Juilliard Covers Its Ass

On April 23rd, I received an email from the Juilliard Alumni Association director. In it was an email from the president of the school addressing an issue concerning a workshop conducted by the Drama Division. Evidently, the Drama Division invited a guest lecturer who conducted a workshop on the African American experience during slavery.

In the words of President Woetzel to students, faculty, and staff: 

    "I write to you to address a September 2020 Drama Division workshop that has impacted our school community. While I am sharing a message below that was sent to the drama community by Evan Yionoulis, dean and director of the Drama Division, I believe it is important for our school community to hear directly from me.

    To live our values requires an acknowledgment of mistakes we have made. To that end, I want to state unequivocally that this workshop was ill-conceived and should not have occurred in the manner that it did. I extend a heartfelt apology to the individuals who have been adversely affected by it.

    The workshop, which was titled 'Roots to Rep,' was intended to celebrate and learn about the origins of the African American musical tradition. The guest lecturer who created and presented the Zoom workshop is a respected artist and teacher and has presented this workshop to other artistic communities. He also has a strong track record of work in equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging (EDIB) issues in the educational performing arts field and as a consultant at Juilliard itself.

    It is our responsibility as artists to tackle difficult topics in our work, but we must ensure that we do so in a manner that respects and protects the members of our community.

    The first section of this workshop concentrated on spirituals and included an auditory experience of enslavement that was extremely distressing and problematic. We deeply regret that the materials used in the auditory exercise were not screened in advance and that once the exercise was occurring it was not stopped.

    Immediately following the exercise, the leadership of the Drama Division took responsibility, apologized for what happened, and worked to provide support to students, faculty, and staff. That work continued through meetings with individuals and in groups within the Drama Division over the next weeks and months, in an attempt to restore trust."

In closing, he wrote: 

    "We will continue to address issues arising from this experience, examining our practices and learning from this mistake as an institution. We are deeply committed to the practice of learning, which will guide us as we move forward in this work together. I want to close by stating again how sorry I am to those who have been affected and to the larger Juilliard community."

Meanwhile in an attached fowarded email, Evan Yionoulis, Dean and Director of the Drama Division, wrote: 

    "I am writing to address the conversations regarding the workshop that took place in September 2020.

    At that time, I expressed to individual students and our entire drama community that this should never have happened. I am deeply sorry for the trauma it caused, both through the exercise itself and the failure to intercede and stop the exercise once in process. I want to reiterate my remorse to you today.

    We took steps immediately following the exercise to support our community and facilitate healing, including cancelling the remainder of the workshop, holding community meetings, facilitating discussions, and providing counseling resources. However, we recognize that we cannot fully change the impact of what happened, nor can we erase all that was experienced in that moment."

Here is my response to all of this: 

"Hello Rebecca (Vaccarelli, Director of Alumni Relations),

    Thank you for this email. First of all, I would like to know exactly what happened in this workshop. As you know, my father (1950, M.A.) served as director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers from 1957 to 1986, and I am a curator of sorts of their recordings of 'Negro Spirituals.' I have also produced a documentary film on the subject (Matthew Kennedy: One Man's Journey). It saddens me that I have heard nothing from Juilliard regarding a reading/book signing of my memoir Practicing for Love, in which I wrote extensively about the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Spirituals they performed for Queen Victoria, that were utilized by Antonín Dvořák and Alexander Scriabin, and praised by Maurice Ravel and Mark Twain.

    As my book (Practicing for Love: A Memoir) is nominated for a 2021 Lambda Literary Award, I hope that you can use your influence to schedule a reading for me for this year. This silence from Juilliard is most deafening!

Thank you,

Nina Kennedy, (1984, M.M.)

Concert Pianist, Conductor, Filmmaker, Author"

Needless to say, I'm not holding my breath.


  1. Some good news to report: my memoir is now available at the Juilliard Store. https://juilliardstore.com/products/practicing-for-love-a-memoir?_pos=1&_sid=3423d02a5&_ss=r&fbclid=IwAR2NJRTfUZZ0yHsJfKWY-CU0mIJQ0i4GHQCR9Usj7uGOKxfA2HWWPZtZQSQ


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