In view of continuing racial disparities, should orchestras eliminate “blind” auditions?

After two black musicians accused the New York Philharmonic in 1969 of racial discrimination, the Philharmonic, and many other American orchestras, began auditioning prospective members behind a screen, so that neither the race nor the sex of the individual could be discerned. All that mattered was musical quality. (As I recall, women were told not to wear high heels so their sex couldn’t be sussed out by the clack-clack they made as they walked across the stage.)

Now, as a critic in the New York Times argues, while this procedure has been wildly successful in increasing the representation of women in orchestras, the proportion of blacks and Hispanics remain low. The solution, offered in an opinion piece by Anthony Tommasini, the Times‘s head classical-music critic, is to ditch the blind auditions and go back to the way things were. This argument has put me in a bit of a dilemma.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Here’s a picture of what a blind audition looks like (this is a mock audition at the Yale School of Music):

Young Artists participate in mock orchestral auditions led by wind and brass musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and The Philadelphia Orchestra

Tomsasini’s words are indented; mine are flush left.

Here’s the success of blind auditions in getting women into orchestras:

Blind auditions, as they became known, proved transformative. The percentage of women in orchestras, which hovered under 6 percent in 1970, grew. Today, women make up a third of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and they are half the New York Philharmonic. Blind auditions changed the face of American orchestras.

But, according to Tommasini, the change was “not enough”, for the racial disparity remained:

American orchestras remain among the nation’s least racially diverse institutions, especially in regard to Black and Latino artists. In a 2014 study, only 1.8 percent of the players in top ensembles were Black; just 2.5 percent were Latino. At the time of the Philharmonic’s 1969 discrimination case, it had one Black player, the first it ever hired: Sanford Allen, a violinist. Today, in a city that is a quarter Black, just one out of 106 full-time players is Black: Anthony McGill, the principal clarinet.

Clearly, the premise of blind auditions, like the practice of some science journals in having authors leave their names off their papers, is to reduce bigotry against names (or appearances), ensuring that only the quality of the music (or papers) counts in the audition. That sounds good, right? But for Tommasini, quality isn’t an issue any more.  For one thing, the people who audition at symphony orchestras, he argues, are all so good that there’s little to distinguish them, so why not hire based on ethnicity rather than musical quality? To paraphrase Dr. King, although what has counted in blind auditions is not the color of the skin but the sound of the music, Tommasini recommends that color of the skin should count:

The status quo is not working. If things are to change, ensembles must be able to take proactive steps to address the appalling racial imbalance that remains in their ranks. Blind auditions are no longer tenable.

. . . .If the musicians onstage are going to better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, the audition process has to be altered to take into fuller account artists’ backgrounds and experiences. Removing the screen is a crucial step.

One immediately thinks, “Well, if we go back to the old system which apparently discriminated against women, won’t that happen again?” Yes, it could, but apparently Tommasini would guard against that by having a quota system: you must hire so many women, so many blacks, and so many Hispanics. That eliminates discrimination. The “ensemble must reflect the diversity of the community it serves”.

Tomassini’s contention:

Blind auditions are based on an appealing premise of pure meritocracy: An orchestra should be built from the very best players, period. But ask anyone in the field, and you’ll learn that over the past century of increasingly professionalized training, there has come to be remarkably little difference between players at the top tier. There is an athletic component to playing an instrument, and as with sprinters, gymnasts and tennis pros, the basic level of technical skill among American instrumentalists has steadily risen. A typical orchestral audition might end up attracting dozens of people who are essentially indistinguishable in their musicianship and technique.

It’s like an elite college facing a sea of applicants with straight A’s and perfect test scores. Such a school can move past those marks, embrace diversity as a social virtue and assemble a freshman class that advances other values along with academic achievement.

Are orchestra applicants really like that? I have no idea, and I’m not sure I trust Tommasini here because he works for the New Woke Times, which has an agenda.

Tommasini doesn’t argue that diversity is an inherent good (which is my contention with affirmative action in schools, which I favor and see as a form of reparations), but that it actually has a salutary effect on the music itself:

For orchestras, the qualities of an ideal player might well include talent as an educator, interest in unusual repertoire or willingness to program innovative chamber events as well as pure musicianship. American orchestras should be able to foster these values, and a diverse complement of musicians, rather than passively waiting for representation to emerge from behind the audition screen.

This implies that black or Hispanic musicians would go about selecting and making music in a different way (isn’t that the job of the conductor, who doesn’t audition behind a screen?). I don’t know of any data bearing on this, but the claim “black musicians are different from white ones” clearly needs documentation. On the other hand, I don’t have to make that argument with the “reparations” view of affirmative action that I favor.

Now, like affirmative action in schools, one has to admit that it’s not meritocratic: that is, the practice will make the average academic qualifications of the entering class fall. Likewise, orchestras will have the average quality of the music fall. I am not claiming here that affirmative action for orchestras will result in hiring worse musicians, for Tommasini himself implies such a claim, since the pool of musicians of color who would audition for symphony orchestras is very small. Here’s what he says:

Some leaders in the field I’ve spoken with over the years have argued that the problem starts earlier than auditions. They say racial diversity is missing in the so-called pipeline that leads from learning an instrument to summer programs to conservatories to graduate education to elite jobs. In this view, even that strong pool of equally talented hypothetical auditioners might have few, if any, Black or Latino players in it.

Yet Afa S. Dworkin, the president of the Sphinx Organization, which is dedicated to encouraging diversity in classical music by fostering young artists, argues that the pipeline is not the problem, and that talented musicians of color are out there and ready.

“As we speak,” she said in a recent online roundtable discussion among leading Black musicians, “about 96 Black and brown students who were competitively selected from hundreds who auditioned for Sphinx’s summer programs are going to go through intensive solo and chamber music training.”

She added that any of those young artists would soon be worthy of entrance to an elite conservatory and, in just a few years, ready for top-tier auditions.

This is a tacit admission that orchestras aren’t yet ready for non-blind auditions. Tommasini makes another argument for favoring ethnic minorities: the burden of flying to auditions and paying for hotel rooms weigh heavily on them, making them less likely to attend. Perhaps non-blind auditions with affirmative action would help with this. As Tommasini concludes, “Slow and steady change is no longer fast enough.” I’m not sure how fast he wants change, though. Should we take down the screens now and begin implementing his system?

Somehow, though, this suggestion grated on me—the idea that bigotry against women was eliminated by the screen but bigotry against blacks and Hispanics was reinforced. A quota system, which is what Tommasini apparently wants, could remedy all of this. And, in truth, I don’t have much of a problem with that when it comes to colleges and universities. People deprived of equal opportunity to succeed in academics should get preferential admission to help repair the damage caused over centuries. Why shouldn’t that hold in orchestras as well as in colleges? Or is musical quality somehow more important for orchestras than academic quality is for colleges? For the life of me, I can’t see a moral difference.

At the same time, I realize that there’s underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics (but not Asians) in scientific publications—essential in attaining success in academics—but I somehow can’t bring myself to agree that the race of authors should be specified on papers, and that journals should have quotas of papers based on race so that “science will reflect the diversity of the community it serves.”

I don’t have a solution here, but I’m not 100% ready to sign on to Tommasini’s suggestion, which somehow seems too woke to me. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t make a good argument for “proportional representation”, or say that it should be done as a form of reparations, which would at least be an honest admission.

You tell me what you think. I know we have many musicians among the readers, but almost everyone will have an opinion here. Take down the audition screens, or leave them up?

173 Comments

  1. simonchicago
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Why not have the committee continue to have blind auditions. If they really feel that the top 5 or so are almost indistinguishable, select non-blindly among them, with explicit preferences.

    I do not agree that quality at the top is uniform. When judging faculty applicants, we seldom see candidates who would be out of place at the University of Chicago, yet some stand out even in a distinguished cohort.

  2. jezgrove
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    The screens have to stay up, unless there’s some evidence that they are disadvantageous to non-white musicians. (I can’t imagine how they could be, though.) Maybe minorities are underrepresented in orchestras because they are underrepresented in orchestral music tuition at the requisite level? If so, this could be because of financial inequalities or for cultural reasons – either way, I don’t see how orchestras recruiting via blind auditions can be to blame.

    • eric
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      I can’t imagine how they could be, though.

      It definitely screams for a statistically significant study, doesn’t it? If blind auditions end up selecting fewer people of color than what would be expected based on factors such as the demographics of the applicant pool, then that would be an important think to know. We could then start figuring out why.

      • Mike
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        “We could then start figuring out why.” But what would the musical community do if the result of such an effort was the discovery that on average the musical performances of people of color are not as good as others? There are several reasons why that might be, but possibly there are many people in the musical community who would not want to know that answer.

        • eric
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          I would hope they would ask why that is, and try and figure out the answer.

          possibly there are many people in the musical community who would not want to know that answer

          Are you implying we might find some racial basis for aptitude with the trombone? I find that kind of laughable; it seems to me pretty obvious that environmental factors are going to be the most likely culprit. I could be wrong about that, of course, but being wrong about it is so far down the list of potential causes that I hardly worry about it.

          A much bigger worry is that racists would use such a correlation to promote their racism, leaping directly from correlation to racial genetic basis. I think we’ve seen that often enough that it’s legitimate to think very carefully about how to carry out such studies before doing them, because a poorly carried out study can certainly result in lots of negative generalizations and hasty conclusions hurting people’s careers.

          • jezgrove
            Posted July 17, 2020 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

            Most of my favourite jazz trumpeters and early Blues guitarists are black – maybe they had a racial advantage? Or maybe those guys were drawn to those instruments and that genre for cultural reasons? Perhaps I should just never have been told their skin colour.

            • eric
              Posted July 17, 2020 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

              Jazz, like blues, originated in African American communities during segregation, so the plethora of extremely good African American jazz and blues artists is easily explained via culture. It’s sort of like wondering why a lot of the best creole food can be found in and around New Orleans.

              • Mike
                Posted July 18, 2020 at 12:02 am | Permalink

                Like I said, there are several reasons why that might be.

      • nzchicago
        Posted July 23, 2020 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

        It’s the demographics of the applicant pool. The percentage of people of color who apply for orchestral opening is tiny – far smaller than their percentage of the general population. The problems are in the education system, and are also cultural (if we can call the a lack of interest in classical music a “problem”).

        • Filippo
          Posted July 24, 2020 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          ‘The problems are in the education system, and are also cultural (if we can call the a lack of interest in classical music a “problem”).’

          Lack of funding for music instruction, materials and instruments is obviously a problem.

          It may reasonably be a problem that some teachers lack a gift for inspiring and persuading (pleading? begging?) students to actively participate in and perform music.

          (Parenthetically, does inspiring and persuading necessarily include the overbearing haranguing, pressuring, arm-twisting, berating, yelling, verbal abusing manifested by sports coaches? Why does society have a problem with such techniques in the classroom, but not on the football field? Why do students put up with that from coaches when they won’t tolerate it in class? Re: the fatuous lament uttered by adults reflecting on their time in school, “My teacher(s) should have made me . . . .”)

          Is there any type of music, the lack of interest in which constitutes a “problem”? From my observation, numerous pop music critics think it a “problem” if one is not an enthusiast for whatever music style may happen to predominate in and resonate with the mass pop culture.

          Does lack of interest in anything constitute a problem? Does lack of interest in any modest academic activity/competency (reading, writing, arithmetic up to the fifth grade level), as compared to passively watching and listening to sports and music, constitute a problem?

          Cultural expectations, pressure to conform, are determinative here. I contemplate the response of the mass pop culture should, say, (presidential candidate?) Kanye West, an avatar of pop culture personality/celebrity cultism, one day decide that classical music is what gives his life purpose and meaning.

          • nzchicago
            Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

            What I intended was to question the assumption that it is a “problem” when children growing up in a culture for which Western classical music doesn’t seem to be as relevant as many other genres of music don’t gravitate toward it during their formative years.

            I think most people would agree that it would be better to have the funding to give all children music education, but why one genre over another? Why not jazz, or Indian classical music, or any number of other musical traditions?

            I live in a mostly Mexican neighborhood where my neighbors have very little connection to the kind of music I play and many have never heard of the major opera company I work for. But they are constantly playing music from their own culture, a lot of which doesn’t especially appeal to me. Not only recorded music – I hear live music around here, and there are obviously working musicians performing and practicing in the area. The fact that I didn’t grow up learning Mexican music and thus never had the opportunity to apply for a job in that industry doesn’t strike me as a “problem.”

            • merilee
              Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

              Do you work for Lyric Opera?

              • nzchicago
                Posted July 25, 2020 at 3:46 am | Permalink

                Yes I do.

              • merilee
                Posted July 25, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

                Lucky you – when it’s open! Are you in the orchestra? It’s a beautiful venue where I was lucky enough to see L’Elisir d’Amore maybe 10 years ago, while visiting my cousin (who used to live in Jerry’s building.)

            • rickflick
              Posted July 24, 2020 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

              I was under the impression schools try to give kids a basic foundation so they can appreciate music, or go on to specialize. Maybe that strategy works well in a very culturally mixed student population. But you raise an interesting question. To what extent should a school incorporate local traditions? Especially good question where the population is mostly from a single ethnic/cultural heritage.

              • nzchicago
                Posted July 25, 2020 at 3:51 am | Permalink

                A basic foundation could be given using many genres. All students could be taught jazz, for instance.

                Don’t get me wrong, I’m a classical musician and I think it’s wonderful. But there is no reason to assume that Western classical music is “the” basic foundation.

                Personally, I would be in favor of students being exposed to a very wide variety of musical genres and given opportunities to explore whatever they preferred. But that would take money…

                When I was in school, a lot of the rationale behind the music program was to supply a band for the football season. So we had band instruments, and we spent our time learning the concert band repertoire. Without sports, I doubt there would have been the music funding in the first place. That just shows the priorities were. My first schools did not even have orchestra, since strings were of no use during marching season.

            • Filippo
              Posted July 25, 2020 at 8:04 am | Permalink

              ” . . . children growing up in a culture for which Western classical music doesn’t seem to be as relevant . . . but why one genre over another? Why not jazz, or Indian classical music, or any number of other musical traditions?”

              In my opinion, it is very unlikely that public school music instruction budgets and staff can and will be increased to accommodate one-on-one instruction (instrument or vocal) in a large number of musical traditions. Therefore, perhaps the time has come to give interested students music training vouchers so that students may follow their musical bliss and pursue what they deem relevant to themselves.

              Public schools could continue to strive to accomplish global multicultural music appreciation, and to teach musical notation and other fundamentals. (Reasonably funded schools have a variety of instruments – mostly percussion – from a variety of cultures.) Chorus could continue (though what to sing likely would continue to be contentious, as some students, parents, and administrators may consider certain selections uninteresting, boring, dated or irrelevant).

              This will at least expose students to other traditions, one of which they might take to with sufficient gusto that they will withstand and oppose the pressure of peers, family, etc. criticizing them for pursuing a tradition other than that of (and therefore allegedly “irrelevant” to) their particular culture.

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      This is just another example of dealing with the symptoms of systematic disparities, rather than with the systematic disparity itself. Fixating on this is a waste of time.

  3. Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m a professional musician, but not an orchestral musician, so I do not know the nitty-gritty details of the audition process. However, I do know what auditions are like for top-tier conservatories, and no, not all applicants are nearly equally good. I also listen to a great deal of orchestral music and the quality of playing, both live and on recordings, is quite variable from ensemble to ensemble. I do not agree with Tommasini that all applicants will be almost equally talented.

    • Mark
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      I agree. I sang for many years with the (all-volunteer, non-professional) chorus of a major American orchestra. I had good friends in the administration and the orchestra. I can recall hearing about a blind audition where no applicant “passed”, that is, was asked to join the orchestra.

      I do not think it’s accurate to say the applicants at the top are of mostly equal talent.

  4. John Donohue
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Rejected: “Black musicians are different than white.” That is a collectivist, racist remark in itself.

    Rejected: Tommasini dictating what ensembles “should” do (active recruitment for representation), as opposed to “passive emergence”. The context is: Classical Music. The criteria for hiring ought to be blind, and it ought to be “adherence to, and superior excellence in, the cannon that this orchestra champions, for its mission and promised to its patrons.”

    If you have ten “qualified” candidates and you stop there, your criteria for excellence is lame, lazy, and lacking – Mozart is disappointed. This is when discrimination should be applied! Discriminate deeper on the basis of quality. Raise the bar. Keep going until there is only one qualified candidate.

    Seriously, how would you feel, black or white, man or woman, with the constant lingering wonderment of “why exactly was I chosen, again?”

    Quotas in human interaction are disgusting.

    • savage
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      > Rejected: “Black musicians are different than white.” That is a collectivist, racist remark in itself.

      I expect demands to diminish the importance of classical music in orchestras. They will be asked to instead play jazz or hip-hop variations in smaller ensembles (those are less demanding) with rappers conquering the stage as the acclaimed soloists. This might even be collectivist and racist, but what matters is that these measures work, and they are probably even easier than rigging auditions. As a first step, most beloved composers can be rejected for being white, that is not being diverse enough.

      In a similar vein, the most frantic activists in colleges and universities tend to be those who are least academically able. It makes sense for them to change the mission of their institutions, because this allows them to gain a higher social status.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

        Wow. And to think some people say mordant social satire is dead.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        Hardly ‘mordant satire’, I’m afraid. It sounds hysterically exaggerated to me.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

          Mine was a stab at mordant sarcasm, Tim.

          Point being, Aristophanes, or Jonathan Swift, or even Andy Borowitz it wasn’t.

          A satirist should set himself to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To do its opposite is meretricious.

      • eric grobler
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        “. They will be asked to instead play jazz or hip-hop variations in smaller ensembles ”

        I despise hip-hop music.

        However there are a lot sophisticated jazz (but not well known) which is quite demanding to play. (such as Charles Mingus)

        • Posted July 18, 2020 at 4:17 am | Permalink

          I despise sophisticated jazz music.

          If despision* of a genre of music by random people on the Internet is an indication of technical quality of the performer neither jazz musivcians nor rap artists are any good.

          I’ not a fan of rap either, so I guess Snoop Dogg has no talent whatsoever.

          *I think I just invented that word, but I can’t think what the proper nounification of “to despise” is.

          • Filippo
            Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

            “If despision* of a genre of music by random people on the Internet is an indication of technical quality of the performer neither jazz musivcians nor rap artists are any good.”

            Just curious, do you think that most any media music critic’s views –

            (e.g., NYT’s Jon Caramanica, quite the hip-hop aficionado, and like many of his colleagues not shy about getting in gratuitous “just-so” digs – “despision” – wherever he can at the AC/MOR/Hit Parade music of 50-plus years ago)

            – are more legitimate/credible (by virtue of calling themselves a critic?) than those of any musical enthusiast poster here, or PhD music educator across the fruited plain?

            Whenever I happenstancely hear hip-hop, I listen closely for a note-by-note melodic line (melody). I rarely if ever hear one. My no doubt dated, “tone-deaf,” “out-of-touch” definition of music is that music has some sort of sung/played melody, which can be shown by musical notes printed on lines and spaces. Hip-Hop/Rap (whatever the crucial distinction between them is) is definitely a performance art. Certainly it is rhythmic, a characteristic of poetry. It definitely subscribes to rhyme, of which it seems modern poetry is otherwise dismissive. I hear no one dismissing hip-hop for emphasizing rhyme. Perhaps it is “chanting” of a sort.

            (I’m reminded how William Shatner has been raked over the coals by noble souls for his “singing.” He is not singing; he is giving a dramatic reading, underscored by instrumental music. And I think these noble souls know that; they just like getting in a gratuitous dig – “despision” – at someone. AFAIK Shatner has never claimed to be a singer. But grant for the moment that Shatner is singing. If so, then what would his dramatic reading with underlying music sound like?)

            It may not bear terribly close scrutiny (in that a given piece of music does not sound the same to different listeners), but, I reasonably subscribe to Duke Ellington’s maxim (courtesy of Professor Peter Schickele/PDQ Bach), “If it sounds good, it is good.”

            I think your “despision” an excellent word, certainly much better and less awkward than “despicableness,” an acceptable word per Google.

            (Forgive my logorrhea today.)

            • Posted July 19, 2020 at 6:08 am | Permalink

              Just curious, do you think that most any media music critic’s views … are more legitimate/credible (by virtue of calling themselves a critic?) than those of any musical enthusiast poster here, or PhD music educator across the fruited plain?

              Nope.

              But neither do I think that just because a person doesn’t get on with a particular genre of music, thematic in that genre is objectively bad.

              I think Duke Ellington’s maxim is fine as long as we understand that musical appreciation is personal and subjective.

  5. eric
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I would think a hybrid system would work just fine. I.e. you use blind auditions and have the judges score each candidate based on “musical quality alone.” Then everyone who gets above a certain score is put in a pool, from which the orchestra selects based on additional factors (or perhaps even just randomly selects, using the principle that every “good enough” candidate is equally deserving).

    A variant would be to use blind auditions to get your “top X” (top 2, top 3, whatever) candidates and then again use other factors or random draw to select from there.

    IOW there seems to me to be a lot of potential solutions here which allow orchestras to first judge musical merit without bias, find qualified candidates that way, but then also allows them to consider race and sex if that’s what they want to do.

    • savage
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      In practice, a far greater problem in auditions is that judges usually know their candidates in advance and can tell them apart anyway. Those who have influential teachers are certainly favored. It is an open secret in classical music that the outcomes of some prestigious competitions (like the Tchaikovsky Competition) are rigged through nepotism and even bribery.

      • eric
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        Sorry to hear that. Though I would not be surprised at all if one answer to the question of “how can a blind audition be biased” is “because the judges can tell what teacher/school you studied with by the way you play.”

        • savage
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

          It’s actually a bit worse than you imagine.

          It is not unheard of in prestigious competitions that jury members evaluate their own students! And then you have a lot of cases that effectively amount to the same outcome, e.g. when a teacher knows someone on the jury. It can therefore be important to get acquainted with certain teachers (and pay for their lessons) to stand a chance of achieving a good result in a competition.

  6. drosophilist
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    No. No, no, and no. This is woke lunacy. By all means, focus on fixing the pipeline and on providing support/encouragement/stipends for students of color (and for poor white students, come to think of it), but by the time you get to the audition, the only thing that should matter is the quality of the music.

    Everything else aside, just think how insulting the NYT writer’s opinion is to Black people! “You couldn’t hack it under the blind audition system, so the only way we could get you in is by using outright quotas.” What would this do to white musicians’ opinions of their Black colleagues? “So-and-so got the job only because we’re short of fulfilling our Black quota!” Nobody will be so crass as to say it out loud, of course, but people will think it.

    • eric
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      the only thing that should matter is the quality of the music.

      And yet, corporate America seems to not have collapsed by considering race and sex in hiring.

      Hybrid systems that use merit as an initial criteria but consider other factors once you’ve winnowed the pool to the qualified applicants are pretty much the norm now, IMO. There’s nothing demeaning about them (IMO) to either the prospective employees or the current employees. Though the sort of system I’m talking about and support is a very far cry from Tommasini’s proposed quota system, which I do not support.

      • Mike
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        An important aspect of the effectiveness of the hybrid system you describe is the willingness to sometimes accept instances in which the “pool of qualified applicants” does not include anyone of a particular racial or gender group (including white males – sometimes all the qualified applicants will be women or people of color). It must be true that sometimes that will be the case; if not then I think “qualified” would not have any meaning.

        • eric
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I agree. One has to be willing to accept the results of the initial blind screening – letting the chips fall where they may, as it were – and only then consider other factors. From the comments provided by the musicians on this forum, it appears this is not a profession where the qualified applicants are so common that you’d always get a decent sized pool out of the blind screening. Sometimes you might only get one, or two, or even none. So the idea of pre-screening for merit and only then considering other factors would not work as quickly to improve representation as it would in many other careers.

          • chris moffatt
            Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

            after you have selected the “best” by blind audition what other criteria should be applied? Only those it seems that satisfy the woke consciences of those who do not have to live with the results.

            The real issue is that there are so few orchestral positions and so many aspiring musicians. The top orchestras hire from the best regardless of race or nationality. Lesser orchestras not so largely because they can’t compete on salaries Many are made up of a mix of full time and part time. Further down the scale are mixes of part time and amateur members – and these can still be quite decent bands. I really don’t see a place for affirmative action here. If you increase the “pipeline” you’ll just increase the number of people chasing the few (and declining) seats in top orchestras. Most of these musicians have started really early in life to get where they are and many still aren’t really anywhere much despite the years of concentrated effort. This isn’t like a deskjob at Megalith Corp which any one could do after a few weeks of indoctrination.

            But for anyone who thinks affirmative action is needed because minorities can’t play to the same standard as majorities need only listen to Wynton Marsalis or Midori or name any one of hundreds……

      • Posted July 18, 2020 at 4:42 am | Permalink

        An orchestra is not the same as an insurance company. If I’m hiring people to process insurance claims there’s an enormous pool of qualified candidates – in fact you can probably train any reasonably intelligent person to do the job in a matter of weeks.

        If I’m the director of an orchestra, my focus is to make it as good as it could possibly be. If I have a need for one violinist I want to pick absolutely the best candidate that applies for the job. I do not want to accept (say) the tenth best candidate simply because that person is black and the black headcount is a bit low at the moment.

        If the auditions are properly blind, the cause of the problem* lies elsewhere further upstream. The use of quotas is always a crack papering exercise.

        *Be open to the possibility that there isn’t a problem: musical appreciation is a cultural phenomenon and perhaps black people generally find Western classical music uninteresting.

    • savage
      Posted July 18, 2020 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      Sorry, but I do not buy this argument.

      Being given prestigious and well-paid jobs that one could not get on merit is no insult. I never heard a beneficiary complain about it.

      The general public will also likely be ignorant about the audition process. How many people even know about the extent of racial bias in Ivy League admissions?

      • Posted July 18, 2020 at 4:51 am | Permalink

        Being given prestigious and well-paid jobs that one could not get on merit is no insult. I never heard a beneficiary complain about it.

        It is an insult to all the people who had to be the best candidate in order to get the job. I don’t know how obvious it would be if the token black violinist wasn’t quite as good as all the white violinists, but if it were obvious, how do you think the black person would enjoy the job?

        • savage
          Posted July 18, 2020 at 7:08 am | Permalink

          > I don’t know how obvious it would be if the token black violinist wasn’t quite as good as all the white violinists, but if it were obvious, how do you think the black person would enjoy the job?

          I think he could. Orchestra musicians are very reluctant to openly criticize one another anyway, and a token hire would not be in great danger of getting fired. I have seen musicians who were below standard play in orchestras because of personal connections, and they were okay with it. It was the other musicians who were disgruntled, yet they kept quiet.

          If his performance is a hazard to the work of his colleagues, he might be moved to a different position. One that allows him to keep his prestige and titles while diminishing his responsibilities as an orchestra musician. Corporations sometimes promote people to get rid of them in their current work areas, so why should orchestras not be capable of the same trick?

          I do admit that it can be stressful to be an underperformer. But this depends on the behavior of others as well as the culture and personal values of the underperformer in question (I have myself resigned from an orchestra because I felt I was not good enough, but the decision had more to do with my personality than my performance). Countless incompetent generals and kings have butchered and terrorized men throughout history. Do you think that bothered them?

          • Filippo
            Posted July 18, 2020 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

            I should think orchestra conductors are necessarily significantly less inclined to be quiet so as to “keep the peace,” inasmuch as s/he has to answer to a board of directors and disgruntled patrons.

            It seems one hazard is the negative “halo effect” an underperforming musician can have on the whole group. I find it hard to imagine that symphony boards and patrons will be much sympathetic. Also, the musician, possibly not “situationally-aware” of his/her underperformance, may not be much inclined to move into a non-musician role in the organization.

            How much more did your personality, as compared with your performance, have to do with the situation? After all, you were sufficiently “situationally aware” that you felt you were “not good enough.”

            How about the person who is unable or unwilling to recognize and acknowledge their performance limitations? It can put others, concerned about group performance quality, in an awkward situation in trying to deal with it without embarrassing the musician in question.

            As a long-term substitute teacher, I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with 3rd graders preparing for their recorder concerts. Individual motivations vary re: practicing on their own to learn nine songs, each succeeding song more difficult. From my modest experience no more than ten sufficiently, confidently learned all songs. (It is a joy to witness such student self-motivation.) I counted on all students to be sufficiently self-aware of how many songs they knew. No student said that they enjoyed embarrassing themselves in front of an audience due to insufficient practice. During dress rehearsal, one student (among a group of 5-6 remaining standing), who, frankly, had a little too high opinion of his capabilities generally, kept playing the same note all through a given song, apparently oblivious to his lack of preparedness, which would be manifestly obvious to any reasonable audience member who was conscious/awake. I consulted with other teachers on the best way to handle the situation so as not to embarrass him.

            Another example: over the years (I’m embarrassed to say how many) I have made a good faith stab at trying to make a modest success of a harmony vocal trio. Singers came and went – easy come-easy go. One singer (with larger choral group experience, like me, which is to say that several other singers were singing his part) could not stay on his own part. He couldn’t rely on anyone else to keep him from running off the harmonic road. He’d migrate to my part, and I would go to his to keep the harmony going. Then he’d go back to his part, and I’d go back to mine. This was after six once-a-week rehearsals (he could rehearse on his own time with a recording, if he so troubled himself), on only that ONE song.

            We finally had to have “The Talk” about the matter. He said to me to-the-effect, “Y’know, most people can’t tell the difference between two- and three-part harmony.” I replied to-the-effect, “that may possibly be, but, WE know the difference, and we ought to strive for as high a quality performance as we can, aiming for the standard demanded by our university choral directors, who would not tolerate anything less.”

            He was enough bent out of shape about it to respond to-the-effect, “g.d. this and that.” Apparently I was being unreasonable.

            For his own good, as “Dirty Harry” put it, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I myself try to be aware of my own, without anyone else being forced to have to point them out to me.

  7. Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    “… while this procedure has been wildly successful in increasing the representation of women in orchestras, …”

    That’s actually unclear. The relevant study was dubious and had an unclear outcome, according to reappraisals.

    • TJR
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      You beat me to it.

      The raw data had men doing better under blind auditions, but the authors realised that this could be due to more (and hence lower average ability) women applying when there are blind auditions. However their analysis was unclear and IIRC they gave no error bars.

      Its no surprise that there are more women in orchestras now, just as there are more women in nearly all middle class jobs. Its far from clear that blind auditions affected this.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    (As I recall, women were told not to wear high heels so their sex couldn’t be sussed out by the clack-clack they made as they walked across the stage.)

    You ask me, music is best played barefoot, like ol’ Jimmy Buffett, or my latest, favoritest amazing Aussie musician, Tash Sultana:

    • merilee
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Amazing is right! And I’ve never seen that many pedals. Is she Aboriginal?

      • merilee
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        Half Maltses, I see. The only objection I have to individuals referring to themselves as “they” is that I’m always looking for more than one person. The wiki piece referred to this person as both “her” and “they”.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          She sure plays the livin’ shit outta that 12-string starting at around 18 minute mark.

        • jezgrove
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          Yes, the use of pronouns in the article is confusing and obscures the facts. I’ve left a comment about it on her Wikipedia article’s Talk page.

      • jezgrove
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        I think the number of pedals is to do with the Ed Sheeran-style looping she’s doing, plus the need to have distinctive sounds layered over each other.

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Wow. Very nice. I play guitar and I appreciate how she plays off herself and with herself. Very introspective and personal. She’s built a nice setup the represents her personality well.

  9. Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I think it is significant that this article talks about representing the community but doesn’t say anything about whether black people attend classical concerts in numbers that reflect the racial mix in the community. How does the percentage of black musicians at this level compare to the percentage of black people in the audience?

    Taking this a step further, what should society do if black people don’t care about classical music as much as people of other races? Is that something we need to address with some kind of affirmative action? That would be strange. Should white people be forced to endure more rap music for the sake of diversity or better representing the community?

    Although I am not totally against affirmative action, I do think it creates distortions that are difficult to deal with. And there’s also the negative psychological impact of having been selected based on one’s race instead of competence.

    • boudiccadylis
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Exactly.

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      “How does the percentage of black musicians at this level compare to the percentage of black people in the audience?”

      Very good point

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

      I agree. So in a different area I want some form of gender parity.
      There s a push for more and more women in police forces as a matter of equity, so I am demanding an increase in the number of women criminals to ensure proper fairness.

      • Posted July 18, 2020 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        Crime is a profession? Be careful what you wish for.

  10. A C Harper
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    When we talk about selection for a particular job and people argue about how the current demographic make up of the employment should be more ‘fair’ I always ask “In a pefectly unbiased world what should the proportions be?”

    Does the population of (say) clarinet players echo the mix of people in the general population? And of the people who qualify for the job, how many want it?

    You need to know what the proportions *should* be before you try and apply some arbitrary preferred advantage (or disadvantage) to a particular group.

  11. Jon Gallant
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    It was predictable that communicants of the
    holy trinity of Diversity/Equity/Inclusion would advocate a quota system. Moreover, the quota for favored minorities will be set at higher than their representation in the community, as the only way to make up for past under-representation. This is already a demand sometimes heard in regard to new hires in academic fields. As to the question of the standards applicants must meet, we have been told by some of the Consultant/Pardoners in the D/E/I field that “Perfectionism” is a remnant of racial oppression.

  12. AlTazim
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Putting aside the question of race and putting on my conspiracy-minded tinfoil hat, this also sounds like a convenient way to resurrect nepotism and corruption in the auditioning process. Just one more example of the war on working and middle class people by the supremely wealthy and politically/socially connected: pull up the ladder by eliminating objective criteria for merit-based advancement in the name of “justice”.

    • Mike
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes, class not race.

  13. Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been a classical music recording engineer and producer for over 40 years, so I’ve seen a thing or two.

    It’s true, classical music is overwhelmingly white, as long as you consider Asian, Latin American, and European “white”. But the few individuals who make it into professional orchestras are the ones who have been studying and practicing hard since they were young children! So if there is “structural racism”, it reflects on those kids’ parents, the junior highs and high schools they attended, and their college experiences. Don’t blame the orchestra audition process!

    Also, as others have said, there isn’t and shouldn’t be a “good enough” level of proficiency for an orchestra job — it should go without saying that an orchestra needs to hire the very best performers it can afford! And it would be one thing if they had an open chair in the second violin section — but when it comes to the section leaders, and the winds and brass and percussion, each player is very exposed and individual style and talent and even personality matter — a lot. Orchestral players are not interchangeable parts like factory workers.

    This is a strange time to be airing this complaint. Every orchestra is hurting badly now, and without generous and innovative sources of funding many will not survive — and they had already been wracking their brains for a means of survival! It’s like arguing for equal opportunity for coal stokers on the Titanic.

    • nay
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Hear, hear! (no pun intended)
      Also, is there a Chorus Line problem going on? Recall in the movie that heroine Cassie had to cut out her “style” moves in order to fit back into the chorus line. If musicians are working hard to differentiate themselves from the “norm”, they might not be a good fit for the total orchestral sound. If they aren’t searching for a potential soloist, too much style could lose you the job.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      And it would be one thing if they had an open chair in the second violin section …

      Reminds me of a story I heard about the time Leonard Bernstein took the New York Philharmonic on a national tour. The orchestra was scheduled to perform a concert in Tennessee during a flu epidemic that had hit the string section particularly hard, so had to hire a violinist through the Nashville union hall to help fill in the second violin section.

      At the practice session on the afternoon before the concert, Lenny took the conductor’s podium, and all the musicians put their charts on the music stands before them. Lenny surveyed the pit, spotted the new fellow, paused, looked over his half-glasses, fixed the man with a stare and said, “I take it you DO read music, sir?”

      “Sure, maestro,” said the fiddle player, “though not enough to hurt my playin’.”

      • Jon Gallant
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        Wonderful story, Ken. Still another high-point of this website.

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      “It’s true, classical music is overwhelmingly white”

      Surprisingly Classical Indian music is mostly performed by Indians.

  14. C.
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Quite frankly, I find it hard to believe there isn’t a so-called “pipeline” problem, but not just for minorities. Is there that much of an interest in orchestral music among the younger generations, especially those from middle class, working class or impoverished families? If minority families are more likely to be in these classes, which we are told they are (I don’t know the statistics) then I would expect far less interest from these kids or their families in listening to, much less playing this style of music. Perhaps I’m an ignorant hayseed, a working class zero, I certainly don’t rub elbows with the social elites, nor do I know anyone who attends those performances or plays in them. What I do know is it’s not the music I hear blaring from the cars of teenagers, be it rural, urban, or anything in between and I couldn’t find this “pipeline” if I tripped over it!

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      You raise a good point. I don’t know the statistics (quite possibly, nobody has ever studied it), but in my experience quite a few top players’ parents were also music professionals and the offsprings’ training began practically from birth. Others’ parents who may not have been musical were successful enough in life to foot the bill for private music lessons, summer music camps, fine instruments, college educations, and help with living expenses in the early years.

  15. DrBrydon
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I don’t believe in quotas, because they assume that, all other things being equal, all groups will seek to engage in all activities to the same degree, and that this isn’t subject to change. It also assumes that “under representation” is bad. Once you establish a quota, that becomes the key performance indicator. If we assume that there is still racial bias here, perhaps the auditions are not blind enough.

  16. rickflick
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m on the fence on this question. I like the idea of giving minorities a leg up, so to speak. On the other hand blind should eliminate bias on the part of the judges. Perhaps the candidates applying could be selected by race in advance (method TBD) adding extra minorities to bring them up to the their representation in the local population. Not too satisfying, but it might be a good compromise. Can’t lose the women though.
    When I lived in NY I attended the Bard College student conservatory orchestra’s performances. I was always struck by the number of Asian faces – perhaps 70% and mostly women.

  17. Adam M.
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    For one thing, the people who audition at symphony orchestras, he argues, are all so good that there’s little to distinguish them, so why not hire based on ethnicity rather than musical quality?

    If everyone was practically indistinguishable, then there would be no racial bias in a blind audition and you’d effectively get a sampling of the applicant pool. (There might be some bias towards the first or last people heard, but that can be solved by collecting everyone and having them audition in a random order, which they may already do…)

    So either they applicants are distinguishable with black and Latino applicants playing worse, or, more likely, there just aren’t enough black or Latino applicants in the first place, in which case the solution is not to eliminate blind auditions.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      “…you’d effectively get a sampling of the applicant pool.”

      Exactly. The entire “problem” is based on the assumption that every group in society has the same aspirations. How is it that the same people who blather on endlessly about the need for people to freely express their unique cultural identities can’t seem to accept that some cultures just don’t necessarily include a particular kind of music?

  18. darrelle
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s highly implausible that blind auditions have contributed to preventing fair representation of minorities in orchestras.

    If there is a problem it is surely elsewhere. Perhaps in how musicians are selected for auditions, or anywhere earlier in the pipeline all the way back to grade school.

    I’m not sure, and I can’t quite nail it down, but it doesn’t seem to me that a college education and a seat in an orchestra are equivalent when it comes to consideration of affirmative action. One is about developing tools to enable you, personally, to create a better life for yourself. The other is a collaborative effort to create the best art the collaborators can achieve.

  19. savage
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    > NYT: Blind auditions, as they became known, proved transformative. The percentage of women in orchestras, which hovered under 6 percent in 1970, grew.

    Correlation is not causation. That orchestras were sexist in the 1970s does not imply that the widespread introduction of blind auditions that occurred a few decades later was instrumental in changing that. Indeed, I suspect that they were the result of changing attitudes. A large study that has been misreported by various media outlets did actually not show that blind auditions made a difference: https://medium.com/@jsmp/orchestrating-false-beliefs-about-gender-discrimination-a25a48e1d02

    > NYT: A typical orchestral audition might end up attracting dozens of people who are essentially indistinguishable in their musicianship and technique.

    The skill differences between musicians have indeed gotten smaller and there are few available positions (globalization is an aggravating factor: Everyone can hear a world-class recording or recital these days, so why settle for less?). But this makes it even more necessary in my view to ruthlessly select the outliers among the musicians. To deny that they have outstanding abilities is as nonsensical as to claim that Messi is not a better soccer player than his Champions League rivals because the average person would not stand a chance against any of them.

    > NYT: It’s like an elite college facing a sea of applicants with straight A’s and perfect test scores.

    Elite colleges could avoid this problem with entrance examinations. The tests that provided so many of their applicants with straight A’s are made too easy, possibly to hide disparities.

    > JAC: People deprived of equal opportunity to succeed in academics should get preferential admission to help repair the damage caused over centuries. Why shouldn’t that hold in orchestras as well as in colleges? Or is musical quality somehow more important for orchestras than academic quality is for colleges? For the life of me, I can’t see a moral difference.

    Somehow the Chinese can produce world-class musicians whose parents had a modest income. As for the opportunities, a musician has to create them for himself. He certainly needs the self-discipline to practice a lot.

    Yes, musical ability is more important to conservatories than academic ability is to colleges. There is frankly nothing you can do to become a great pianist if you did not spend your childhood practicing. University courses are a lot less competitive in that respect.

    I agree that a moral difference is hard to see. In a recent article by Krauss, he defended meritocracy in physics. Yet millions of Americans employers would get sued into bankruptcy if they ditched diversity for meritocracy, e.g. by using IQ tests in hiring. When most ordinary Americans have to live under a system of legally enforced racist (and to a lesser extent sexist) discrimination, why should none of this apply to lofty institutions, particularly those full of liberals that have always defended affirmative action when it hurt their social inferiors?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Yet millions of Americans [sic] employers would get sued into bankruptcy if they ditched diversity for meritocracy …

      You rightly note the fallacy that correlation implies causation, but your assertion above is pure ipse dixit.

  20. Jonathan Dore
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m pretty sure (in case anyone wants to do the research, or knows if it’s been done) that it would be demonstrable that black populations in Europe and North America statistically show less interest in Classical music (whether measured in attendance at concerts, buying and listening to recordings, learning an instrument while young and playing its classical repertoire, performing in amateur classical ensembles etc.), than white and Asian people, so their under-representation in orchestras selected on quality of musicianship is inevitable as long as that situation persists.

    The “pipeline” to get into an orchestra is the famed 10,000 hours of practice — orders of magnitude more than most musicians in the pop charts put in. If you didn’t grow up with the time or resources to do that, or in a community or peer group that looked suspiciously on your interest, then your chance of joining an orchestra is going to be lost twenty years before you might even think of auditioning.

    As usual, the missing elephant in the room with woke analysis is class: the vast majority of orchestral players grew up in middle-class homes with supportive parents who could afford to pay for lessons and instruments for 10 – 15 years as their child’s interest and abilities grew. The solution, then, is only going to come from growing the black middle class — a process that only really began in the US some fifty years ago, and in the UK for perhaps half that time; both countries still have a long way to go. Just this week the BBC has shown a wonderful documentary about the Kanneh-Mason family in Nottingham (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000kycj — the main programme is only available in the UK unless you have a VPN, but the trailers are free). An incredible family of 7 children, all of them outstanding classical musicians. What’s the key takeaway? Not that they’re black, but that their parents are a business manager and a university lecturer, they live in a large house in a leafy suburb, and they’re taken to London every week for conservatoire training. In other words, they’ve had the crucial middle-class upbringing that makes long-term serious study of an instrument possible.

    Tommasini simply wants to short-circuit that process by forcing orchestras to lower their standards (which *will* be the result of focusing on any other qualification than musicianship), all for the sake of people of tender conscience who can then believe the problem solved when all they’ve done, effectively, is to fake the results. As with universities, orchestras are being blamed (“appalling racial imbalance”) for the outcome of a situation that is not of their making and to fix which is far beyond the scope of their influence.

    Tommasini makes a telling comparison with sport, but does not seem aware of the irony: the ranks of top sprinters in the world are almost entirely black. There is, in other words, an “appalling racial imbalance” in top national, regional and global athletic competitions. Since there are vast numbers of white sprinters who are probably capable of running 100 metres in, say, 10.1 seconds, shouldn’t there be a quota system to include a few of them, rather than insisting on a pure meritocracy in which only those capable of 9.9 seconds make it to the final (who happen to be 95% black)? After all, what’s a fifth of a second between friends?

    • Filippo
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      “Tommasini makes a telling comparison with sport, but does not seem aware of the irony . . . .”

      Sub

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t that what I wrote?

        • Filippo
          Posted July 18, 2020 at 9:12 am | Permalink

          ‘“Tommasini makes a telling comparison with sport, but does not seem aware of the irony . . . .” Sub

          Isn’t that what I wrote?’

          Yes, it is, which is why it’s in quotes. I thought it an interesting comment, prompting me to “Sub” so as to read more, interesting comments.

          Sorry for the confusion.

          • Jonathan Dore
            Posted July 18, 2020 at 10:24 am | Permalink

            Thanks Filippo — I’m mystified. What does “sub” mean?

            • Filippo
              Posted July 18, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

              ‘Thanks Filippo — I’m mystified. What does “sub” mean?’

              It’s an abbreviation of “subscribe” used here frequently by posters to indicate that they’re subscribing to a given PCC(E) post/thread, presumably because they find it interesting, so as to read additional comments. They themselves may not have a comment to make at that time, hence one sees only “sub.”

            • rickflick
              Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

              It’s an indirect way to allow you to check the “subscribe” box just below the text entry window.

              • Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I was thinking of making that point. It doesn’t really matter what you write in the comment. In fact, someone here uses a few cute paw print emoji characters, instead of “sub”, for the same purpose. At least I assume so.

              • merilee
                Posted July 18, 2020 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                Yup🐾🐾

              • rickflick
                Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

                Merilee. 🐾

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      I was sort of surprised that “classical music” did not make the NMAAHC list of whiteness traits.

  21. Joe Dickinson
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    If you’re going to practice affirmative action, it should be based on objective socioeconomic factors such as parents’ income and educational attainment, not the rather arbitrary way in which we identify races. Should the offspring of a black couple who are a physician and a lawyer with decidedly upper middle class incomes and lifestyle receive preference over the child of a single working-class mom who happens to be white? So, keep the screens and ask for a standardized CV that covers those socioeconomic issues.

  22. Adam M.
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    It’s hard not to notice that these calls for diversity only ever go one way. The NYT isn’t pushing for the NBA to have fewer blacks, for Lincoln University to have more whites and Asians, for black-run or woman-run businesses to hire more whites or men respectively, for rap and R&B musicians to “reflect the diversity of the communities they serve”. ~90% white hockey must “diversify or die”. ~90% black basketball is a diversity success story. Etc.

    There are probably thousands of explicitly racially exclusive organizations for blacks and Hispanics in the USA, ranging from various social and professional networking groups in every city up to the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses. Their racially exclusive policies and focuses are not a problem and you don’t hear anyone pushing them to diversify. But if an organization has merely color-blind policies and they don’t result in sufficient “diversity” – i.e. too many whites – then it’s a big problem. (Of course, any kind of racially exclusive organization for whites would cause national outrage.)

    The stark double standard here seems rather racist to me. It’s clear these pushes for diversity are not driven by defensible principles. (E.g. if the principle is “reparations for slavery” then why should they apply to immigrants from Mexico? If the principle is “uplifting the downtrodden”, then why should it not apply to downtrodden whites?)

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Takes some next-level historical obtuseness to be able to ignore the reasons these organizations and organizations like the NAACP or the SCLC or CORE or the Urban League or La Raza (or, for that matter, the ADL) came into existence in the first place.

      • Adam M.
        Posted July 20, 2020 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

        The question is whether they can justify racially exclusive policies and the consequent double standard today.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 22, 2020 at 10:07 am | Permalink

          Yes, of course, now that racism as been totally eradicated, the entire raison d’être for these organizations has shifted to keeping a boot on the white man’s neck.

  23. Dean Reimer
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    If, as Tommasini claims, all musicians auditioning at that level are of barely indistinguishable skill, then you would expect by chance alone that your orchestra should reflect the racial makeup of the people auditioning.

    If 1.8% of players are Black, then I would expect that either that percentage of people auditioning are Black, or that they are not in fact at the same skill level.

    Either way, if we think there is a problem here, it needs to be addressed lower in the pipeline. But I suspect it’s a self-selection issue: the best Black and Hispanic musicians are choosing genres other than classical.

  24. mvanbellinghen
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    “If the musicians onstage are going to better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, the audition process has to be altered to take into fuller account artists’ backgrounds and experiences”. I wonder: why should an orchestra “reflect the diversity of the communities they “serve” (?)” ? It is like saying: when in a restaurant, first go to the kitchen and look if the cooks do reflect the diversity of the clients sitting in the restaurant.

    • jezgrove
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      If the orchestra is on tour, does it have to adjust each night to be in accordance with the local population? “Tonight: Harlem. Tomorrow: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina”?

      • Filippo
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        ‘If the orchestra is on tour, does it have to adjust each night to be in accordance with the local population? “Tonight: Harlem. Tomorrow: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina”?’

        And what if they perform online, thereby being globally accessible?

        • jezgrove
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          They’re going to need to find a lot of Chinese and Indian musicians!

  25. Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Why does the left never raise the issue of diversity in domains that are dominated by people of color, far out of proportion to their representation in society?

    For instance, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is less than 20% white, and that includes non-Americans (mostly European). American-born white males are therefore hugely underrepresented in the NBA.

    And Asians and Hispanics are virtually non-existent in the league.

    But for me, a basketball fan, I only care about seeing the highest quality of play. I really don’t care about the color of the players.

    And, I don’t conclude from these racial disparities that the NBA discriminates against whites, Asians, and Hispanics. Alternative reasons, such as the degree to which the respective subcultures value the sport and actively work at getting better at it, explain the disparities in my view. If white kids want to be in the NBA, they need to put the time in on the court.

    If someone started arguing that we should have quotas for the NBA to admit more whites, asians and hispanics, under the grounds that there is little to separate top level players, I would consider them either quite ignorant of the game (and a bit obtuse), or having something against black people.

    • jezgrove
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      And short people are ridiculously underrepresented…

      • Posted July 17, 2020 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        I think I know the answer to my own question.

        I’ve been reading a lot of work by critics of PoMo, and one of the consistent criticisms of postmodernism (which seems to have infected gender studies and has spawned “Critical race theory”) is that it is not only riddled with logical inconsistencies, but that it almost revels in them.

        For example, many of us understand the concept of working to increase diversity within groups as a more universal principle, as in any group that lacks diversity in a domain (such as race) should seek to increase that diversity. That follows logically from the supposed benefits of diversity that are often touted. If too much racial homogeneity is stifling and detrimental to the group, that should be the case whether the group is majority white, majority black, or whatever.

        But postmodernists view “diversity” as a mere tool that is subordinate to their overarching activist goals. If the goal is to increase representation of black people in a group, then wheel out the diversity argument. But if overrepresentation of black people in a group is not viewed as a problem, and in fact is viewed favorably, the the concept of diversity is completely ignored. Like any tool, it can be used whenever you want to further your political goals.

        I imagine “free speech” is conceived of the same way by these folks…

        • Posted July 17, 2020 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          It sounds like what you’re saying is that diversity without consideration of personal preferences, accidents of history, etc. is not logical or helpful. If so, I agree. However, the details matter. It would not be reasonable to consider slavery an accident of history, for example. The real lesson, IMHO, is that seeking diversity to the exclusion of all other considerations and goals is not going to work.

    • eric
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      Why does the left never raise the issue of diversity in domains that are dominated by people of color

      OMG you’re right! They only worry about whether groups historically beaten down and discriminated against are getting a fair shake, and not about whether the groups who did the beating and discriminating are getting a fair shake!

      We should add history-blindness to color-blindness when listing the things the left should do better, eh?

      • Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

        Swing and a miss, Eric.

        You have completely misunderstood my point. The far left will point to some domain, such as physics, and note that blacks are underrepresented in this field. Ergo, racism MUST be the cause of this disparity.

        But what if we point to elite athletics, and note the under-representation of whites, asians, and hispanics. Must racism against these groups be the cause, just like in physics? No, says the far left. In fact, most just dodge the issue entirely, as you have.

        But the question remains why the NBA is dominated by blacks nonetheless. If racism against non-blacks is not the reason, what is are the reasons?

        It seems entirely reasonable to me that different subcultures value different things, and spend their time and effort disproportionately on these things resulting in different levels of achievement. Why do Asian kids dominate the elite high schools in New York City? Could it be, perhaps, that they spend literally 2x as much time studying than blacks and hispanics?

        “They only worry about whether groups historically beaten down and discriminated against are getting a fair shake, and not about whether the groups who did the beating and discriminating are getting a fair shake!”

        Actually, the left should be worried that every group gets a fair shake. If racism explains all under-representation of groups in a given domain of achievement, then they have to call out instances where whites, hispanics, and asians are experiencing racism. Otherwise, they aren’t really anti-racism, are they?

        People actually notice this sort of inconsistency and hypocrisy.

        And, by the way, where do you get off lumping Asians and Hispanics into the groups that did the “beating and discriminating”?

        • Tim Harris
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

          Surely, one important reason why certain sports in predominantly white countries have been and are dominated by black people is because sport is one of the areas into which people from disadvantaged backgrounds have have been readily able to move, at least relatively recently. I recall Jack Johnson’s difficulties in getting white boxers to fight him, and there is the history of baseball.

          • eric grobler
            Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

            The other reason is genetics. People from West African heritage dominate short distance running for example. (but not swimming for some reason)

            • Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

              For swimming, you need access to swimming pools. There is a bit of a socioeconomic bottleneck happening here. At the YMCA where we go, there is actually a poster which shows the drowning statistics by race, noting that black people are a disproportionate number of the drowning victims. Is it because they are somehow “genetically” less able to swim? Or rather, is it that black kids don’t get a lot of swimming lessons! That’s the first place I would look before jumping onto the innate physical differences between the races bandwagon.

              Also, consider Olympic weightlifting. If blacks have some innate advantage in fast twitch muscle fibres, then they should clean up in this sport, which is all about explosive power.

              The reason they don’t is because this is a highly technical sport that requires specialized equipment and training, and without that exposure, you’ll never become a great weightlifter.

          • Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

            I agree that sports present opportunities to succeed even in the most heavily racist environments. I am paraphrasing an explanation of this from a black scholar (I forget the name), but he noted that one can succeed in sports at a young age and with little institutional or family support. You could be 19 and from a broken home and still be a superstar and earning millions.

            Sonny Liston became one of the greatest boxers ever, despite coming from a terrible background, not having gone to school, spending time in jail, and being subject to constant and vicious overt racism.

            So to steelman your argument, racism could still explain the underepresentation of blacks in ph.d programs in physics because unlike sports, it takes years and years to make a physicist, and the raw talent of a young black kid cannot overcome that many institutional hurdles over that long a period.

            But again, that fails to explain why nonwhites, such as Asians, have thrived in these fields. Even if you argue that the racism they experience is generally less than what black people experience, it does not explain why Asians outperform whites. And no, these are not all socioeconomically privileged Asian families…many come from quite humble circumstances.

            Also, consider the academic success of black immigrants from the West Indies. That really throws a spanner in the “racism is the reason for academic disparity” arguments.

            Therefore, there must be other factors, such as cultural expectations and the stability of the family unit, that are in play. But in this current climate, only a select few black scholars are able to point these things out without risking their careers.

            • eric grobler
              Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

              “Also, consider the academic success of black immigrants from the West Indies. That really throws a spanner in the “racism is the reason for academic disparity” arguments.”

              I have mentioned this many times and people just ignore it. Thomas Sowell convinced me that culture plays a major role and african american culture is now based on a white academic designed victim narrative.

              • Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

                Yes, and I have tried to find the rebuttal to this point. Honestly, I was suspicious of Sowell at first. Perhaps it is simply not true, or perhaps it is overstated, or offset by some other factor.

                But I haven’t seen much in the way of a good rebuttal. Perhaps someone knows of a good reply to this point that Sowell (and many others like Coleman Hughes) have made many times?

                At a certain point, one wonders if the woke left even care to engage in these kinds of fact-based analysis of racial issues.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

              I do not think you can treat of such things as ‘cultural expectations and the stability of the family unit’ in isolation from the history of the oppression of black people in the USA, and I am afraid I think it really rather myopic to do so.

              • Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

                But nor can you explain those entirely in terms of oppression.

                60+ years ago, black families were much more cohesive than they are know. They did not have near the levels of single parent families and out of wedlock births that they have now. To make a point that many non-woke black scholars have made, how is racism the reason for this if racism has decreased over the past century???

                Also, you might not be aware of folks like Frederick Douglas, and W.E.B. DuBois, and Martin Luther King, who all came from scholarly backgrounds and considered education paramount. You may not also be aware of the excellent education that many all-black schools provided in the past century. I’m not advocating a return to segregation, but the existence of those schools demonstrated that in certain times and places there did exist a culture of black academic achievement. And in the opinion of many good black scholars, journalists, and thinkers, those standards have eroded over time within many black communities, and this erosion of standards cannot be laid at the feet of white people.

                Sir, shed this simplistic notion that past oppression is 100% to blame for disparities in outcome between blacks and other groups.

                To paraphrase John McWhorter in one of his more blunt moments:

                “Why are black people the only people in history that have to have everything perfect before we can achieve anything? Why can’t we look to the considerable opportunities that we have now and make our own way?”

              • Tim Harris
                Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

                I have nowhere said, nor even intimated, that past oppression is 100% is to blame for the disparities you speak of. I simply said that to treat such disparities in isolation from history is myopic. Nor is oppression simply something that is somehow that is magically in the past.

              • eric grobler
                Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

                Tim, you should read Sowell.

                Black Family units were healthy in the 50’s. In fact on some metrics they performed better than whites, lower divorce rate I think.

                “history of the oppression of black…”
                What is the reason african american family structures are in such a bad state NOW when they were relatively healthy in the 50’s?

                Don’t you think using slavery as an explanation why african americans do poorly while blacks from the Caribbean perform very well although they also suffered under slavery is myopic?

                Are you familiar with Thomas Sowell?

              • Tim Harris
                Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

                I have heard of Sowell, and shall try to look him up. But I should be interested to see some fact-based studies, as opposed to ready and easy opinions (I am not referring to you, eric), of why things have come to this pass. And, once again, can I refer people to Reni Eddo-Lodge’s ‘Why I am No Longer Talking to White People about Race’? It is very clearly written, highly intelligent and informed, and was chosen as Non=Fiction Book of the Year by both Foyles and Blackwell’s (bookshops), and long listed for the Baillie Gifford Prize. I have learnt a lot from it (though in my youth, working as a labourer on building-sites and in factories, I saw racism directed at black people by whites on quite a few occasions – it was not pleasant), and I think others will, too.

              • Tim Harris
                Posted July 18, 2020 at 12:59 am | Permalink

                Sorry to say too much, as I realise I probably have, but yes I am actually aware of Frederick Douglass, Dubois & King, as well as of James Baldwin, among many others, and I have also read King’s words about ‘the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice and who is ‘the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride towards freedom”.

                Regarding the difference between immigrants from the Caribbean and native-born black Americans, I have broached that subject on a different thread some time ago, and shall merely say that historical & social factors need to be taken into account. They are not the same in each case.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:33 am | Permalink

              Sonny Liston became one of the greatest boxers ever, despite coming from a terrible background, not having gone to school, spending time in jail, and being subject to constant and vicious overt racism.

              Professional boxing competitors have always been drawn from members of the forced underclass — the Irish in the early days, the great Jewish fighters of the 1920s and ’30s, Blacks from the 1940s and ’50s through today, joined by Hispanics in the last several decades.

              It is members of the economic underclass who first develop fighting skills on the streets. And when it comes to choosing athletic endeavors, the progeny of the rich (quite understandably) tend to opt for something other than that which requires grueling hours in the gym repeatedly taking punches.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:15 am | Permalink

          But the question remains why the NBA is dominated by blacks nonetheless. If racism against non-blacks is not the reason, what is are the reasons?

          You may be ignorant of the racism that once pervaded the NBA itself. The league didn’t break the color barrier until the 1950-51 season. And despite Black players quickly coming to dominate the competition, owners and management were very reluctant to put an all-Black five-man starting line-up on the floor (which didn’t occur, and quite by happenstance due to a pregame injury when it did, until 1964) or to have an all-Black rooster (which didn’t occur until 1979).

          For quite some time it was understood that NBA management encouraged that there be at least one white player in a team’s starting line-up, and a couple of white players on a team’s rooster — which would seem to constitute a “quota system” for whites by almost any measure.

          • Posted July 18, 2020 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

            I’m not ignorant of the racism against blacks in the NBA, I probably know a lot more about it than you, Ken.

            But more importantly, what does this have to do with my question? Clearly, racism was ultimately impotent in this case. If anything, the racial bias goes the other way now (although I think this has very little to do with the underrepresentation of whites, Asians, Hispanics). So why are other groups so underrepresented in the NBA… I gave an answer earlier that explains how this can happen without racism, so perhaps you could evaluate that. And if you agree, might we then consider that similar non-racist factors explain black underrepresentation in other domains?

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted July 20, 2020 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

              I’m not ignorant of the racism against blacks in the NBA, I probably know a lot more about it than you, Ken.

              I concede that’s always possibility, though you’d have to go some, and you offer no bona fides to support the assertion, either here or at your linked website. (BTW, our host requires that you provide your real name, either here or at the website itself, if you want to link to your website through your commenting handle here, per “the Roolz” in the upper left margin of this site, q.v.)

              I offered that bit of NBA history because the comment I was replying to suggested you may have been under the misapprehension that Black players’ domination of the NBA sprang ex nihilio with the league’s creation.

  26. pablo
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Why have auditions at all? That just discriminates against poor people who couldn’t get scholarships to Juliard, or Eastman.

    • jezgrove
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      It also discriminates against people who know which end of a trumpet to blow in – bl**dy elitists!

      • jezgrove
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        Oops! *who don’t know*

  27. StephenB
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to bring to the fore something a few commenters have touched on, to wit, the significant numbers of Asians in the major orchestras, especially in the string sections. Scroll through the rosters of the Chicago Symphony or the New York Philharmonic, to take two prominent examples, and you’ll see what I’m referring to. Tommasini makes no mention of this in the article. For comparison, in the middle of the last century, American orchestras were populated by a significant number of Jews, and of that number, many came from Hungary in flight from the Nazis. From this group America got some brilliant conductors who brought it’s orchestras into world-class prominence: George Szell in Cleveland, Eugene Ormandy in Philadelphia, and Fritz Reiner in Chicago. Those heydays are long over, and we most likely won’t see them again, since symphony orchestras are dying.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      I had mentioned the Asian dominance as well. It occurs to me that both Asian and Jewish immigrants are particularly hard working, goal oriented, disciplined groups. Hungry, as it were, to establish themselves in US society. And, aren’t those the personal traits of an accomplished musician? I don’t claim to know, but I suspect African American families, on the whole, do not pressure their suns and daughters to study two hours a day at their instruments, as the other two groups may do. This suggests that the pool of Black and Hispanic talent may be smaller than their proportion in society would imply. Thus, there is a cultural basis for disparity. Tommasini didn’t mention this, so I don’t know if he would deny it or think it shouldn’t make a difference in what we expect.

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      For some reason 20th century violinists were dominated by Jewish talent like Menuhin, Stern, Kremer, Oistrakh, Perlman, Kogan etc.

      If a group of people love and excel at a particular art form leave them alone!

      I do no need a white Ellington, Mingus, Coltrane, Sun Ra or William Parker.

      • StephenB
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

        Kreisler, Heifetz, Milstein, Zukerman, et al. Now I’m struggling to recall a joke that Garrison Keillor told about the violin being the quintessential Jewish instrument… Anyway, we can remember the Fiddler on the Roof: “Tradition!”

  28. Posted July 17, 2020 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Given all the advantage and disadvantages of differing ethnic groups, if the pool of black, Hispanic, etc applicants are low for top-flight orchestras why not get them up to speed prior to auditioning.
    In other words, identify and coach these musicians that have the potential to match any standard required for any given orchestra. I would also say that rest solely on the individuals commitment to go for it.
    For them, the musician, it is also about excellence and command of a chosen instrument over colour pigmentation or what neighbourhood you belonged to.
    Music is suppose to transcend bigotry and connect or so we keep ‘hearing’.

  29. Posted July 17, 2020 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    I wish I knew more about the number of musicians of color who are auditioning.

  30. Posted July 17, 2020 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Another approach, which Tommasini might like, is for all applicants to submit a “Diversity Statement”, a la the University of California, before even getting an audition.

  31. AL
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,

    I think your analysis is shortsighted about the social purposes served by nonprofit cultural institutions. You and most of the readers above have considered the proposal against criteria like the merit of individual musicians and the quality of the ensemble. Hence the scrutiny on A.T’s premise that talent at the top tier is indistinguishable.

    I wouldn’t deny that highly acculturated listeners can make fine distinctions among elite musicians. Serious classical fans talk about the sound of the Berlin Phil, Bud Herseth’s dominance in the CSO trumpet section, and standout reed players like Morales (clarinet) in Philadelphia. But only the smallest constituency in US culture would claim so much fine discrimination in taste, so it has to be asked if the principal obligation of a nonprofit professional US orchestra is to please the critical standards of this tiny group. I think this ‘wine connoisseur’ view the art institution in America is seriously myopic.

    For one thing, orchestras of impossibly high caliber have been recording the canon many times over for the past five decades. Anyone who wants the finest Beethoven performance ever done can have it in a few seconds online. The culture does not depend on orchestras to raise the bar for musicianship anymore. The orchestras of prior generations were just too good for anyone to show up at concert halls today (figuratively speaking) expecting that we’ll hear something better than what Karajan got from the Berlin Phil.
    The key disanalogy between classical performance and million-dollar wine is that the finest classical performances are preserved in (practical) perpetuity, so we don’t need to care whether an orchestra churns out the greatest vintage Mahler every day.

    But orchestras can – like other art institutions – make a certain kind of joyful, reflective, communal experience available to the public. Further, as tax-exempt nonprofits, I’d say they have a particular obligation to focus on making that experience available and inclusive for a less affluent public. And I’d argue that a 98% white/Asian composition betrays that obligation just as much as high ticket prices or snobby outdated concert etiquette codes. It is hard not to cringe at the homogeneity of the contemporary orchestra. To see one person of color in an orchestra of over 100 people is to feel way too close in perspective to spectators at one of Jackie Robinson’s baseball games.
    Frankly, I have cringed at the Pleasantville hue of Tanglewood, and can’t fault anyone who takes one look at these places and concludes they don’t belong.

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      Pretty good “pro” argument. You are right—listening to a concert is more than listening to the best possible musicians. It is a communal experience. I believe that is why I attend live concerts rather than just popping a CD in the player. You’ve made me think a little deeper on this. Thank you.

      (And, yes, my music is on CDs. The best format for serious music.)

      • Tim Harris
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        Yes, you have also made me think about what I said below. Well said.

        • Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. When I see a more diverse orchestra performing a classical masterpiece, say Bach’s St. John Passion, it reminds me that, although the composer was European, it is a product of our universal humanity, not our parochial ethnicity. With a great performance, you leave feeling as if you are one with the musicians.

      • Filippo
        Posted July 18, 2020 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        ” . . . You are right—listening to a concert is more than listening to the best possible musicians. It is a communal experience.”

        I presume that you would agree (perhaps hold that it goes without saying) that it is also an individual experience.

        “I believe that is why I attend live concerts rather than just popping a CD in the player.”

        Concur. I have contemplated the notion of paying a pricey ticket for a concert, upon arriving to find that it consisted only of someone walking onstage and inserting a CD in a player. (Or attending a play, to find that the event consisted only of viewing a DVD.) And even watching a live performance via TV/movie theatre screen is not satisfying as compared to being at the venue itself.

        (And, yes, my music is on CDs.”

        Same here, and I “confess” that I possess numerous vinyl LPs, at least a few rivaling the quality of CDs. There is also the esthetic of larger album visual art.

        The best format for serious music.)”

        By “serious” music I reasonably take it you mean music played by symphony orchestras, piano and classical guitar concertos, etudes, etc. I reasonably accept that definition, it perhaps going without saying that a multitude of humans take very “seriously” their personal (non-orchestral) music preferences. (I suppose a song like “One-Eyed Purple People Eater” is “serious” to the extent that it made a lot of money for recording label executives and stockholders. ;))

        I haven’t attended many serious/classical music orchestral concerts (though I have not a few such albums, and sang in the chorus of Verdi’s “Requiem” and “Aida”). I take it that during the performance (the vast majority of) attendees leave their bloody cell phones alone and don’t talk out loud any time they please. I could be wrong; perhaps that sonic pathogen is invading symphony concerts, as it increasingly is (from my experience) symphony orchestra-backed “Pops” concerts (e.g., Johnny Mathis), where the person sitting beside me insists on singing along with the featured act. (Do that all you want to at home, or at, say, a Taylor Swift or Kanye West concert, where singing, ululating, jumping and undulating have been anointed part and parcel of this particular type of concert experience.)

        (Sorry for the length)

        • Posted July 18, 2020 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

          I agree with what you say, Filippo. By serious music, I mean music you listen and pay full attention to, regardless of genre, as opposed to “background” music. Of course, being older, all my “serious” music is on CD or vinyl and I don’t want to re-invest in digital format. It is great when the seller throws in a digital version gratis.

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      “The orchestras of prior generations were just too good for anyone to show up at concert halls today”

      This must be the weirdest argument I have heard in 2020.

      Why on earth should a musical orchestra be “racially” representative?
      Should 5% of jazz ensembles be Asians?

      African Americans have a very rich and sophisticated music tradition.
      I would not be surprised if you are unfamiliar with Jazz music and musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Anthony Davis, Charles Loyd, William Parker etc.

      It is patronizing to artificially push black people into western classical music while ignoring sophisticated black organic music such as jazz.

      They have talent in spades, they will be there if they are interested.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:53 am | Permalink

        Not sure “talent in spades” is the most felicitous choice of idiom under the circumstances.

        • merilee
          Posted July 18, 2020 at 10:06 am | Permalink

          That did occur to me😬

        • Mike
          Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          It’s a bridge reference, not a racist epithet. Sigh, I guess this is how dog-whistling looks.

          • Filippo
            Posted July 18, 2020 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

            “It’s a bridge reference, not a racist epithet. Sigh, I guess this is how dog-whistling looks.”

            I trust that “shovel” (by extension) will not suffer a similar fate.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted July 18, 2020 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

            Jeez, I know the phrase’s meaning and etymology. My point (such as it was, and it was intended to be lighthearted) had to do with term’s alternative usage, given the topic under discussion.

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      “It is hard not to cringe at the homogeneity of the contemporary orchestra.”

      Perhaps you suffer from unconscious racism?

      I do not cringe when I watch a 100% black jazz ensemble.

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      “And I’d argue that a 98% white/Asian composition betrays that obligation just as much as high ticket prices or snobby outdated concert etiquette codes.”

      I don’t understand this argument. Why does it matter what color the faces are that are producing the beautiful music? If blacks were dominating these orchestras, would we be making such an argument? Of course not.

      If you respond, “Well, that’s different.
      Black people just won’t attend if they can’t see black faces performing, regardless of the quality of the music”, then I think you have a very low opinion of black people.

      I’m sure there where white folks who were making the same arguments when Asians started to dominate classical music. You see, the arts need all the help they can get, and you know, too many Asian faces might keep people away. Yes, those Asians can play, but it’s not just about the music, right? “Higher social purpose” and all that.

      Thinly veiled racism is what that would be, and we would see through it. Not sure why it suddenly becomes a cogent point when pressed into service for black people.

      • merilee
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

        Just as an aside, I don’t think that polite concert etiquette is ever outdated. Talking and texting during operas and classical performances drive me crazy. Also during jazz. During Stones or Springsteen not so much.

    • John Donohue
      Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:15 am | Permalink

      Then close your eyes.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 18, 2020 at 2:02 am | Permalink

      That seems to be the best “pro” argument. Not saying I agree with it necessarily, but you’ve set it forth most cogently.

    • Jonathan Dore
      Posted July 18, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      “The culture does not depend on orchestras to raise the bar for musicianship anymore. The orchestras of prior generations were just too good for anyone to show up at concert halls today (figuratively speaking) expecting that we’ll hear something better than what Karajan got from the Berlin Phil.”

      A ridiculous argument. So we’ve had the really good orchestras, they’ve been recorded, therefore we don’t need to do that any more or be concerned if standards now fall. I guess we’ve solved all the really big problems in physics too, so we don’t need to be concerned with maintaining standards or ability when recruiting for CERN?

      You are absolutely right that the value of orchestras continuing to exist is because each new performance gives the opportunity for a joyful and reflective experience of communication that listening to a CD cannot. The only responsibility of the orchestra is to play with the greatest musicianship they can muster.

      You are placing a burden on orchestras that is not fairly theirs, whatever their tax status. Their goal is excellence. These are the standards; anyone who wants to join has to meet them. The audition screen guarantees there is no discrimination — and guarantees it to a far more exacting standard than any other type of organizational recruitment I can think of. That is the end of their responsibility.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 18, 2020 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        I don’t know. It’s hard to say what’s important and what you can live without. When is the last time you were at a performance and began to choke up and struggle to suppress bursting into tears out of sheer enjoyment? For me it was watching a student orchestra which had plenty of fumbles and squeaks, but they played with so much heart you had to jump up and applaud before the last note had ended. I wouldn’t trade an experience like that for a night with the NY or Boston symphonies.

    • Mike
      Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      I read this comment and initially opposed it, I think because I don’t know or pay much attention to classical music and because I don’t generally favor quotas. But when I put it in sports terms (sorry) it made a lot of sense.

      I am a lifelong fan of a pro hockey team that has not had a winning season in a long time. In the distant past of my youth, this club won multiple championships. Their current and recent teams are nowhere nearly as good as those of 40 years ago. Yet I still follow the club, pay money to watch the games, and track the team’s progress. Even the context they play in is no longer the same as in the club’s championship days: the equipment, training, facilities are all vastly different. So in comparison to other teams and other times, the absolute quality of this team isn’t really relevant, yet I still am a fan and pay money to consume the product.

      So on balance I guess I agree with this view and criticism: the absolute quality and skill of each musician relative to other orchestras at other times maybe isn’t the highest priority. And maybe just fulfilling the community function of the orchestra (including successfully reflecting the diversity of the local community) is a priority worth trying to meet.

  32. Max Blancke
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I really take issue with people who hold merit in such contempt.
    Admittedly, very few of them have experience in situations where competence makes much difference.

  33. Tim Harris
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I live in Japan, have taught at a music university, work as diction coach for (English) opera, oratorio & song-cycles, and am married to a Japanese pianist whose last two CDs were chosen as among the best of the year by the leading Japanese recorded music magazine and the first of which received rapturous reviews in Europe (not that this has meant they have sold very much better). The reason why there are so many musicians from China, Korea and Japan in symphony orchestras in Europe & the U.S. is that young people from the middle-classes (note – they have the money) in these countries can get a good basic musical education in these countries and, if they are good, usually finish their studies abroad. There is also a general interest in the Western arts as well as their own arts that is often rather higher, it seems, than in their countries of origin – try going to an exhibition of Western art here: they are in the main extraordinarily crowded.

    The situation is surely rather different for black people in countries like the US and the UK, where many of them simply do not have the resources to finance a classical musical education for their children, although some of the great American jazz musicians – Oscar Peterson was one – had a classical training, and often went into jazz simply because there were virtually no openings for black performers in classical music; others like Sidney Bechet & Stuff Smith came from musical families and had musical friends and picked things up in their own way – as, incidentally, did the great, anti-Nazi German violinist, Adolph Busch, who came from a poor family, but subsequently, with the help of a number of richer people who played the role of Maecenas, received a classical training at the Cologne Conservatory.

    Institutional racism was alive and well when the Guyanese, American-trained conductor, the first black conductor to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, was turned down on blatantly racist grounds as a conductor of the BBC Symphony even after he had given successful concerns with the London Philharmonic and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. In an interview with six months before his death, “Dunbar spoke about the particular vindictiveness of a producer/director of music at the BBC who derailed his musical career in Europe. Dunbar described that director of music as “despicable and vile” and the BBC “as stubborn as mules and ruthless as rattlesnakes”. If you read the remarks of the BBC producer, you can see that Dunbar is entirely justified in what he said.

    I think, however, that Tommasini’s suggestion is not a good one at all, much as one would like to see more black musicians in symphony orchestras. What needs to be addressed before all else is the institutional racism (as defined by Sir William Macpherson in the UK’s Lawrence report (1999) as: “The collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour that amount to discrimination through prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”

    I also recommend, regarding ‘institutional’ or ‘systemic’ racism, the very intelligent and perceptive ‘Why I am No Longer Talking to White People about Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which received accolades even in notoriously right-wing publications in the UK such as the Daily Telegraph (‘Vital dialogue from a powerful voice’) & The Spectator (‘A revelation… undoubtedly essential’). It might change a few minds here.

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      “although some of the great American jazz musicians – Oscar Peterson was one – had a classical training, and often went into jazz simply because there were virtually no openings for black performers in classical music”

      How well do you know Jazz music? Thank God not every talented black child were molded into a classical musician!
      We would not have Thelonious Monk, Powell, McCoy Tyner, Coleman, Coltrane etc.

      Giving talented disadvantaged kids interested in classical music scholarships is a great idea, quotas are not.

  34. Tim Harris
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    I have nowhere said or even implied that black musicians were ‘molded into classical musician(s)’, nor do I think that it would have been a good thing had they been. I simply said that some of them, like Oscar Peterson, had a classical training. And where have I said that I think quotas are a good idea?

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      Apologies, it was not my intention to accuse you of anything.

      I love both classical and jazz music.
      However I find it frustrating that the more advanced and serious jazz music is not appreciated and is largely unknown.
      (while crappy hip hop and rap is promoted as black culture)

      “Oscar Peterson was one – had a classical training, and often went into jazz simply because there were virtually no opening…”
      I am sure there must have been many such cases but I do not think this applied to Peterson

      He seems to have been drawn to jazz during his classical training ~(childhood).

      Wiki:
      “As a child, Peterson studied with Hungarian-born pianist Paul de Marky, a student of István Thomán, who was himself a pupil of Franz Liszt, so his early training was predominantly based on classical piano. But he was captivated by traditional jazz and boogie-woogie and learned several ragtime pieces. He was called “the Brown Bomber of the Boogie-Woogie””

      • merilee
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        Was lucky enough to hear Oscar live a couple of times in Toronto, once in a double bill with Martha Argerich!

      • merilee
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        Was lucky enough to hear Oscar live a couple of times in Toronto, once in a double bill with Martha Argerich!

        • rickflick
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

          I had to check her out. Seems she’s nearing 80 and she plays with the dexterity of a 30 year old. Impressive.

          Prokofiev, piano concerto #3.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS0SwRoYAW0

          • eric grobler
            Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

            Incredible!

            • merilee
              Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

              The Prokofiev is what I heard Argerich play live (and close up) with the Toronto Symphony. She was incredible!

          • merilee
            Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

            Girl’s got the moves❗️

      • Tim Harris
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

        Oh, don’t worry! Incidentally, Rudolph Dunbar, the black conductor I mentioned, was involved in the Harlem jazz scene in the twenties. The life of another great black (American) conductor, Henry Lewis, who married the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, is worth looking up,though he did not get involved in jazz so far as I know.

        Incidentally (and forgive me for saying this), but I do take exception to the word ‘molded’ with respect to classical music, as though classical music consists in the boring reproduction of the notes in the score. My wife’s old teacher, Georg Vasarhelyi, who studied piano with Bartok at the Budapest Conservatory and whom Wilhelm Kempff once called ‘the finest Schubert player in Europe’, always said something along the lines of ‘understand the music as completely as you can, get into your fingers and then improvise’. Since I have mentioned Adolf Busch, the Busch Quartet that he led plays in a wonderfully improvisatory way – the players are always alert to what is given to them by the others and respond to it. Bach & Mozart, among others, were wonderful improvisers if given a theme to improvise on. My quarrel with a lot of contemporary classical players is that, perhaps because of the pernicious influence of competitions, where you play so as not to make a mistake, as well as of over-intellectualism, they are as boring as hell compared to people like Rubinstein, Enescu, Horowitz et al.

        • eric grobler
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

          “Rudolph Dunbar, the black conductor I mentioned, was involved in the Harlem jazz scene in the twenties. The life of another great black (American) conductor, Henry Lewis, who married the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, is worth looking up,though he did not get involved in jazz so far as I know.”

          I am not familiar with either gentlemen, thanks, I will go read about them 🙂


          “take exception to the word ‘molded’ with respect to classical music”
          Perhaps a bad choice of words!

          Are you familiar with ECM records in the 70’s where a lot of European classically trained jazz musicians collaborated with American black jazz musicians?
          One can normally identify the classical trained saxophonist or pianist even when they play in the more aggressive american free jazz style.

        • eric grobler
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

          Forgot to ask,
          do your wife play professionally?

          • Tim Harris
            Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

            She did – but has over the past several years confined herself to recording because of ill-health.

        • merilee
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

          Saw Rubinstein a bunch of times and Horowitz at an afternoon concert in Paris. I believe he wouldn’t play at night. Miles better than the much-touted Lang-Lang, whose playing left me cold.

      • Filippo
        Posted July 18, 2020 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        Peterson recorded an album with the vocal jazz quartet, Singers Unlimited, from Chicago, whose bread and butter work was advertising jingles. “Sesame Street” from the album:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bF8TcUqYT0o

  35. Tim Harris
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    I’ll look up those ECM records!

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 18, 2020 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      The record producer Manfred Eicher created ECM records to bring together musicians
      from various diciplines and cultures; jazz, classical, african, indian, persian, brazillain etc.

      Besides “jazz” and other improvised music there is also a lot of interesting modern classical music such as Arvo Pärt.

      https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/12/02

  36. Tim Harris
    Posted July 18, 2020 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    John Lewis has died.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 18, 2020 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      Sic transit gloria mundi.

  37. Posted July 19, 2020 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    FYI: This oft cited blind audition study has been debunked.

  38. nzchicago
    Posted July 23, 2020 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Tommasini really does not know what he is talking about.

    It’s not true that there is a surfeit of equally qualified candidates to choose from at auditions. Those of us who have taken auditions and sat on committees for high-level orchestras know that it often tremendously difficult to find a qualified applicant. Many positions go unfilled, even after hearing a couple hundred players.

    I have yet to meet any musician who wants to do away with blind auditions, including (perhaps especially) musicians of color.

    And auditions are not, in most cases, completely screened. The screen normally comes down for the final round.

    Even in a large, urban center, you are lucky if a handful of musicians of color are among the applicants to an audition. The issue is systemic and relates to cultural preferences, lack of music programs in schools, and financial obstacles to learning an instrument and attending auditions. Taking screens down so that committees can see the 1% of candidates who are not white or Asian is not going to do anything except result in fewer female and Asian musicians being hired (although I would hope we are beyond that at this point).


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