Opinion: What’s in a composer’s last name—and first name?

Posted on: October 28, 2020

“There will be a time when we’ll go to concerts again…. The conductor will walk onto the stage to introduce the program. They might talk about Beethoven, Schumann, and Bartók. And they might talk about Alma Mahler, Florence Price, Henry Burleigh, and Caroline Shaw,” writes Chris White in Saturday’s (10/24) Slate.com. “Many of us, used to the conventions of classical performance, will hardly notice the difference: ‘traditional’ white male composers being introduced with only surnames, full names for everyone else, especially women and composers of color. The habitual, two-tiered way we talk about classical composers is ubiquitous…. But ubiquity doesn’t make something right. It’s time we paid attention to the inequity inherent in how we talk about composers…. Going forward, we need to ‘fullname’ all composers when we write, talk, and teach about music…. When we say, ‘Tonight, you’ll be hearing symphonies by Johannes Brahms and Edmond Dédé,’ we’re linguistically treating both composers as being equally worthy of attention. And while fullnaming might seem like a small act in the face of centuries of harm and injustice, by adopting a stance of referential egalitarianism, fullnaming … will challenge us to at the very least afford the same respect to all of the individuals whose music we talk and write about.”