Hypocrisy rules as ASO fails own standards
by John T. Bennett
columnist
August 26, 2012 12:00 AM | 2305 views | 8 8 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s awful racial double standards should be ringing in our ears.

Only one out of 100 members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is black. Yet, ASO president Stanley Romanstein had the cynicism to claim, “We want the stages of the Atlanta Symphony, whether here, Verizon (Wireless Amphitheatre), or Chastain Park to reflect the diversity of Atlanta.” However, the stages of ASO are racially homogenous. I can’t think of a single workforce I’ve seen in the city of Atlanta that is as non-diverse as the ASO.

If the ASO had done to adult employees what they did to the Walton and Lassiter chorus members, ASO would be facing a lawsuit.

In response to the furor over their decision not to invite the largely white choruses back, Melissa A.E. Sanders, ASO’s senior director of communications, had this cacophony of illogical duplicity to share: “It is against our policy to share the race and/or ethnicity of our musicians, so I am unable to share that information.”

It’s not ASO’s policy to share the race of their musicians, but it is their policy to publicly chastise mostly-white choral groups for being non-diverse and to make dishonest, self-righteous pronouncements about how much they “want the stages of the Atlanta Symphony ... to reflect the diversity of Atlanta” — a goal which the ASO is manifestly not serious about reaching for their own musicians or staff.

While it is not their policy to diversify their own staff, it is ASO policy to maintain a website where interested members of the public can see for themselves exactly what type of diversity is practiced by the ASO, which is none. According to my count, which anyone may verify, the ASO has only one black member. This count includes four conductors, 15 first violinists, 3 section violinists, 12 second violinists, 10 viola players, 10 cellists, 8 bassists, 14 woodwind players, 16 brass, five percussionists and three keyboard players. Also, one out of the three ASO librarians is black.

The ASO’s insincerity and elitism here are absolutely shocking. And this is not just a fluke. Walton and Lassiter students will face the same racial politics and racial favoritism when they apply to college. Elite institutions in America seem to exist by the motto “Enforced diversity for thee, but not for me.” This astonishing double standard applies at all levels of our society, from school admissions, to the ASO, to hiring for government jobs and contractor positions.

Not only do racial preferences cause reverse discrimination, but groups throughout society are casually condemned for not being diverse enough. Whether it’s a choral group, a whole school, a Tea Party rally or a whole political party, without fail liberals conflate non-diversity with discrimination against minorities. In fact, there is a whole area of the law called “disparate impact” liability premised on the notion that an organization is blameworthy for not being diverse. The chorus members received their first taste of disparate impact logic.

If anyone wants to know why the choral groups are non-diverse, it helps to understand why the symphony itself is non-diverse: 87 percent of musicians in U.S. symphonies are white, according to a 2008 study by the League of American Orchestras.

It’s not a problem that the ASO is non-diverse. It’s a problem that they’re managed by hypocrites who criticize others for not meeting a standard that they themselves blatantly fail to meet.

John T. Bennett has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a juris doctor degree from Emory University. He lives in Decatur.
Comments
(8)
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ConcernedMusician
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August 26, 2012
There are national auditions and they are screened, anonymous. It's not an issue of racism, most orchestras do not ask a candidates ethnicity. The reason there are less African Americans in the orchestra has to do with the interest in classical music in the African American community. As long as the inner city school systems around this county continue to have their music programs cut, then this trend will continue. There are a lot of Asians in American Symphony orchestras, there are many foreign born players, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, etc. Music Education in this country needs a serious overhaul.
Harry Callahan
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August 27, 2012
You've got to be kidding. If you think that you can make young people like classical music by pumping a few more dollars into a public school, then you are not very attuned to lower-class culture.

Correct: "The reason there are less African Americans in the orchestra has to do with the interest in classical music in the African American community."

Incorrect: "As long as the inner city school systems around this county continue to have their music programs cut, then this trend will continue."

As long as the behavior and lifestyle featured on BET and World Star Hip Hop (look it up) are the apogee of black youth culture, then its a joke to expect young blacks to appreciate classical music to any significant degree.

Young whites aren't clamoring for classical in large numbers. But culturally they are at least attuned to it. Through critical race theory and "people's histories," we've guaranteed that young minorities see classical music, along with every other part of the Western heritage, as something alien and unhip at best.

The idea that you could counter fundamental cultural preferences and biases with a public school music program is naive.
Charles Martel
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August 26, 2012
Damn right!!!! Put this guy on MSNBC to do battle with the race-baiters and bitter hens!!
Robert in Michigan
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August 26, 2012
Dear Mr. Bennett;

Please note that virtually all major orchestras in the US use a number and blind-screen audition process. Before the auditions begin each candidate is issued a number, and after that the candidate is referred to only by their number, during the audition the candidate is not allowed to speak and is never seen by the audition committee, and finally the candidate is asked to play their instrument behind the blind-screen. In other words, the race or gender of the person auditioning for a full-time musical position in the orchestra is not known by the audition committee until after the final candidate has been selected and the job has been awarded. The auditioning candidate is selected only on the basis of their musical ability. It is the most fair and unbiased way of selecting an employee.

Charles Martel
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August 27, 2012
If it's not a problem for symphonies to be all-white, then it's not a problem for choral groups to be all white either. The ASO, as an (essentially) all-white orchestra should have had a bit more tolerance in understanding that choral groups will be largely white as well.

Your observations about blind auditions reinforce the point made in the article. The most talented musicians are chosen without regard to their race. A color-blind process produces an almost all-white symphony, generally. Those symphonies reflect which racial groups are interested in classical music.

That's the only possible conclusion to draw from blind auditions, unless you want to argue that musicians of color are just not as good as white musicians and therefore are weeded out by color-blind auditions.

So we are left with fairly chosen musicians that are a reflection of the degree of interest in classical music found among that racial group. There are always exceptions, but life is not made of exceptions.
anonymous
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August 27, 2012


As a member of the Board of the Directors of the ASO, I would like to share that one of the ASO's primary educational and fundraising objectives is to "change the face of American Symphony Orchestras". We do this by inviting talented and commited African American and Hispanic high school musicians to participate in the ASO's amazing Talent Development Program.

I - along with many other devoted Board Members - have spent hundreds of hours of my own, unpaid time creating fund-raising events to ensure that these amazing children get world-class training in Atlanta. Our efforts also pay for them to travel to and attend internationally recognized summer music festivals. Ultimately, the goal of the TDP program is to help these young musicians gain entrance into top univerities and conservatories so that THEY will be the future of top American Orchestras like the ASO. In fact, many of the earliest members of the TDP are now at top conservatories and Ivy League colleges.

Without the TDP program, few of these kids would be able to afford private lessons (costing upwards of $80 an hour), youth orchestra fees or $10,000 summer music programs.

fooled me
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August 26, 2012
You could have fooled me! I never, ever thought we would judge music or musicians by "diversity". What have we come to? Does anyone out there have any common sense or has it gone the way of everything else?
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