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RNCM Vocal tutor Michael Harper shares BBC grant to research ethnically diverse composers through history

The Royal Northern College of Music’s Principal Study Vocal Tutor is one of seven researchers commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to help expand the breadth, depth and ethnic diversity of the classical music canon

The research programme is the second collaboration between the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), following on from the acclaimed Forgotten Female Composers project of 2018. Michael Harper and his compatriots were selected by an expert advisory panel of academics and musicians chaired by double-bassist, Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE.

Michael Harper’s work will focus on the music of the groundbreaking African-American composer, Julia Perry, in keeping with his fascination with the impact of the African diaspora on American music. Harper is originally from Petersburgh, Virginia and has traced his genealogy back to two of the first slaves brought to Virginia in the 17th century.

Initially trained as a baritone, and studying for his musical doctorate in Cincinnati, Harper changed to countertenor in 1993 and moved to the UK over two decades ago to study with the countertenor Paul Esswood.

The research Harper and his colleagues will do will add to the breadth of content on Radio 3 and inform the audiences of music that may have been denied public recognition in the past.

Alan Davey, BBC Radio 3’s Controller, said, ‘Radio 3’s collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council is crucial at a time when we want to inspire listeners by shining a light on unfairly forgotten areas of Western classical music.

‘Hopefully this inspiration will draw in listeners from a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of musical interests. The researchers funded through this scheme will uncover musical gems, and will help us engage both new and existing audiences, moving a step forwards in the direction of wider inclusion and a more diverse repertoire.’

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, added: ‘In recent years, questions about how we recognise the diverse influences that have shaped our culture have taken on a renewed sense of urgency.

‘Arts and humanities research have an important role to play in exploring these questions and shedding light on the profound contribution of artists from all backgrounds.

‘The composers celebrated as part of this initiative are prime examples of this under-explored contribution and demonstrate the ability of arts research to foster an understanding and recognition of our diverse cultural heritage.’