As a student-run organization, CMO puts student voices at the center and allows musicians themselves to be a part of campus music programming decisions and opportunities. In line with national and global movements in both university and professional environments, we strive to democratize the chamber music sphere and larger classical music world by centering artists of color, feminist artists, female artists, and other marginalized voices in programming, conversation, and performance.

I. Beginnings

Chamber Music Organization (CMO) was originally founded on the principle of inclusion and community. In our first showcase in 2014, CMO sought to include groups from different schools with different instrumentations and repertoire, without excluding musicians based on skill level. With the success of the showcase, we decided to register as a student organization and dedicate our organization to making chamber music more visible and accessible to all students and musicians on campus.

II. Contemporary Issues

As we moved through our first year, we realized that our mission necessitated a connection to broader changes taking shape in the world of classical music. Like many before us, we recognized that women and minorities face many barriers before even reaching the audition stage, many of which are unknown to the public. While major improvements have been made for the inclusion of women and minorities, it is clear that many individuals still face severe disadvantages pursuing careers in classical music. Leaders in classical music have continue to make comments indicating their unwillingness to work with female musicians and musicians of color. Yuri Temirkanov, Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, famously declared, “The essence of the conductor’s profession is strength. The essence of a woman is weakness” (Woolfe, 2013, p. 1). Orchestral musicians face similar public discrimination, with comments from major public figures ranging from “Women have smaller techniques than men” to “The more women [in an orchestra], the poorer the sound” (Goldin, 1997, p. 717). The widespread effects of discrimination against women and minorities in classical music are more broadly illustrated by the makeup of contemporary major orchestras:

III. Our Mission

Thus we began to move toward a new mission, in line with larger national and international efforts to make classical music more accessible. Today, while our commitment to chamber music has not waned, CMO has evolved towards a broader mission of democratizing classical music on UChicago’s campus.
Music, for us, is both a source of pleasure and fertile grounds for revolutionary rewriting of outdated practices that have dominated the classical music sphere for centuries. In our broader goals, we strive towards decolonization of the chamber music world and the classical music sphere, in line with recent national and global movements in both university and professional environments. As a student-run organization, our goal is to put student voices at the center and allow student musicians themselves to be a part of campus music programming decisions and opportunities.

IV. Current Initiatives

In order to meet our goals, we host several quarterly events following these principles:

Our current initiatives include:

V. Public Response

In our efforts, we have caught the attention of various media outlets who are quickly catching onto this necessary movement of democratizing and decolonizing classical music. Our first event towards this end was a panel titled Studying the Score: Race, Class, and Privilege in Classical Music (2016), which invited academics, performers, and educators to detangle how structures of race, class, and privilege are tied up in how classical music is taught, performed, and consumed. This panel received widespread university attention, with both the UChicago Maroon and UChicago Alumni Magazine reporting on the panel. It also received exposure on Twitter, with the Buffalo Philharmonic and a New York Times journalist retweeting the Maroon article to thousands of followers. Following this success, our second major effort was Imani Winds in Discussion, a panel featuring the Grammy nominated, majority people of color wind quintet that discussed activism and decolonization in classical music through repertoire, education, and commissioning diverse composers. The UChicago Maroon also reported on this panel. The media attention we receive reflects the continuing urgency and timeliness of our goals of rewriting the traditional classical music script.

VI. New Directions

For the future, we are working towards these initiatives:

Any questions, comments, or new ideas? Email chambermusicorganization@gmail.com. We want to hear from you!