Tuesday, February 27, 2007

American Orchestral Musician Web-Based Resource To Conduct Virtual Discussion With Focus On Diversifying Membership Of American Orchestras

Polyphonic.org - the online resource for orchestral musicians - will be conducting its latest Virtual Discussion Panel this week with a focus on diversifying [American] orchestras.

"Diversity in the symphony orchestra means a lot of different things depending upon where you are. In Vienna it means finally allowing women to hold full positions in the 21st century, a situation that was corrected in the US quite a while ago with the advent of behind-screen auditions. In the US in the early 20th century, it might have meant hiring American-born musicians rather than Europeans. And certainly in the past few decades, it has meant hiring more African-American and Latino musicians.

But looking across the continent at the makeup of symphony orchestras, the ratio of men to women in professional orchestras is pretty even while the percentage of African-Americans and Latinos in symphonies is well below their ratio in the population. On the other hand, the percentage of Asian musicians in orchestras is higher than their percentage in the population.

Most orchestras are located in urban areas, many of which are primarily inhabited by people of color, yet symphony audiences are predominantly white, usually coming from the suburbs. Should an urban community care about its orchestra if it does not reflect the ethnic make-up of the community? Beyond presenting community outreach performances designed to appeal to the resident ethnic communities in the city, do orchestras have an obligation to do more? To diversify the ethnicity of the musicians on stage, on staff, and on the board?

Given that auditions for professional orchestras are now held behind screens and are conducted with every attempt to hire the very best player, regardless of ethnicity or gender, should we care about the diversity of our orchestras? Is it the job of orchestras to attempt to increase the numbers of African-American and Latino musicians hired, especially if this might mean not hiring the very best player for a position? One could say that, once the identity of auditionees was kept secret, women came into their own in winning positions in symphonies. Should not the same be true for various ethnic and racial groups?

Yet most musicians would agree that the problem with diversifying orchestras ethnically and racially is the lack of African-Americans and Latinos in the audition pool. Whose responsibility is this? Is it simply because of a cultural preference for different kinds of music? What should be the role of orchestras, if any, in increasing the number of candidates of color qualified to take highly-competitive symphonic auditions?" (Ann Drinan, Senior Editor, Polyphonic.org)

Join our discussion of these and other issues involving diversity in the orchestra.


Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Michael Morgan, and with guest American composer and soloist DJ Spooky.

Unlike its rich uncle orchestra across the San Francisco Bay, the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra features an American classical work -- often a world premiere -- on virtually every program. The rich uncle orchestra across the Bay has announced no new American works for its upcoming 2007-08 concert season.

[Click on image for enlargement.]

Photo credit: www.djspooky.com. With thanks.


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