The Alliance for the Transformation of Musical Academe (ATMA)

Welcome to the



Ed Sarath, founder

ATMA has been formed to usher in a new paradigm for music studies in 21st century America.

Following a highly successful inaugural gathering at the University of Dayton, Sept 13-15 2019, with a second ATMA event scheduled for April 16-18, 2021, I could not be more encouraged about the prospects for ATMA to fulfill this aim.

Several outgrowths of the Dayton meeting, where colleagues from over 20 institutions and the professional world gathered for uniquely penetrating deliberations about artistry, pedagogy, social justice, spirituality and related issues, are noteworthy.   “ATMA Declaration on the Foundational Positioning of Black Music in Music Studies in America” and commentary serves as a kind of charter for the organization.  The July 4, 2020 “Declaration of Musical Independence” accompanies that document.  A forthcoming volume of essays titled “The Black Music Imperative” will further advance the ATMA vision.

Perhaps most timely is the formation of the ATMA Task Force on Musical Racism, which will consist of leaders in music and beyond who are committed to healing what might be called a “third pandemic,” and working toward a new era in American society where justice, freedom, equality and optimal human flourishing are available to all. The Task Force consists of three wings: Faculty, Students, and Deans/Directors. An announcement is coming soon for a symposium called Music School of Tomorrow, which will foreground racial justice and artistic justice themes.

Closely related is the ATMA Music Education Leadership Initiative, where an initial consortium of institutions is being formed that are committed to entirely new paradigm of K-12 music teacher education and certification for music schools in America. Strong foundations in Black American Music as both cultural anchor and source of tools for broader creative and pedagogical navigation (including enhanced engagement in conventional band/orch/choir pedagogy) will be prominent in the MELI initiative.

Another new ATMA initiative is called Afro-Euro Synapse which entails a framework for entirely new conversation, collaboration and understanding between practitioners in Black American Music and the Eurocanonic lineage that has long occupied center stage in music studies. Christopher Small’s statement, that the confluence of “African and European traditions is among the most fertile developments in the history of the world’s music” provides guidance and inspiration. However, as I state in my book Black Music Matters (link to my book), the world has yet to see the fullest manifestation of this union. The conversation is particularly timely given the considerable confusion surrounding the Afro-Euro relationship amid the racial justice imperative.

Basic ATMA Premises

ATMA is rooted in several premises that render it a distinctive new voice in over a half-century of music studies change conversation.

Foremost among them is the recognition of black American music as a new organizing principle that serves as both American cultural anchor and vehicle for an unprecedented creative and navigational scope

As the ATMA Declaration of the Foundational Positioning of African American Music in Music Studies in America states:

Black American musical foundations encompass multiple improvisatory languages (tonal, modal, stylistically open), compositional languages (small ensemble, large ensemble, concert music approaches), and virtuosic performance skills, all of which are richly interwoven with rigorous grounding in harmony, melody, contemporary rhythmic fluency, aural development, musical embodiment, keyboard, orchestration, arranging, theoretical and historical analysis, and contemplative practice. Wide-ranging connections extend organically to cultural studies, aesthetics, cognition, transdisciplinary inquiry that cuts across the sciences and humanities, and consciousness/spirituality. An entirely new framework emerges for addressing a host of change themes in music—including technology, entrepreneurship, critical thinking and self-driven pedagogy—with important ramifications for arts-driven approaches to social justice, environmental sustainability, arts-driven transcendence of ideological divides, and peace.

The spirituality/consciousness dimension is particularly significant as it unfolds from the uniquely broad, integrative and creative foundations of black American music and its rich matrix of “soul pathways.” (ATMA translates as “soul”).

Reflecting the aims of the overarching Jazz, Consciousness and Cosmos initiative, ATMA seeks to render music studies a catalyst for an arts-driven revolution in creativity and consciousness. The very creativity-driven transcendence, yet celebration of diverse musical cultural horizons that redefines musical training also has the capacity—particularly when including a robust contemplative/spiritual component— to propel transcendence of diverse ways human beings from across the globe and across time have understood and connected with the sacred.

Artistry and Activism

To be sure, the ATMA perspective represents a radical departure from not only conventional practice but also from over a half-century of change discourse that dates back to the 1967 Tanglewood Symposium. While there has been no dearth of appeals during this time for music studies to expand its cultural horizons, the conversation has typically stopped short of the all-important dimensions of race, black-white racial dynamics and musical ramifications thereof.

ATMA thus expands and unites artistic and activist discourse in its quest to fundamentally change the visioning narrative. Contemporary Improvisers Composers Performers (CICPs)—the real-world musical navigators that have been not been prominent voices in the dialogue, yet whose work needs to directly shape 21st century curricular models—play a prominent role in ATMA deliberations.

This will enable multicultural approaches to diversity and creativity that have left African American music as marginalized in the reform conversation as in the conventional curriculum to open up to a transcultural conception that is coherent with the artistic trajectories of leading musical innovators.

Just as CICPs penetrate to realms of creative and spiritual experience that transcend disciplinary and genre categories, so must change visioning proceed from this transcultural dimension.

And just as the most progressive social justice conversations in education and society at large—albeit still confined to small pockets—place our nation’s racialized history front and center, social justice conversations in music studies must similarly move beyond the politically-correct comfort zones (e.g. the current DEI craze) and grapple with the racialized biases that have long plagued music studies and its reform movement.


ATMA is for colleagues who are committed a radically new music studies conversation, savor the opportunity to explore possibilities at the outer edge of their individual and collective imaginations, are not squeamish about notions such as spirituality, mysticism, religion and the sacred, and realize that if racism, sexism and other limiting behaviors are to be healed in the world around us, they must be healed in the world within us.

Please consider being part of what may be among the most far-reaching deliberations and corresponding action steps in the history of music studies, if not education at large.