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.

As 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

Black Composer Showcase series

The Bienen School of Music published a series of videos featuring performances of art songs and chamber music by Black composers. The three-part Black Composer Showcase series includes several performances by Bienen School voice and instrumental students, as well as scholarly background information on the works and composers provided by faculty and student musicologists and guest presenters. The series include “Chicago Connections,” "Poets of the Harlem Renaissance," and "Chamber Music Highlights."

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:

  • The Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra's live streamed performance on Oct. 24 featured Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 4 Novelletten for String Orchestra. Watch Now
  • All 105 voice students 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.
  • Saxophone students are creating a repertoire database of works written for saxophone by racially diverse composers. The Northwestern Saxophone Ensemble is committed to diverse programming and performing works by African American and women composers.
  • 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 2021 viola studio competition.
  • Guitar students are studying works by Justin Holland and the Guitar Ensemble performed music by Celso Machado and Leo Brouwer. Watch Now
  • Select piano students presented a recital of Scott Joplin rags 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

Skyline Piano Artist Series

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 (214-0-1)

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 (215-0-2)

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 (216-0-1)

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

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 (355-0-1)

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 >

Distinguished Speakers

The Music Studies Global Distinguished Speakers Series includes 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