The Nation's Pulse

Racial Discord

Do we need symphony orchestras that look like America?

By 3.22.07

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If there were a Moonbat Award for the worst solution to a non-existent problem, Aaron Dworkin would win the prize hands down. Mr. Dworkin is founder of something called the Sphinx Organization. Apparently he pays himself a lot of money to "build diversity in classical music." Didn't know that was a big problem, did you? Sort of like the lack of Argentine gauchos during the kumquat harvest in Nome.

Well, apparently there is a problem. Back in the 1970s American symphonies adopted the policy of "blind auditions," meaning would-be first chair bassoonists auditioned behind a wall or a hedge or some other opaque barrier. Candidates were even told to remove their shoes should the clack of your heels give away your sex, or the echo of your wooden clogs reveal that you are a dreaded Dutchman. Blind auditions were one response to the accusation that symphony directors, I guess like Leonard Bernstein, were notoriously racist and misogynistic boors. Probably anti-Semitic too. (Curiously, the policy was ditched in the final rounds when the screen came down and candidates were interviewed face to face and all of that pent-up prejudice was unleashed.)

Some argue that proof of prior discrimination, as well as the effectiveness of blind auditions, is demonstrated by the fact that women musicians now account for nearly half of U.S. orchestras. Minorities are somewhat less well represented, making up 14 percent. The New York Philharmonic has but one black member. However, Asian-Americans total less than 4 percent of the U.S. population, but make up 10 percent of elite orchestras.

Despite its many efforts to recruit minority students --including the establishment of an office of diversity -- the Julliard School (the nation's premiere institution of higher learning for artists and musicians) can boast of a mere 17 black or Latino students out of a student body of 501. Julliard Director of Diversity Allison Scott-Williams blames an unsupportive climate, telling Newsday that because American's orchestras have so few black musicians, few blacks are interested in becoming classical musicians. The Newsday reporter goes farther, citing racism as the cause. "Discrimination is discrimination...whether it affects orchestras or jails," Justin Davidson opines a paragraph later. The author then drags out the mummified excuse that blacks and Latinos cannot afford musical instruments and lessons, conveniently ignoring the fact that the children of poor Korean and Chinese immigrants somehow manage these things, as did the children of Jewish immigrants a hundred years ago. (Bernstein, son of Ukrainian immigrants, worked to pay for his own piano lessons.)

SO ARE BLIND AUDITIONS the answer? No, says Dworkin. "I believe that more information about the candidate should be incorporated, in the same way that institutions of higher learning take cultural and racial background into account." In other words, it is imperative that we note the hue of the would-be piccolist's epidermis.

In truth the results of thirty years of blind auditions showed, not that Bernstein and ilk were bigots, but that more women and Asians are majoring in classical music than were 50 years ago. Asian women especially.

And it also shows that the guy who put himself in charge of diversity in classical music is perhaps the biggest bigot of all. Dworkin assumes that it is fine to stereotype musicians as long as they are white or Asian. A more multihued orchestra can also be a more multitalented one, he tells Newsday. A greater variety of musicians will bring more versatile orchestras, able to play a broader range of music. Translation: whites and Asians can't swing.

So what should orchestras do to increase the numbers of minority violists? Perhaps they should follow Nazi Germany's lead which set quotas on the number of Jews who could attend medical or law school in order to allow more goyim to become doctors and lawyers? Orchestras could limit the number of white male and female Asian-American orchestra members, and instead of calling it a quota system, they could call it "diversity."

Or orchestras could follow the lead of the professional athletic associations which 50 years ago stopped excluding athletes on account of skin color and now simply hire the best. Does any one really want to see boxing or the NBA adopt a quota system?

Traditionally government and academia have been the testing grounds where theories of social engineering are put into practice. Social engineers, however, have been less successful making inroads into professional sports, the arts and the military. Perhaps that is why our government and schools run like an Edsel, while the San Francisco Symphony and the U.S. Marines are beyond compare.

Certainly a good case can be made that black and Latino students should be exposed to classical music. I'm all for it. But a similar argument can be made for poor and middle class white kids in rural schools, and yet I do not hear Aaron Dworkin pushing for more hillbilly cellists.

If ever there was a case for elitism it should be made on the world's great orchestral stages, where perfection should never be held hostage to political correctness. If you want mediocrity, look to the government and the public schools. Plenty there to go round.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.