The world of music education has been in turmoil during the early part of May due to comments made by CEO Michael Butera of the NAfME at a meeting that were construed as racist.
Sadly, the NAfME (National Association for Music Education) may be more important than ever because, as Associations Now points out on May 4, there is a new law that finally places a focus on music education for school children called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015.
On top of this, the NAfME has celebrity musicians like Albert Bouchard, formerly of Blue Oyster Cult, who is also an acclaimed music educator, according to PR Web.
Although the NAfME is an organization that is heavily relied upon to promote the education of musicians, they recently came under fire because CEO Michael Butera made comments that were interpreted as racist.
The situation in question began on April 26 during a meeting on diversity in the arts at the National Endowment for the Arts. About the original incident incident, Alternate Roots representative, Keryl McCord, spoke from a first-hand perspective about the conversation she was exposed to.
At that time, CEO Michael Butera of the NAfME, was talking with Keryl McCord and others and the following is McCord’s recollection of Butera’s conversation.
“Mr. Butera told us that his board was all white and that he couldn’t diversify his board because they aren’t appointed but, rather, they are elected by the membership. Further, his membership isn’t diverse because, ‘Blacks and Latinos lack the keyboard skills needed for this field.’ He also intimated that music theory is too difficult for them as an area of study.”
Following this post by Keryl McCord, Michael Butera posted a long explanation on his Facebook wall on May 6. In the post, Butera stated “the reporting of these comments was a deeply inaccurate portrayal of the dialogue which took place that day,” and quoted himself from that meeting stating the following.
“[T]he field of music educators, much like the general population of educators, is skewed toward white individuals. We have had ongoing and rich discussions in our [NAfME] community about how best to address this issue, but have not yet been able to actualize a solution.”
Regardless of Michael Butera’s May 6 post insinuating that he is perhaps not a racist but instead battling the ongoing racism within the music education world, many members of the public were outraged and wanted action.
Soon after, there was a petition created asking Michael Butera to step down as CEO of NAfME, and social media continued to voice their outrage about the alleged racist incident.
— The 13th Chair (@The13thChair) May 11, 2016
For example, on Facebook, one heavily shared post by Deejay Robinson stated the following.
“As the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ Shame on #MMEA (Massachusetts Music Educators Association) and any other music educator, national music education association, university, or institution that remains silent.”
Twitter was also outraged at the incident with several people saying that the NAfME needed to “respond” to the Alternate Roots article about Michael Butera to either accept or refute the claims made against Butera.
For instance, Missy Strong wrote on May 5 “@NAfME I’m stunned at what amounts to a non-response to what, if accurate, are appalling statements made by Mr. Butera. Make this right.”
In response to Missy Strong, another Twitter user, Anthony Otlowski, wrote “If the original [Alternate Roots] article is not correct #NAFME needs to say so. If it is correct Mr. Butera needs to go.”
— Erica Darr, M. Mus (@songbird0401) May 12, 2016
Adding to this, there were blog posts by writers that articulated their feelings as musicians and music educators. For instance, on May 6, Joe Guarr wrote the following.
“I can not in good conscience remain a NAfME member if Mr. Butera is allowed to continue in his leadership role. As teachers we would not dream of excluding students based on their nationality or the color of their skin. It’s massively disappointing that somebody in a position of power in our national organization seems to believe differently.”
The outrage that reached a boiling point in early May eventually resulted in the resignation of CEO Michael Butera from the NAfME post.
According to a New York Times article from May 12, after the NAfME board agreed that Michael Butera “would not be returning,” the new CEO, Michael Blakeslee, stated they would “renew its focus on inclusion and diversity, from looking again at the makeup of its board to working to ensure equal access to music education for all students.”
Although it was a tumultuous time for the NAfME, it did give critics a chance to give their opinions about how to improve diversity in the organization. For example, Rebel Music Teacher wrote the following.
“More than anything, I would like to see these organizations [like NAfME] put their money where their mouths are and focus on providing opportunities for young music students of every demographic.”
Keryl McCord of Alternate Roots also gave her advice in the following statement about how NAfME could overcome their diversity issues, according to Arts Integrity.
“I think that bringing in an organization like The People’s Institute… to really make a commitment to not trying to do this on their own, not trying to sit around the table and figure it out, but to really understand, to get a deeper understanding of the issues and how to address them and get some language, and some framework and context and understanding of what the issues are. If they would do that, that would be huge.”
[Picture by Andrew Burton/Getty Images]