Because We Care – A View on Diversity by Dr. Maria F. Castillo

As we celebrate the Hispanic Heritage Month, and our eyes turn towards underrepresented composers and flutists, there is a new focus on music making in our world. Nowadays, we care about diverse programing and teaching, and many of us find ourselves looking for information that is, at this moment, a bit hard to find.

As a Venezuelan flutist who did most of her studies in the United States, I am grateful for the sudden change of focus on caring about composers and flutists of color, and I do believe it is our job, as members of a minority group, to help the community in finding answers. There is so much to do, but if each of us become activists for music that is part of our identity, backgrounds, heritage, values or passions, there will be so much more that we will be able to learn and share.

This is why I, along with my husband, Venezuelan orchestra conductor Régulo Stabilito, decided to create the Latin American Music Initiative (LAMI) in 2018, an organization with the mission to change the anonymity of Latin American composers and the invisibility of their works. Thus, this organization’s work covers several branches that, together, help give visibility to an incredible and mostly unknown corpus of works ( My job as co-director of LAMI and flutist has covered all of our branches, by creating critical editions of unedited pieces, producing recordings and concerts, and giving lectures about the composers and their works. As a performer I feel deeply committed to not only perform this unknown repertoire but also commissioning new works to important Latin American composers. Commissions by Andrés Eloy Rodríguez and Diana Arismendi are just part a few of a bigger strategy to support Latin American composers. By helping increase the flute catalogue, I hope to contribute to the flute community’s quest to find more and interesting works by underrepresented composers.

Furthermore, my activism has now become closely related to my work as the new Assistant Professor of Flute at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where I want to inspire my students to learn the standard repertoire as well as find works by underrepresented composers that they feel passionate about. This month, we have started the diversity project Because We Care, where I guided students to find works that mean something to them, works that speak closely to their identities, sexual orientation, heritage or that they care as allies. I have been in awe with my students’ eagerness to embrace this project, and they all have found wonderful works that will now be part of the repertoire studied and performed in the UTK Flute Studio. This is our contribution to the flute community that is looking for more diverse flute works, and through our social media pages, we hope to inspire others to include these works in their repertoire (Facebook: @utkflutes)

Finally, I would like to share my personal thoughts on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) which is such an important part of our current music world. The magnifying glass that currently exists on underrepresented composers and performers is important and we, as artists and teachers, must give a voice and a space in our lives to their important work. However, when programing and teaching it is even more important to be equitable, which I believe it doesn’t mean to program one concert of composers of color and forget about this works during the rest of our season, but to always include one or two works by these composers, for them to always be present. For example, performing works by Adina Izarra, Tania León, Raimundo Pineda, Andrés Eloy Rodríguez or Gabriela Ortiz should not be only done in September, to show our support to the Latinx community during the Hispanic Heritage month, but their works should be performed alongside with those by Schubert, Prokofiev, Bach, Mozart and Jolivet, to name a few. Furthermore, these works should be performed next to other diverse composers like Valerie Coleman, Katherine Hoover, Jennifer Higdon, Julio Racine, and others who deserve a space in our repertoire lists.

is our job to care about diversity, to do the research to find these wonderful composers, to include them in our performances and teachings, but most importantly, not to treat Diversity as a token, or as a checklist, where we just fulfill a requirement. On the contrary, it should be a constant part of our lives as performers and teachers, where the music we teach and perform is music we care about because of their meaning and/or because of what the composer represents. This way, a more diverse approach will always be in us, giving place for a much needed expansion of the canon of flute works, where newer and older pieces will stand side by side to each other. These are certainly important times, and we should all be involved in this process by doing research, reaching out to composers, commissioning works, and recording, programing and teaching our new findings. This will take time and effort, but it’ll all be worth it… because we care.

Dr. Maria Castillo is Assistant Professor of Flute at University of Tennessee, Knoxville and co-founder of the Latin American Music Initiative (LAMI), advocating for Latin American repertoire. Dr. Castillo has developed an active solo, orchestral and teaching career in Latin America and the United States. Dr. Castillo, a native of Venezuela holds a DMA degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Maria Fernanda Castillo