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A New Music Exam Board

To all the music lovers,

Since George Floyd’s murder on 25th May 2020, there has been increased scrutiny on how issues of systemic racism are dealt with in many institutions and industries across the world. The Black Lives Matter movement, as well as other initiatives, articles and videos, have once again highlighted issues of representation and diversity. The music industry is not immune from this criticism, and as such, changes must be implemented to ensure that 2020 does not become a year of tokenistic solidarity gestures.

While the research available on diversity in classical music is fairly limited, the existing evidence is both conclusive and damning. A King’s College report entitled ‘Equality and Diversity in the Classical Music Profession', highlights the lack of representation throughout the industry. The report concluded that of 629 orchestral players, only 11 (1.7%) could be identified to be from a Black and Minority Ethnic background.

There have also been calls via a petition and an open letter to Government demanding that there be more black composers included on the ABRSM exam board, and calls for action to address institutional change. New research into the ABRSM’s new syllabus, revealed that only 1% of pieces in the 2021-2023 newly published syllabus had music composed by black composers. All of this research highlights the lack of diversity within music examinations, a trend that has become all too common.

The vision is a simple one - the creation of a new exam board that pursues musical excellence with equality, diversity and inclusion at its core. It is important to lead by example, and this exam board will do that by:

  • Commissioning marginalised groups and individuals (such as LGBTQ+ and those with physical disabilities) to compose music for a new exam syllabus.

  • Train and employ examiners from all backgrounds.

  • Removing the socio-economic barriers to formal musical certification.

  • Introduce selected certified music technology programs.

  • Formally recognise the skill of playing and improvising by ear.

  • Include other genres of music such as afrobeat, hip-hop, gospel and bhangra.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

While we recognise that the creation of such an institute will take time to implement, we need to start somewhere. In the words of Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We encourage other exam boards to continue to address the equality and representation issues that many people have been writing, talking and petitioning about for years.

We are grateful for the support of great musicians, thinkers and activists such as Dr Diljeet Bhachu, Cleveland Watkiss MBE, Grace Healy and others at this embryonic stage of development. We will continue to work hard, and plan to provide new and improved examinations in the near future.

Many thanks and stay safe.

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