By Chris Larson and Phillip Shoultz – Co-Chairs
After the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, people all over the world renewed their call for justice. Educators and musicians of all backgrounds once again began to educate themselves and their colleagues about what it means to be actively anti-racist. Our National ACDA had already begun this work with the National Diversity Initiatives Committee, and at our meeting on June 6th, 2020, our board voted to begin the process of adding a standing committee at the state level. On August 3, 2020, our board met again to discuss action items for our DI team. Everyone present agreed that this was a matter of utmost importance, and that a great deal of complex work was necessary in order to fully examine our organization and impact. Chris Larson and Phillip Shoultz were established as co-chairs of this state Diversity Initiatives committee, and a survey was sent to members in order to gather interest to determine committee members.
We held our first meeting over Zoom on October 8, 2020, and our team included ACDA members Natalia Romero Arbelaez, Erin Schmidt, Gerald Gurss, Joseph Osowski, Ryan Deignan, Matthew Krage, Reid Larsen, Nicole Thietje, Susan Zemlin, Amy Johnson, John Habermann, Zack Carlson, and Michael Jeffrey. It was exciting to hear the great conversation our group had, and we discussed a wide range of topics. Our members hail from all parts of the state, and we find this to be an important part of our work – representation from all districts. A great deal of our conversation was centered around the National mission and goals, and we found inspiration and clarity in this document. We decided to review this further as a committee, in order to develop guidance for our local DI committee and action steps.
During our most recent meeting, our MN ACDA board voted to include the Diversity Initiatives Committee as a permanent standing committee in our state organization. Our constitutional by-laws were also changed to include the chair of the committee as a voting member, and the chairperson was given the role of liaison between the state board and the Diversity Initiatives Committee. In order to build a foundation for future equity work within our MN ACDA organization, we will be meeting as a board to develop a shared understanding of important concepts regarding diversity and equity. Session One of our Board Partnership will take place at the beginning of March with a training session involving our Board Members and Repertoire and Resources chairs.
Upon the formation of the National ACDA Diversity Initiatives Committee in 2017, Eugene Rogers encouraged us to think about diversity not as an event or a goal but rather as a “filter” through which we make decisions about our actions within our organization. This concept of “equity as filter” provides us with a mindset that will carry through into every decision we make as an organization. Our anticipated goals as a local Diversity Initiatives Committee will include work in the following four categories:
Provide resources to use in our daily work as singers, educators, and directors
Provide a venue for conversations for directors to discuss equity-based topics
Create a document for MN Diversity Initiatives Committee mission and vision statements
Provide diversity training for MN ACDA membership
These goals can be developed in many different ways, and we look forward to implementing lasting and systemic change. Our practical work can take many forms:
The mission of the Diversity Initiatives Committee is to foster diversity and inclusivity in our membership, ensembles, and repertoire through active engagement with underrepresented choral musicians and potential choral participants. It is our hope that we will continue to view our work through the “equity as filter” mindset. Diversity is more than a checklist item. Equity must be embedded in our work from the very beginning and should be revisited constantly in order to consider who may be left out, through our action or inaction. We invite all members to invest in these conversations as an organization, and to bring your learning to your schools, places of worship, and choirs. We look forward to our collective commitment to this challenging work, and we welcome the possibilities that surround us.
Chris Larson is vocal music director at Wayzata Central Middle School where his singers were selected to perform at the 2015 American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Minnesota State Convention. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Music Education from Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, MI, and his Masters Degree in Music Education from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. Chris has served as co-chair of the ACDA Minnesota All-State 7/8 Boys’ Honors Choir, and has presented at the Minnesota ACDA State Conference.
G. Phillip Shoultz, III, enjoys a multifaceted career as conductor, educator, singer, and speaker. Phillip is the associate conductor and director of learning and engagement of VocalEssence where his most visible impact is seen through his visionary leadership as founding conductor of the VocalEssence Singers Of This Age and through his engaging Take 5 with GPS daily livestream and series of instructional videos.
Phillip serves Westwood Lutheran Church as Cantor for Music, Worship, and the Arts. He is the principal Host for Young People’s Concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra and frequently appears throughout the U.S. as a guest clinician, adjudicator, and consultant.
Expanding boundaries and creating wider access to the choral arts is one of Phillip’s passions. Each year, he serves as mentor to educators through classroom visits and as an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Music Education program at the University of St. Thomas. Additional post secondary teaching experiences include work at the University of Minnesota, Georgia State University, and the University of Georgia while he completed his studies.
The winner of the 2015 American Choral Directors Association Graduate Student Conducting Competition, Phillip appeared as a Conducting Fellow with the Oregon Bach Festival, Chorus America, Choral Music Experience Institute and several other summer programs. He has prepared choirs for performances in Canada, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Mexico, and Russia. In 2017, he was named as an ACDA International Conductors’ Exchange Program Participant.
His service as a public school educator in Georgia garnered multiple Teacher of the Year honors. While there, he also served as Artistic Director to an adult community choir (Gwinnett Choral Guild) and a youth organization (Atlanta Institute for Musicianship and Singing), founding director of the Georgia Young Men’s Ensemble, a part of the Grammy Award–winning Gwinnett Young Singers, and the Assistant Director for the professional chamber choir, Coro Vocati.
Phillip enjoys biking, boxing, and all things related to sports and food. A proud Board member of the VoiceCare Network, Phillip believes every person can experience great joy through singing and passionately encourages exploration of body, mind, and voice through corporate singing experiences. Phillip lives in St. Louis Park, Minnesota with his wife, son and daughter.