Reflections from March – Tessa Tang

Digital Ambassador Tessa Tang chronicles life as an RNCM soprano in a series of monthly blog posts.

‘Tis the third month of 2021 and I’m not sure how everyone is but I know my weeks have been filled with trying to pull myself together, attempts at being productive and getting my steps in… to Sainsbury’s.

This blog is a little different compared to stuff I wrote before but I think it will be nice to talk about ‘Underrepresented’ and the ongoing social issues of ethnicity, diversity and inclusivity. Four years in Manchester have taught and shown me much about what’s happening outside the tiny red dot on the map, widened my perspective and I count my blessings every day for this opportunity given to me.

‘Underrepresented’ is a group of staff and students at the RNCM who celebrate overlooked musical voices within the present and historical worlds of music in all aspects. Personally, I think this is a brilliant step forward in the institution to deconstruct the boundaries of what separates people because beyond what we see on the surface, how music is perceived and felt cannot be denied by the individual or a collective – especially when working in large-scale projects together. This isn’t an easy topic for some but upon hearing personal accounts and informing myself with resources in the media, I have been able to educate myself on the undeniable realities of privilege. Underrepresented groups exist within race, sexuality, gender and people with disabilities, and this definition will continue to evolve over time. College setting this group up not only fosters a culture of embracing inclusivity amongst all, but more importantly highlights the needed change within systemic structures, and enables the rest of us at the RNCM to learn about it too.

February was LGBTQ+ History Month here in the UK and the RNCMSU’s Diversity Officer, Micah, did an interactive Instagram sticker for movies/series in celebration and I thought I’d share some of them. Of course there were a mixture of series and documentaries as well but I’m a movie kind-of-gal so here are some from the stories: It’s a Sin (2021), God’s Own Country (2017), Call Me By Your Name (2017), PRIDE (2014) and Paris Is Burning (1990). I’ve only ever watched Call Me By Your Name and I really enjoyed how it’s set in Italy (evidently need a holiday soon), the soundtrack, and quotes on love/life are pretty nice too: “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!”

February was also Black History Month in the US and I came across this link on the MET Opera’s website – an online exhibition celebrating African American artists on their stage and one of the world’s leading stages. I’d like to also share this video by The Royal Ballet I saw last October in celebration of Black History Month in the UK. Listening to their stories, experiences and hearing their cultural influences made me reflect a little bit on myself – absorbing past experiences like a sponge and shaping my sense of self based on those experiences with my cultural upbringing combined. Side note, I really hope to watch a classical ballet here soon when performances can happen again since I’ve not watched one yet (! I know, I can’t believe it either).

As part of the RNCM PLAY Festival I’ve been put in a group with some amazing musicians cross-school and cross-level, with our project revolving around text and music of composers who suffered under the Holocaust. I’ve really enjoyed working in this group and on this project. Despite the off-site life we’ve been leading, we’ve become accustomed to arranging Zoom meetings and sharing Google documents to get this working! Very excited that our group decided to take the opportunity to present music by these composers who could easily be overlooked – celebrating their lives and honouring their legacy.

While more people are encouraging discussions on ethnicity, diversity and inclusivity, I believe that society needs to see for itself that a divide amongst ourselves is pointless if we’re all in a pursuit to make the most of our lives doing what we love and surrounding ourselves with people that we love. Cultural change takes time, effort and a lot of intention. Here’s to hoping that every conversation and interaction that happens around us become learning points for us to improve as a whole, educate ourselves and know that change truly begins from us, at home and among friends.

19 March 2021