Norges musikkhøgskole Norwegian Academy of Music
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Conversations on Diversity, Equality and the Academy’s Future Identity

At the Norwegian Academy of Music, inclusive conversations about diversity and identity are part of our institutional democracy. The Academy conserves and carries on musical traditions and heritage, but it is also an arena for innovation and experimentation. The music education we provide will continue to change because musical culture, the music industry and student populations change.

On Wednesday 21 April, students and faculty hosted an open panel discussion on topics related to racial inequality and music history, traditions and repertoire taught at the Academy. The virtual event was part of STUDENT Talks and CEMPE Talks, conversation series that discuss ideas and topics relevant to students, faculty and music professionals.

The topics and questions discussed at this event are also relevant in relation to the Academy’s diversity and equality policies. Encouraging such open conversations is one of several initiatives that aim to increase awareness of diversity and (in)equality. This event posed questions such as: Is there racism at the Academy; and if so, how is it experienced? How can students, faculty and staff contribute to preventing discrimination and racism, and challenge the supremacy of white, western music culture?

Ahead of the event, Donytt published a student essay on the subject, titled “We are the musicians of tomorrow! Let’s influence!”. The essay, written by one of the initiators behind the event, argues for decolonising the curriculum by including a wider range of perspectives, to ensure a more inclusive understanding of music and its social roles.

“This is not about eliminating any traditions, histories or repertoire, it’s about supplementing, enriching and challenging”

Astrid Kvalbein, newly elected principal

Tradition and innovation

The Academy conserves, studies and carries on musical traditions and repertoire, in particular of classical, jazz and traditional Norwegian music. But the Academy is also a site of experimentation, creation and innovation, where students become adept at performing, creating and merging many different musical styles and expressions. As such, the Academy has both conservational and innovative functions. Music education is constantly evolving because the student population, society and the music industry change. Discussions on renewing curricula and updating both reading lists and repertoires happen continuously. To be conscious of the perspectives and traditions that frame the education we provide is essential in order to keep up with developments in society and in music.

“One could say the Academy has been through processes of decolonisation before. Launching the jazz and traditional music programmes, in the 1980s and ‘90s, was a kind of decolonising. In this sense, it’s something we work on all the time,” says Astrid Kvalbein, newly elected principal for the 2021-2025 period. Kvalbein was also part of the group that organised the debate. She emphasises the importance that the Academy both reflects our diverse music cultures and is mindful of the obligation to provide students with examples and role models they can identify with.

“This is not about eliminating any traditions, histories or repertoire, it’s about supplementing, enriching and challenging,” says Kvalbein.

"We need to be conscious of our blind spots and take responsibility for examining our own attitudes and practices”

Astrid Kvalbein, newly elected principal

Everyday racism

Some panel participants described how they are sometimes met with assumptions and opinions about their backgrounds, preferences and professional roles on the basis of skin colour. While such assumptions and expressions might not be intended to discriminate or undermine, they often have those effects.

“There is not always a connection between intention and effect. But we need to be conscious of our blind spots and take responsibility for examining our own attitudes and practices,” says Kvalbein.

Conversations continue

This is a discussion that will continue, in open fora. Such discussions and debates do not represent a dramatic confrontation with the past or our musical traditions. Conversations about the future of NMH belong to and are prompted by our students, faculty, administration and partners in music communities and education. Kvalbein will work to maintain a culture of openness and dialogue when she takes up the position of principal next term:

“We will strengthen efforts to promote equality and diversity. We heartily welcome these conversations, and I look forward discussing such topics further with students and staff.”

(The next STUDENT Talks and CEMPE Talks, on 6 May, will discuss gender equality.)