Nate Jackson / July 23, 2020

No More (Color) Blind Auditions?

A music critic is demanding affirmative action for symphony orchestras.

Auditions for seats in a symphony orchestra are among the most fair and utterly merit-based job applications you can imagine. The auditionee sits behind a screen to play for a panel of judges who can’t see him or her and don’t know his or her name. You see where this is going…

That’s not good enough for the social justice warriors. Anthony Tommasini, the New York Times’s head classical-music critic, recently demanded that orchestras “end blind auditions” in order to “make orchestras more diverse.”

He begins by recounting how two black musicians accused the New York Philharmonic of discrimination back in 1969, which then led to the widespread practice of blind auditions. That yielded results, Tommasini says, including boosting the percentage of woman and minorities in orchestras all over the country.

“But not enough,” he complains. “In a 2014 study, only 1.8 percent of the players in top ensembles were Black; just 2.5 percent were Latino.” And, as in 1969, the Philharmonic still has just one black musician.

Therefore, Tommasini declares, it’s time to end blind auditions and implement some sort of affirmative action to ensure that “the musicians onstage … better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.”

It may seem obvious that one whining article from one pompous media critic isn’t going to immediately change an industry dominated by a powerful union, but there’s also something different about the current cultural zeitgeist. In other words, don’t be surprised if this is just the first domino and that orchestras do start playing the tune of the social justice warriors instead of standing by the passé idea that talent and hard work pay off.

We’d suggest a more novel approach: Fix the pipeline of music education so that children of all colors are given the opportunity to learn and grow and aspire to symphony jobs. Maybe if inner cities were more worried about truly educating kids than just struggling to keep them out of gangs, then playing violin, clarinet, or horn would be more appealing to students.

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