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Inspiring musical achievement for everyone

2 years ago

Like many organisations, ABRSM came under the spotlight this summer following the Black Lives Matter protests and the murder of George Floyd.  It was more than a wake up call for us. It made us fundamentally rethink who we are as an organisation and the enormous influence and reach of the music we publish and include on our syllabuses.  

We were already on a journey to make our syllabuses and the music we publish more inclusive of underrepresented composers. But the summer has given us focus and an absolute determination to take further action and commit to targets. We are also well aware that our journey is about responsibility, on the one hand, and humility on the other. 

As a global organisation present in over 90 countries, we have an enormous duty to deliver assessments of exacting standards, issuing certificates that carry with them the mark of quality that gives music learners the confidence to know that they are on a pathway of achievement. The criteria for the selection of music for those syllabuses are detailed and complex as they should be. But, for far too long the pool of composers from which we select has not been diverse enough in many of the musical areas we assess. Our Diversity and Inclusion Plan is a core, permanent commitment which promotes opportunity or everyone regardless of disability, age, sexual orientation, gender, or ethnicity. Our definition of ethnicity is closely aligned with the BBIPOC definition (Black, Brown, and Indigenous People of Colour) but goes further to reflect the range of nuanced definitions that exist across the 90 plus countries in which we operate.

Our responsibility, therefore, is to open up the pipeline of work from which we select, from composers living and dead. This does not just mean seeking advice from experts from Black, ethnically diverse and underrepresented groups on where we might find this music. It means commissioning new work. It means working with publishers to influence their choices. And it also means supporting and encouraging the next generation of composers and ensuring they have the keys to the detail and complexity of what makes it on to the syllabuses.   

This is why our Diversity and Inclusion Plan includes an Active Commissioning Programme to commission at least twenty new pieces for publication each year and a target that 50% of new works included on our syllabuses will be sought from composers who are from Black, Brown and Indigenous People of Colour (BBIPOC) backgrounds. As each syllabus is updated, we are now committing that 20% of all syllabus content (including new commissions, arrangements, and existing works) will be written by composers who are from BBIPOC backgrounds.

 It is also why we are announcing a new Mentorship and Development for Composers scheme that, by 2030, will have supported 100 composers specifically from underrepresented groups to write for music education.

But our diversity and inclusion journey is just as much about humility. We know we cannot do this alone. We know we must build lasting relationships with those who can help us. And we know we may stumble along the way.  For me, humility is about having the ability to recognise when we get it wrong and that we should defer to others when we need help. Our partnerships as we go forward are the difference between this being an empty promise and a transformative commitment. So, we must be open and transparent. We must welcome challenge.

Today, we are publishing a Progress Update on our Diversity and Inclusion Plan. We are going to do this every three months and make it available to everyone. We will also publish an Annual Statement on Diversity and Inclusion alongside our Annual Report and Accounts. We will be honest where we have work to do and we aim to celebrate the positive ways in which the organisation, its publications and syllabuses are changing. As we take these important steps, I would like to welcome any comments and suggestions you may have.

I have always said that it is our mission to inspire musical achievement for everyone. Today marks a step change in how we bring that mission to life.



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