Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The Bienen School of Music is committed to remaining a safe place for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability or background.

Toni-Marie MontgomeryAs the first African American and first female dean of the Bienen School, and as a performer of music by African American composers, I understand the importance of representation and visibility in classical music on both professional and personal levels. As a community, we must work to incorporate more voices and contributions of BIPOC and diverse groups in our music curricula and public events—a goal I have fostered throughout my tenure as dean.

Bienen School faculty, staff and administrators are committed to advancing change to help combat racism in the field of classical music. The goals of our DEI initiatives are to expand the repertoire studied and performed at the Bienen School and present music by diverse composers to the campus and greater Chicagoland communities. Through these ongoing projects, we aim to not only address our mission of training the next generation of musicians but also serve and educate our public audiences.

Toni-Marie Montgomery

About the Dean

Toni-Marie Montgomery was the founding pianist of the Black Music Repertory Ensemble of Columbia College of Chicago. This fifteen-member ensemble specialized in performing works by black composers and promoted appreciation for the black musical heritage. Montgomery has performed throughout the United States and in Austria, Brazil, Hawaii, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, including recent chamber music concerts with cellist Anthony Elliott. Montgomery is a longtime board member of the Gateways Music Festival, which celebrates the historical and current contributions and achievements of classical musicians of African descent. She was elected secretary of the Gateways board for 2021. Montgomery has participated in several recent virtual panel discussions and webinars related to DEI topics (see videos below).

See Dean Montgomery's Full Bio

Recent Dean’s Activities

Arts Engines (July 1, 2020) Watch Now

  • Hosted by Aaron Dworkin in partnership with Detroit Public Television
  • Arts Engines highlights the perspectives of the thought leaders who are creating significant impact in the field of the arts.

African American Music Conference (Sept. 18, 2020) Watch Now

  • Hosted by the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the conference celebrated the 90th birthday of Willis Patterson.
  • Panel: “Delivering a more dynamic, diverse curriculum for the 21st century music student”
  • Dean Montgomery’s performance of David Baker’s Sonata for cello and piano with cellist Anthony Elliott’s was also featured among the highlighted, pre-conference performances.

Gateways Music Festival (November 10, 2020)

  • Dean Montgomery is a board member of this Festival. She hosted a panel discussion with Dr. Dwandalyn Reece, curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Black Reflections (November 12, 2020) Watch Now

  • Panel: “A Just Future for Black Artists”
  • Hosted by Oberlin Conservatory and the New World Symphony and organized by Bienen alumnus Michael Martin ’19 MMus.
  • Black Reflections is a discussion series focusing on interrelated elements of Black artistry in music.

Study on key accelerants and barriers for Black musicians pursuing careers in orchestras (December 2020)

  • Dean Montgomery participated in a research study sponsored by the League of American Orchestras, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Innosight
  • The study will culminate in a playbook for the wider orchestral field that summarizes best practices for opportunity development and culture change

Black Art Songs Webinar (April 7, 2021) Watch Now

  • Hosted by the Bienen School of Music; participants were selected and invited by Dean Montgomery.
  • Dean Montgomery moderated a live streamed webinar with Drs. Louise Toppin and Willis Patterson (University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance), who explored art songs by Black composers.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Florence Price Events (May 5, 6 and 7, 2022)

  • Dean Montgomery will moderate a series of pre-concert panel discussions in conjunction with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s May 2022 performances of Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3.
  • Participants will include Drs. Alisha Jones (Indiana University), Tammy Kernodle (Miami University), and Doug Shadle (Vanderbilt University).
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Black Composer Showcase series

The Black Composer Showcase series features performances by Bienen voice and instrumental students as well as scholarly background information on the works and composers provided by Bienen musicologists and conducting faculty.

Learn More

Music Performance Activities

Bienen School faculty have been working independently as well as collaboratively in developing DEI initiatives for their studios and classrooms. Many instrumental studios are studying repertoire by BIPOC composers. Some examples include:

  • All Bienen voice students have committed to selecting and learning two art songs by Black composers. 
  • All degree recitals for harp and double bass students will feature one work by a BIPOC composer.
  • The Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra performed Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 4 Novelletten for String Orchestra.
  • Saxophone students are creating a repertoire database of works written for saxophone by racially diverse composers. The Northwestern Saxophone Ensemble commissioned Steven Banks ’17 MMus to compose a new work, which the ensemble premiered in May 2022.
  • The Percussion Ensemble performed a work by Joe W. Moore III live via Zoom for the composer, who then provided feedback to the ensemble. The ensemble will perform a work by a Black composer each quarter.
  • Studio members performed a work by violist/composer Nokuthula Ngwenyama for the viola studio competition.
  • Guitar students are studying works by Justin Holland and the Guitar Ensemble performed music by Celso Machado and Leo Brouwer.
  • Select piano students presented A Celebration of Scott Joplin in spring 2021. 
  • Keyboard skills students are studying a piece by Hannibal Lokumbe in class, along with other 20th and 21st century works.
  • The double bass studio hosted Rebecca Lawrence to discuss her project Bass Players for Black Composers.
  • Alumnus Steven Gooden ’12 MMus of the Merit School of Music presented “Equity in Music Education: A BIPOC Perspective in Shaping the Future” for all wind chamber music students.
  • Flute students are collecting solo and chamber flute repertoire by BIPOC composers, which will be organized into a publicly accessible database and also performed by studio members in a virtual showcase.
  • Conducting faculty have recently hosted virtual guest speakers for DEI-related discussions.
    • Rollo Dilworth ’00 MMus, ’03 DMus joined the remote choral class for an in-depth look at Spirituals/Slave Songs. 
    • A Zoom panel discussion featured Alfred Watkins and alumni Stacy Ascione ‘97 MMus, Steven Banks ’17 MMus, Ethan Bensdorf ‘07, Rodney Dorsey ‘92 MMus, ‘06 DMus, Patrick Rehker ‘05 MMus, and Tim Sutfin ‘04.
    • Rachel Barton Pine presented a “Celebration of Black Classical Composers” performance/discussion. 
  • The Bienen School’s 2021 Samuel and Elinor Thaviu Endowed Scholarship Competition in String Performance required a work by an African American composer.


In April 2021, the Bienen School choirs presented the world premiere of "Eclipse" by Donald Nally and Bienen alumnus Kevin Vondrak, based on the poem of the same name by Illinois Poet Laureate and Northwestern alumna Angela Jackson.

Recent Guest Artists

Recent Guest Artists

Russell Thomas: Tichio-Finnie Vocal Master Class

Recent Guest Artists

Nathalie Joachim: Contemporary Music Ensemble

Recent Guest Artists

Awadagin Pratt: Skyline Piano Artist Series

Recent Guest Artists

Kofi Agawu: Music Studies Distinguished Speaker Series

Recent Guest Artists

Brazil Guitar Duo: Segovia Classical Guitar Series

Recent Guest Artists

2018 Nemmers Prize winner Jennifer Higdon and E. Patrick Johnson: LGBTQ+ in the Arts Panel Discussion

Recent Guest Artists

Sherman Irby joins Victor Goines and the Northwestern University Jazz Orchestra

Recent Guest Artists

Gloria Ladson-Billings: Music Studies Distinguished Speaker Series

Recent Guest Artists

Lawrence Brownlee: Tichio-Finnie Vocal Master Class Series

Music Studies Activities

Musicology Core Curriculum

The Bienen School of Music launched a new undergraduate core musicology curriculum in fall 2019. One goal of the revised curriculum was to provide students a more inclusive and diverse representation of classical music. Faculty will continually update these courses, which have been well-received by students.

The Classical Canon

Is "classical music" truly universal? Are there identifiable, qualitative musical differences between music in the canon and other works which have not entered the repertoire? This course seeks to interrogate the processes that made famous "classical" works famous and examine to what extent social factors such as nationalism, racism, and gender influenced the formation of the canon. See Full Class Description >

Performers and Performance

This core course focuses on what it means to be—or meant to be—a musician at different times of history and cultures. Case studies include the history of conductors, the history of Western classical music performance in East Asia and Asian musicians abroad, jazz pianists and singers, issues of gender and race in opera, Black musicians and crossing boundaries, and the history of bands, among others. See Full Description >

Music in the Present

This course explores contemporary music through its circulation, reception, and mediation. Examples are drawn from Western art, popular, and global musical genres, though students will explore how all these musics share, at least in part, similar modes of distribution. See Full Description >

Other Music Courses

American Art Song

This graduate seminar will survey and conduct new research into American art song traditions, including African American song, with special focus on poetic language and issues of performance. It will query intersections between classical art song and popular cultures and religious practices, and attempt to define elements that differentiate American song from other traditions in English. A core repertoire of songs by Charles Tomlinson Griffes, William Grant Still, Charles Ives, Amy Beach, Samuel Barber, Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, and Ned Rorem will be balanced by attention to lesser known material. See Full Description >

Julius Eastman, Composer Topics

This course introduces students to the life and work of composer-performer-improvisor Julius Eastman (1940-1990). Eastman's musical practices encompassed a range of styles and genres—classical music, experimentalism, disco, punk, and jazz—and was grounded in the Black radical tradition. The course explores not only Eastman's radical Black aesthetics but explores its intersection with his militant homosexual sensibility. The course will explore his collaborations and confrontations with a range of artists. See Full Description >

Music Theory and Aural Skills

The sophomore Music Theory and Aural Skills curricula continue to diversify with a new segment featuring analysis of form in popular music. Some of the composers and artists studied in the sequence include Laurie Anderson, Agustín Barrios, Beyoncé, Lili Boulanger, Teresa Carreño, Ana Carrique, Ray Charles, Chen Yi, John Coltrane, Louise Farrenc, H.E.R., Augusta Holmès, Janelle Monáe, The Penguins, Florence Price, Silvestre Revueltas, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Clara Schumann, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Sia, Amii Stewart, and Thomas Wiggins.

Musical Legacies of Black Feminism, Topics in 20th Century Music

This course investigates musical performance, composition, and improvisation as Black Feminist praxis in the US from the early 20th century to the present. Through close listening to musical documents by significant Black women artists and close reading to related texts by foundational Black Feminist thinkers, students will gain an understanding of the role of sound and performance in the work of social critique and the Black Radical Tradition. See Full Description >

Methods of Music Theory seminar

This required course for PhD students has a dedicated session to race and gender, which includes important writings by Philip Ewell, Associate Professor at Hunter College, City University of New York. 

Opera and Race

The course is designed to provide an overview of a range of issues involving the dramatic and musical representation of race on the operatic stage. Topics include works by European composers depicting non-European characters (Aida, Otello, Madama Butterfly, Turandot), the influence of colonialism as evidenced in Délibes' Lakmé, stereotypes of musical style, the vexed problems surrounding performance practice (such as casting and the tradition of applying makeup to singers in order to darken their appearance), American operas involving racial themes by both Black and white composers, and the complex inter-relations between race and sexuality in many operas both within and outside the standard repertoire. See Full Description >

Women Rock

This course considers the roles of women in rock music from the inception of the genre through today, framed by changing social expectations for women and increasing acceptance of diversity among performers, audiences, and consumers. It grounds the genre in pathbreaking performances by women of color whose popularity in the 1950s and '60s is too often overlooked, and also considers non-binary and transgender performers and performance.

Lectures and Events

  • Composer and alumnus Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate ’90 shared how he integrates traditional Chickasaw music and traditions with classical music in his compositions during a November 17, 2021, webinar co-sponsored by the Bienen School and the Northwestern Alumni Association. 
  • Music Education faculty and doctoral fellows presented "Current Research on Issues of Race, Gender, and Disability in Music Teaching and Learning," which included the following presentations. Watch Now
    • "Gospel Choir as a Space for Racial and Religious Expression for Black Students at a Predominantly White Institution"

    • "Genderally Speaking: Cultivating Conversation on Gender and Sexuality in Music Education"

    • "Academy of Music and Arts for Special Education (AMASE): An Ethnography of an Individual Music Instruction Program for Students with Disabilities"

  • The Music Studies Global Distinguished Speakers Series has included scholars working in theoretical and historical topics related to race and music:

150 Years of Women at Northwestern

The Bienen School of Music participated in Northwestern's 150 Years of Women celebration, which honored women/womxn who have made a significant impact at the University, in their communities, or in the world.

Featured Bienen School women included former faculty member Sadie Knowland Coe; faculty/alumni Maud Hickey ’95 PhD, Mallory Thompson ’79, ’80 MMus, and Gail Williams ’76 MMus; and alumni Margaret Bonds ’33, ’34 MMus, Grace Bumbry ’58, Mary Beth Peil ’62, Michelle Rakers ’91 MMus, and Augusta Reed Thomas ’87. 

Learn more about Diversity & Inclusion at Northwestern

Visit Northwestern's diversity website