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Artistic voices for tragic times: A message from Dean Robert Blocker

Sprague Memorial Hall exterior

Dear YSM community,

In this time of pain, anger, and grief, I write to you who share these and many other emotions with our African American colleagues and friends at YSM and throughout the world. Regrettably, it is a moment when we are apart and unable to express our feelings either musically or personally, unable to cry with each other, and unable to create musical elegies and tributes together.

To witness the cold-blooded murder of Mr. George Floyd, even on television, was terrifying. To see the vacant emptiness in the eyes of Officer Derek Chauvin with his knee pressed on Mr. Floyd’s neck was horrifying. To sense the utter helplessness of a human being pleading for his life, for a gasp of air, was maddening. To observe three other policemen who assisted in this murder and intimidated bystanders was incomprehensible. But to even try and imagine the incalculable loss of George Floyd to his family and friends is inconceivable.

The binding shackles of oppression on ships that sailed from Africa to America centuries ago are now bolted to us, to our society. Especially for African Americans, these shackles have been held secure by fear instilled from the corruption of power and wealth along with a litany of unanswered actions that disregard the sanctity of human life and dignity. We all know that systemic racism is endemic in institutions, among them government, business, and education.

As this tragedy unfolded, the School had begun a Strategic Planning Initiative to look ahead in the next five to seven years. Some of the most engaging and meaningful conversations have centered on diversity in its many dimensions. We will always continue to question and examine our practices, seeking understanding and insight that prevents all vestiges of racism in our work. And our renewed commitment to making YSM a welcoming home for African American colleagues – and indeed all people of color – will create an environment where all musical impulses can be heard with zealous curiosity and appreciation.

Our music can and must speak to these conditions, whether strains of solace or rhythmic pulsations of protest. The artist’s sensitivities and sensibilities are commentaries on what we can do to break and destroy the ancient shackles of shameful racism. Never before has the artistic voice been more important. Now is the time to begin anew at home, here at YSM.

I look forward to speaking with you in our zoom meetings, and I thank you for the many ways you help heal our world.

Warmest regards,

Robert Blocker
The Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music