Spectrum Ensemble Supporting LGBTQ Musicians and Composers

Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Ethel Smyth: at a glance, what do all three of these classical composers have in common? All three of them were on the LGBTQ spectrum. Many people wouldn't know that about these classical composers. Often the world of classical music has been associated with the social elite, and often LGBTQ composers and musicians are pressured into hiding that aspect of themselves in their field. That's where Spectrum Ensemble hopes to make a change.

Spectrum Ensemble was founded by Jaime Esposito and Stephen Hall in 2018. According to Spectrum Ensemble's website, their mission is to increase the representation of queer musicians and composers in the classical music world, commission and perform great music, and raise funds for meaningful LGBTQ organizations. Unbeknownst to many people, people on the LGBTQ spectrum face many struggles bringing together their passion for music and their identity.

Esposito originally came up with the idea for Spectrum Ensemble on a Marimba tour in 2015. According to Esposito, the person in charge was a queer performer named Matthew Cooley.

“He [Cooley] made this comment, me being on tour with him, was one of the most freeing gay experience. He felt like he could be gay around me, which was frustrating[... ]when I heard that I realized there was just a need for a spotlight on queer performers, because it's not talked about,” Esposito said. “So many amazing musicians are queer. Even in the past like Bernstein, so many people I didn't even know were gay. And it sucks that it's not talked about, because it was probably a huge part of why they made the music they created.”

Esposito also remarks that many LGBT musicians get stereotyped. An example they bring up is how many gay musicians getting stereotyped as marimba performers. In addition to being stereotyped, queer musicians and composers in the world of classical music are often forced to keep their identities and their passions separate, concerned that doing otherwise may cause them to not be taken seriously or other consequences. Esposito gives an example of this, in their friend who had been transitioning during her masters program. However, she began transitioning too late into her masters program and her colleagues had already assumed she was the gender she was assigned at birth. Esposito's friend was too afraid to come out as trans to her colleagues and, in fear that it would affect her music career.

So what is Spectrum Ensemble doing to combat the lack of LGBTQ representation in the classical music community? At the moment Spectrum Ensemble's plan is to give LGBTQ musicians and composers a spotlight to let their identities shine through their works.

“A big part of it is a lot of people in Texas have never met a queer person. What they don't know they're absolutely scared of and they think it's a bad thing,” Esposito said. “Part of the mission, besides the music, is putting us in front of people's faces. Like this is a nonbinary performer, this is a gay musician, and they're both really good musicians. I just want people to realize we're normal people. The more viability we can have, the better off everyone's going to be”.

Christina Cerda, a nonbinary student at the college of music thinks highly of Spectrum Ensemble.

“I think an organization such as Spectrum Ensemble is a great way to allow LGBTQ+ composers and musicians opportunities to let their music and voices be heard,” Cerda said. “I feel that it validates the work that we do and encourages the younger generation of LGBTQ+ musicians and composers to never give up and to keep pressing forward for change and keep the demand high for works done by these composers and musicians.”

In addition to putting a spotlight on LGBTQ representation, Spectrum Ensemble aims to donate a portion of their proceeds towards LGBTQ organizations. For the A New Light concert, a portion of their proceeds will be going towards the Coalition for Aging LGBT, an organization that take care of elderly people in the LGBTQ community who have no one to help care for them. According to Esposito, Spectrum Ensemble would like to donate to a different LGBTQ advocacy organization for each concert in an effort to spread the wealth with a concentration on local groups.

The organization has plans in the works for a collaboration with the Castellano Family Foundation, which advocate for the advancement of Latinx people in the United States. Spectrum Ensemble also hopes to go on a fall tour in November through the Greater South in order to spread awareness towards their cause and show LGBTQ representation in areas that are lacking.

The Spectrum Ensemble will be having their premiere concert, A New Light, on May 4, 2019. In A New Light's program, the works of Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein will be featured and will be premiering four works specifically commissioned by LGBT composers for Spectrum Ensemble. The four pieces that will be premiering are composed by LJ White, Derek Tywoniuk, Luke Ellard, and Kevin Rosacia. The concert will take place in the Denton Black Box Theater at 2:30 p.m. and a portion of ticket proceeds will be donated to the Coalition for Aging LGBT. More information about the concert can be found here and tickets can be purchased here.

If you want to see more of what Spectrum Ensemble is doing, you can check out their website, Facebook and Instagram.

Header image courtesy of Brandon Maas.

Header design by Clarissa Baniecki.