Ed Sarath -



Bridging Tradition and Change, Sustaining Breadth and Excellence, Assuming Global Multi-Cultural Leadership

Diversity in Musical Academe (DMA) is a joint initiative of the International Society for Improvised Music and the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan.  The purpose of the DMA project is to sustain dialogue and generate practical initiatives that help the field of musical study expand its demographic and creative horizons in response to the ever-expanding horizons of the contemporary musical landscape.

The project may be summarized in terms of three basic principles:

  1. Music is ubiquitous among the world’s cultures and unmatched in its capacities to inspire, inform, and catalyze diversity efforts in education and society.  The diversity of the musical landscape is a direct reflection of the diversity of the global cross-cultural landscape.
  1. Academic musical study, however,  finds itself conspicuously distanced from the overarching diversity of musical practice and the world at large, thus limiting its capacities to assume a much-needed leadership in the diversity movement  both within and beyond the arts.
  1. Through constructive dialogue and carefully-planned initiatives for reform, a more diversified student and faculty population combined with an expanded approach to musical study will cultivate a skill and aptitude set that enables musicians to not only move freely across wide ranging contemporary genres, but also penetrate deeply into those areas of the musical world—including the treasures of the past that lie at the heart of all traditions—that are most meaningful and fulfilling to their artistic development.


Even after a half-century of appeals for reform, musical academe remains immune to the foundational kinds of change needed if musical study is to adequately align itself with the musical world.  While the counter-argument is sometimes made to the effect that—with the addition in recent decades of coursework and programs in jazz, music technology, popular music, and world music—the field has indeed achieved a fair degree of diversity, this overlooks the important fact that hands-on engagement in these newer areas is usually relegated to the curricular fringes.  The majority of music majors continues to graduate with little or no direct contact with music outside the European classical tradition and its offshoots.  The problem is not European classical music, the beauty and importance of which is beyond dispute, but the extent to which it has assumed centrality, at the expense of much other beautiful and important music.

The guiding impetus for the DMA initiative is the conviction that the expansion of the horizons of musical study need not be seen as a threat or compromise to the conventional  model, but as a means for enabling the entire field to take its next evolutionary strides.  A key principle here is that the core creative and integrative processes of improvisation and composition provide a comprehensive and integrated foundation that, when complemented by rigorous training in performance and various areas of craft and musical understanding (e.g. theory, aural skills, history, aesthetics, cognition), enable a kind of musicianship that enables musicians to thrive in whatever  areas of music-making they might choose.  Through the synergistic interplay of these diverse areas, a skill set emerges that enables the wide-ranging engagement called for in our times as well as an awareness of the interior workings of music that illuminates both the profound connecting threads, as well as rich distinctions, that run across the many lineages that comprise the global musical landscape.

If progress in this direction is to be made, a new kind of dialogue is needed, one that diffuses the tensions between the contrasting musical worldviews that prevail with informed, nuanced, and unifying perspectives.  The fact that an improvisation/composition-based approach is, perhaps ironically, both strongly rooted in the European tradition—Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Lizst and many of the musicians of their times were improvisers-composers—as well as contemporary practice provides an important point of departure for productive dialogue.  Also needed are corresponding practical initiatives, including new curricular models that bridge conventional and new terrain, as well as strategies for diversifying student and faculty constituencies.

Through a multi-pronged approach to diversity, a new era in musical study will be possible in which music schools continue their long-standing mission of preserving the treasures of the European past as well as fully embrace the multitude of contemporary developments.

The second DMA Think Tank will be held on Dec 4, 2010 at the University of Michigan, ,     Rackham Building, 4th Floor, West Conference Room, 9am-1pm

Please consider joining us in this exciting and important work.

Practical initiatives:

DMA Think Tanks

These annual events bring together colleagues from different institutions to probe

the opportunities and challenges related to diversifying musical study.  The first

DMA Think Tank took place at the University of California, Santa Cruz in December 2009.  The second Think Tank will be held on December 4, 2010, from 9-1pm at the University of Michigan.

DMA Curricular Task Force

This group is charged with exploring areas in the conventional music curriculum in

which openings for expansion might be identified.  This task force also explores

possibilities for new models of coursework and overall curricular structure.

DMA Demographic Task Force

This group explores ways in which student and faculty populations may be made more diverse.

Other DMA activities involve assessment of diversity indicators (e.g. curricular, faculty and student demographics, tenure and promotion representation) nationally and internationally, and alliances with diversity offices and initiatives across fields, within education and government.

For more information, please contact:

Professor Ed Sarath

School of Music, Theatre, and Dance

The University of Michigan

Fellow, National Center for Institutional Diversity

Founder and President, International Society for Improvised Music

Phone: 734-995-0239

Email: sarahara@umich.edu