CASP can do better. Black Lives Matter.

Canadian Art Song Project was founded in 2011 by myself and Steven Philcox – two white guys, a tenor and a collaborative pianist at the beginning of our careers hoping to give the Canadian composers of art song repertoire a platform with concerts, recordings and commissions etc. 

When we began, our primary goal was to commission, perform and record quality Canadian repertoire that needed a champion in the hopes that students, teachers and other artists would discover the music and give these works more performances. As the years have gone by, we realized that we also had a duty to highlight the work of artists across the country (not just Ontario) and a variety of voices that have been marginalized historically and in our contemporary society – women, Indigenous peoples, refugees, and others who are underrepresented as a result of systemic disadvantage.

Last summer CASP hosted a podcast discussion with mezzo-soprano Marion Newman and composer Ian Cusson on issues around the appropriation of Indigenous peoples’ songs and stories in Canadian art music and art song specifically. What I was reminded then, in preparation for that conversation, is that my privilege as a white, heterosexual, Christian, middle-aged man can blind me to things that I have a responsibility to understand more fully and that in creating something called Canadian Art Song Project, we have a responsibility to do more to reflect the spectrum of Canadian life experiences in our work through art song. We have tried to do this over the ten years of our existence, but CASP can do better.

I recall a conversation that I had a couple of years ago with an American colleague and friend whom I respect and admire. We were discussing issues of race in society and in the music industry. At the end of the conversation I was feeling unsettled due to my inherent privilege. This individual, who is Black and born in the US South, pointed out that it was good for me to feel unsettled. It was not his responsibility to make me feel better. It was good for me to sit with being uncomfortable. And he was right. Being uncomfortable results in change.

I’m uncomfortable again. I’m uncomfortable because prior to this moment I did not know any Black Canadian composers of art song and CASP has yet to commission any works by Black composers or talk with any Black artists on our podcast. There are also currently no individuals of colour on our Board of Directors. This isn’t intentional, but it is currently the reality. Being an ally means being proactive and not waiting to be called upon to act.

CASP will do better. I will do better. Black Lives Matter.

Lawrence Wiliford,
Tenor and co-Artistic Director, Canadian Art Song Project

Three months ago the world seemed to stop rotating on its axis, paralyzed by the fear and horror of a global pandemic. COVID-19 forced us to take a step back and, through the lens of an imposed quarantine, question our understanding of everything. This mysterious “slow motion” existence and immediate separation from each other has required all of us to take time, reflect and consider the world around us… not only an unexpected gift but a necessary shift in our collective consciousness. Through it all we have seen the best qualities of humanity shine through: compassion, generosity, empathy, selflessness, resilience and a deeper connection to our oneness. Perhaps it is the convergence of all these things that has allowed the recent tragic and needless deaths of members of the world’s BIPOC community to permeate us to the core in a way that is shamefully long overdue and to force an examination of such ugliness and our individual places within it.

At Canadian Art Song Project, we tell stories; it is the very essence and potent beauty of song in all its forms. Throughout history song has been a powerful ally to the voice of protest or critical social commentary. In light of recent events and the public outcry for systemic change I’m looking at the work of CASP with new eyes. If we are indeed story-tellers, our responsibility is to support that process for ALL peoples. As a nation, we pride ourselves on our diversity but we have a long way to go before we can call ourselves inclusive. I acknowledge my part in perpetuating these grievous patterns of underrepresentation and echo the statement of Lawrence Wiliford that with regards to our BIPOC community our work is gravely lacking, not just in terms of our commissioning output, but in engendering an environment of inclusivity at every level of our organization. I pledge to be an active, driving force in rectifying this and in creating a platform where all voices are heard. CASP is committed to change. We want to change.

The path ahead is not straightforward. We may falter and make mistakes. Please hold us accountable and share your ideas as we continue to move forward.

Steven Philcox,
Collaborative Pianist and co-Artistic Director, Canadian Art Song Project