Headshot of Mary Ellen Poole.

We are not quite ourselves.

We don’t gather in the halls, or collide with each other backstage. We don’t block intimate scenes in opera rehearsal. We don’t pass each other on the way in or out of a practice room—no, three hours “resting time” is the rule. We laugh with our eyes. We sit far apart. No one sleeps face down on a green couch. No heads nearly touch over a music stand or a seminar table. Most of us haven’t felt the reciprocal energy of a rapt live audience since early March.

And yet we are more ourselves than ever.

The pandemic has revealed our differences, and they are stark. Some have instruments at home, some do not. Some have abundant WiFi, some have to park in library lots when it’s time for a lesson. Some work front-line jobs to pay tuition, putting entire families at risk, or help teach younger siblings.

Then in late May, the murder of George Floyd galvanized and outraged the world. Perhaps the energy and emotion released partly reflected this moment, in its enforced social isolation and self-reflection. But whatever the combination of factors, action cannot be postponed any longer—and inaction is a statement, in and of itself. 

At the Butler School, we have begun to ask ourselves how we can not only change the content of our teaching, learning, and performing to elevate voices that have been silenced, but—even more critically—how our practices, policies, and systems can be altered so that they no longer prop up the unjust and inequitable status quo. 

As a first step, we have convened four working groups to analyze those practices, policies, and curricula in specific academic areas. They are to come up with a list of actionable proposals by December. In the spring, we will address the status quo in ensembles and solo performance, as well as the ways our School serves as a “gatekeeper” to the profession. We look forward to communicating the results of these challenging but necessary conversations.

We are more ourselves than ever.

Mary Ellen Poole