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Why Aren't There More African-Americans In Our Symphony Orchestras ?

  According to statistics, only about  one per cent of the members of Americas hundreds of professional orchestras are African-American . This is certainly unfortunate, but those who suspect racism and discrimination for this are mistaken . There are a number of explanations for this.

 First , very few blacks have ever aimed at careers in American orchestras. They get very little exposure to classical music ,so very few have taken up orchestral instruments .  Whenever an orchestra has an opening , it will often get 200 or more applicants for the job, but chances are that no blacks will apply at all. This is not the fault of our orchestras and their music directors; they are not trying to exclude blacks. Even if they intended to do so, they have very few to choose from. IN all the many auditions I attended over the years as a horn player, I don't recall seeing a single black applicant .

  Also, to prevent any possibility of discrimination based on race or gender, US orchestras have blind auditions behind screens; the audition committees,members of the orchestras whose job is to evaluate the applicants ,  cannot see the applicants and have nothing but their playing to go on, and each applicant has a number, so that complete anonymity is assured.  This system has also greatly increased the number of women in our orchestras over the years .

  Furthermore, the members of the committees,and the music directors, who have the final decision in hiring,are not interested in an applicant's skin color . The only thing that matters is the way you play .  Those few blacks who have gotten jobs in orchestras have done so purely on ability and luck.  The Washington National symphony recently appointed a black tympanist, but he got the job purely on the strength of his playing.

  So if there are any young aspiring orchestra musicians who are black , there is no need for them to feel discouraged from trying .  Getting a job in an orchestra is incredibly difficult no matter who you are . Competition is fierce for openings .

  There are however, a significant number of Asian-American and Asian-born musicians in American orchestras . Japan, South Korea and increasingly China have been supplying many US orchestras with  many musicians, particularly string players, and the New York Philharmonic recently appointed a principal oboist from China. 

  But if you are a telnted young classical musician who happens to be African-American, there is nothing barring your way to success in the field , whether you are an aspiring orchestral musician, or aim at a solo career as a pianist , violinist, cellist or whatever, or hope to become a conductor ,composer or opera singer .  Classical music is a meritocracy .




Posted: Jul 27 2010, 08:54 AM by the horn | with no comments
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