, but there was no way to do that safely and still meet the project’s timeline for releasing the recordings and rolling the program out nationwide.
Here’s What Else You Should Know
All Classical Portland hopes to recruit at least 25 stations to RII in 2022 and another 25 in 2023. KMFA in Austin has already agreed to participate. All Classical Portland will pause its own participation in RII in 2022 while it focuses on recruiting and mentoring stations across the country.
The Recording Inclusivity Initiative (RII) was named the winner of Current’s 2021 Local that Works contest! RII was selected out of over 100 public service media organizations from across the United States, and voted the winner at Current’s Grand Finale on November 9, 2021.
For more information on the Recording Inclusivity Initiative from All Classical Portland, visit https://recordinginclusivity.allclassical.org/.