This Is Carolina: CCU music class changes tune to inspire diversity

“Everyone can create music. Anyone can create music. At this point you just have to find it...”
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 6:39 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - From velvety notes to more upbeat ones, classical music tells a story. But, some Coastal Carolina University music students believe they tell the same story.

“A lot of music that we play in our repertoire is dead, old white men and as fun as that is, we learn a lot from it. However, it’s time for something new,” said Diamond Gaston.

“I get that I have to play Mozart and everything but what about other people? Where are the women in the music that I’m playing?” asked Hailey Cornell.

Now, a class from the Edwards College Center for Inclusive Excellence is changing that tune.

Twenty-one-year-old senior clarinetist Cornell said she and a few other music research fellows voiced their concerns to their professor back in 2020 and a couple of years later, they created The Representatoire Project.

“It focuses on representation, so the people, and the repertoire is the music that the people are playing. So, it sort of snowballed into okay, well, how come we do not see ourselves often represented in the music that we’re playing,” said Cornell.

For 22-year-old senior flutist Diamond Gaston, it was important to see someone who looks like her. She grew up loving band thanks to her big sister but said hearing music from Imani Winds Quintet and seeing a picture of its founder in sixth grade, is what truly inspired her to play the flute.

“I saw someone who looked like me which is being Valerie Coleman, a flute player. A Black, African American flute player who looked like me, so then I just started doing my research about her and found out she was a composer and I was interested in learning more about her,” said Gaston.

The Representatoire Project has given the class incredible opportunities so far because they’re now playing and speaking with relatable women composers. They even invited Gaston’s idol, accomplished composer Valerie Coleman, to play on campus for a sold out master recital.

“I’m still on cloud nine. I just can’t believe that it actually happened. We’ve been preparing for a year plus so to know that the moment actually happened. It’s real and she was here and she was such an amazing person. It’s very exciting to know that I got that experience here at this university,” said Gaston.

“That’s proof that if we allow more people into this country club that we call music, the entire creative ecosystem that we live in will just expand. Nobody loses,” said CCU Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Eric Schultz.

Schultz has spearheaded this project and recently took it a step further by getting the university’s diversity council to fund their entire Valerie Coleman library, so students can hear her music for free.

“I’ve had many experiences as somebody who commissions new music all the time, playing music by many different people including composers from my own community, and so that’s really where the project was born, and I realized we have to do solve this, we have to do something now,” he said.

Schultz said there isn’t an end goal in mind, but rather a continuous process to make sure all stories are told through the music they play.

“This is just so overdue. It’s time and I’m just so grateful for the support,” said Schultz.

And for seniors Cornell and Gaston, they said they’re proud of their class and look forward to leaving it on a high note.

“There’s so many people who are here to support you, that want to support you and help you in your journey,” said Gaston.

“Everyone can create music. Anyone can create music. At this point, you just have to find it and the hardest step is just taking the courage to start learning it,” said Cornell.