Aaron Dworkin is a multi-media performing artist, author, social entrepreneur, artist-citizen, and educator. He is Professor of Arts Leadership and Entrepreneurship at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He is also founder of the Sphinx Organization.

I grew up listening (in part because of my white adoptive parents) to Simon and Garfunkel’s debut album, Wednesday Morning3AM, which had come out in 1966, four years before my birth. One of its songs that resonated with lasting impact upon me was the well-known “Sound of Silence,” which Paul Simon shared, in an interview with Terry Gross, came from his post-adolescent angst of feeling like “nobody’s listening to me, nobody’s listening to anyone.” Some of my favorite lyrics from it are:

“Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you. But my words like silent raindrops fell. And echoed in the wells of silence.”

In the world of classical music, Black and Brown people have been speaking for decades to try to teach the field why their musical voices are important. We have made overtures to industry powers and engage them with their artistry. But despite these individual efforts, and even the efforts of collectives such as the Sphinx Organization, our words have fallen mutely, drowned out by the homogenous offerings within the magnificent concert halls that grace the landscape of our nation. Perhaps this is the time. Perhaps it will take the brazen murder of a human being in broad daylight on a public street to catalyze our leaders. Through this tragedy, I sense the ears of those heads are finally turned, bending to the voices whose words may have been heard previously but their meaning and import ignored. In this moment (for we are only in a moment and it, like all things, shall pass us by eventually), I use my voice to call for action, not understanding. I call for change, not contemplation. I call for immediate determination, not indeterminate obfuscation and delay. I call for commitment to a cause, not committees to review case studies. I call my fellow administrators in the arts to task, and not to form a task force.

Less than one percent of all of the music performed by all American orchestras is by a composer of color. I call for every single orchestra in America to have a minimum of 10 percent of their subscription series programming be classical music by Black or Latinx composers (groups representing more than thirty percent of the total population). Is this possible to do immediately? Yes. Is it simple? Yes, and permit me to explain. In terms of decision-making, in an orchestra, there are two ultimate leaders, the president (administrative leader) and the music director (artistic leader). In any American orchestra, those two people can come together and decide to implement this immediately with their next round of programming. Are there various committees and constituencies within the orchestra whom they should consult on how to implement that decision? Yes. Could their Board of Directors fire them for making this decision? Yes, but would you please tell me which Board of Directors of an American orchestra is going to fire its music director and president because they decided to have 10 percent of their music be by representatives of those who reflect more than 30 percent of the overall population and more than 50 percent in most major cities?

Given that the decision-making process can happen quickly and decisively, I want to address the other primary excuse I have often heard. Is there really music by Black and Latinx composers of high quality out there? This is, of course, a farcical question; however, it should be answered despite its questionable intent. Yes, there is high-quality music out there and far more music than could ever consume 10 percent of any orchestra’s programming. Not only that, let’s assume you are having trouble identifying that music or curating it (though what orchestra wants to admit that it is unable to curate its own music?) There are actually myriad resources to solve said problem and provide curated lists of potential composers and/or works from which to choose. The Sphinx Organization and Gateways Music Festival (whose founding precedes Sphinx’s) are just a few of the places to start.

Finally, for those who will inquire: is this a quota? No, but I don’t care if some may feel that it is, and as such, may be bothered by that construct. Is it a metric by which one can measure their responsiveness to their community? Absolutely. You call yourself your city’s orchestra? Then be your city’s orchestra. Otherwise you should rename yourself in accordance with your practiced priorities, not your politically correct but unrealized aspirations. And our funding community should utilize this metric as a determinant of “best practice” for the field and incorporate it along with their other criteria in making resource decisions for their applicants.

Ultimately, I may come across a bit harsh or direct and likely some of my peers who serve as the leaders of our famed orchestras may be a bit taken aback by my perceived tone. I suggested these very things from the stage of Carnegie Hall in 2013, and incremental change has occurred in our field since. However, in response to that speech, I was also called (amongst many other things) “darkie” and told, “Mr. Dworkin, it was the white man who created classical music while the black man in Africa was stretching skins across hollow logs.” I also received death threats. Policing in our nation has evolved incrementally as well since then, but clearly that was not enough. Why on Earth would we think that incremental change would be sufficient in our field, which provides the platform for our artistic expression to one another?

After spending a lifetime feeling like your words have fallen like silent raindrops, there comes a point at which you must speak in a manner to be heard. And if you speak within the wells of silence that have existed far too long in the classical music world, they might just echo a bit.

A figure in black with bright purple arms reaches inward with a pencil and paintbrush to create shapes and lines inside the body of the figure.

This essay is part of CREATIVE FUTURES, a series of provocations by thinkers across the arts, documentary, and journalism on how to reimagine their sectors.