The School of Music has been in the spotlight a bit recently, what with housing a sexual predator for 20-odd years to the point where they held the title of Head of School. And if that wasn’t bad enough, this was not the first institution he facilitated this behaviour in. Everybody in the School seemed to know about the rumours, if not actual details. I myself was privy to the rumours in my first year as a music student in 2019; I remember the conversations my newly-formed group of friends had about these rumours and about how commonplace it was to talk about them. And now, in light of what we now know, no-one wants to talk about it, like saying anything will damn them from Music. So with all of these dynamics at play, I find myself reconsidering my own choice of degree and career path.
Let me be clear: this is by no means the first time I’ve had a panic about if I’m on the right path or doing what makes me happy, that happens every other week. But this feels different, I’m no longer holding myself back from feeling and talking about the bad parts of my studies. The rose-coloured glasses are well and truly off. Not only has the university and Music School’s recent enlightening cover-up brought me to considering my place in music as a woman, and as a person who grew up in South Auckland not at all surrounded by classical music, but it has also brought me to terms with the fact that, as a disabled person, music does not want me.
The University in general is not known for its accessibility or inclusivity. Unfortunately, having to settle for a more difficult time comes with being a marginalised person in society, but I’ve been noticing more and more things that require me to take an extra step to remain equal with my classmates. Even things I gave the school the benefit of the doubt on, like having to figure my way around course material and assignments so I can actually engage with them, or having no female musicians in the material, or having no kinds of differing music to diversify tastes, even something as simple as clapping or snapping a rhythm; I am now seeing how simple those things are to think about and take note of.
Honestly, I can’t help but feel that the Music School is a wormhole to the 19th century, that no-one has been able to update their opinions and priorities in 2021. This is also not a problem exclusive to this one school in this one university; this seems to affect the whole fields of musicology, classical music and, yes, even the ~progressive utopia~ that is the mainstream music industry. The surface-level problems with this should be obvious, but there’s a deeper issue at play here: if people like myself who do not react well to the current system get pushed out, then there is no necessity to change or be more inclusive, and the cycle just continues for eternity.
And let me tell you, it’s hard to feel like you belong when your existence was not expected or wanted. No matter how much I try to interact with the material or convince myself that this hardship is worth the end goal, I still keep feeling deflated and feeling as though the point is that I’m being pushed out, that they don’t want to give me the benefit of the doubt.
On a slight upside, from what I hear the change in leadership has been beneficial, at least in the short term, in terms of starting the process of righting some accessibility wrongs of the Music building, and I think, if continued, that sounds promising for future musicians who come through the doors. I can’t help but wonder how many have already been pushed out, if this is the bare minimum too late, and with the speed of societal shifts, how many will actually be able to take advantage of not settling anymore or feel accommodated by the system.
So, unfortunately, this recent news is just showcasing the kind of environment that the School of Music cultivates and sits in, that both the university and the music industry had help in creating. It’s only a single drop in an ocean of superiority, exclusivity, and bias, and the people seeing through it are drowning.