Capri Scarcelli | a&e editor
Brittany Trotter, an adjunct professor at Duquesne, has joined with Black teaching artists in the Pittsburgh area to implement Unisound, a music program and database targeted to young, aspiring Black performers interested in having a personal instructor with a similar background.
Moving from Mississippi and getting her doctoral degree at West Virginia University, Trotter has become involved in various projects to “give a voice at the table” for diversity and representation in local arts and music programs.
Running from the end of February to early August, Unisound’s Black teaching-in-residence program (BATR) specifically aims to provide opportunities for younger students of various backgrounds to find instructors in the area that meet their needs, giving a wider array of teaching artists to choose from.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really see that many Black flute players, and if I had an opportunity to study with one, that would’ve been amazing and very eye-opening for my experience,” Trotter said.
Trotter’s role through Unisound allows her to attend board meetings and help manage the decision process of the BTAR program’s development, considering all students and teaching artists’ perspectives along the way. Getting its start in the Pittsburgh, Beaver, Armstrong and Westmoreland areas, Trotter said she can see this expanding beyond the city.
“There is such a vast, amazing music population in Pittsburgh that I feel like most college students are not aware of,” Trotter said. “Having this BTAR program is really putting music and arts programs into the foreground in Pittsburgh because it is such a huge cultural hub.”
According to Trotter, this program was inspired by the increased artistry at the beginning of the pandemic, encouraging local music programs to improve for the better.
For instance, Trotter said that the practice books used for private lessons are often outdated, using classical pieces that younger students may not recognize. To counter this, Trotter is working on a method book that incorporates Black contemporary artists such as Lizzo and Beyoncé in order to connect with her students on a more personal level while also helping them develop their tonality.
“A lot of the method books have folk tunes. Even today a lot of these kids haven’t heard [songs such as] ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ since cartoons infuse contemporary music instead of classical music nowadays,” Trotter said. “I want to create a method book that would incorporate popular tunes that my students listen to that will help them develop their tone, and these contemporary artists help facet that tone.”
Through the development of this program, BTAR members will be presenting their residency to a panel in order to cultivate their ideas. Trotter herself will focus on “musical hybridity,” which focuses on “the multi-genre bending of music throughout time,” such as infusing elements of hip-hop into classical music. Much of this is taught in her course at Duquesne: History in Hip-Hop.
In this class, Trotter focuses on the genre’s development, not only in music, but in the culture that surrounds it. Incorporating this into her BTAR project, Trotter emphasizes the impact hip-hop has made on popular music as we know it today, “bring[ing] so much youth” back to an interest in performing.
Fusing two genres together, Trotter said she has experimented with electric flute, beat-boxing and melodies, which help to implement strategies notorious for one genre while placing it in another.
Aside from instructing the History in Hip-Hop course at Duquesne, Trotter also teaches flute and woodwinds at Dickinson College, West Virginia Wesleyan College and Waldorf School of Pittsburgh, while also giving private flute lessons; her students range from 5 to 67-years-old.
In spare time, Trotter has also partnered with Umeja Flute Institute, a professional performance group of Black flute players. This program started after the death of George Floyd, made to “make a positive impact from the tragedy.” Trotter said the program seeks to provide master classes for artists of African descent, “giving opportunities [the students] may not have.”
There will be a virtual concert available for viewers at umeja.com; donations are welcome.
Students can learn more about Unisound and the impact of BTAR at unisound.us/btar.