In a panel discussion, EBCP winners Trevor Weston, Sumi Tonooka, and Jonathan Bingham shared their stories and answered student questions.
By Mark Taylor
Making music is not about winning awards, but getting your music heard and your story told. That was just one piece of advice winners of the Emerging Black Composers Project (EBCP) had for students during a panel discussion at SFCM.
The EBCP is a ten-year commitment by SFCM to spotlight early-career Black American composers and their music. The winners included in the panel were composers Trevor Weston, Sumi Tonooka, and Jonathan Bingham. Executive Director of the Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM) program, Jason Hainsworth, moderated the discussion. As the official winner, Trevor Weston received a $15,000 commissioning fee and an orchestral work premiere with a major orchestra. In 2020, because of the strength of the applicant pool, three more winning composers were awarded $8,000 commission fees and premieres.
“These composers all come from different walks of life and have been able to achieve their goals and overcome adversity,” said Brandon Mitchell, one of the students who attended the panel. “I learned about Black composers who have played an influential role in their creative practice, and the importance of having composers of color visible in the industry to continue the legacy set forth by our predecessors,” Michell, a graduate student in the Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) program, added.
The panel, held inside the new Bowes Center took place as some of last year's winners were workshopping their pieces with the SFCM Orchestra in late March, “The students at SFCM are wonderful, the environment here is very creative and open and it shows in them,” said composer Sumi Tonooka, whose premiere with the orchestra is scheduled for later this year. “I think that just by being able to work with and be exposed to artists with different perspectives, students gain a broader view and flexibility, a more nuanced way of being in the music, and this helps them to become better musicians,” she added.
After being selected as a winner, composer Jonathan Bingham moved to San Francisco last year to continue working on his composition, which is scheduled to premiere with the National Brass Ensemble this summer. “I’m fortunate to have been able to get to know the SFCM students over the course of my residency,” Bingham continued. “If they feel half as supported as I have in our conversations, I’ve done a decent job.”
After its inagural year, the EBCP is open to Black American composers aged 35 or under who have completed a degree program in composition or music performance, or have equivalent experience. Applications for this year have concluded; winners will be announced later this spring.
“Black composers have a rich history, a history that is often overlooked,” said Mitchell, who hopes the classical music world continues to identify and highlight underrepresented composers. “It’s a journey, one that we must overcome together, and it will be interesting to see how this story unfolds in the years to come,” he added.