The Power of the Curtain



The Classical Music scene has been drowning in white male dominance for centuries, yet musicians from minoritized groups have been involved since the beginning. What is still causing the divide to be so great?


According to society, a musician’s job is to be heard and not seen, but would removing the curtain during auditions actually be an effective way to increase the recruitment of minoritized musicians?


We can take the history of the success and the faults of the Blind Audition to trial, but there are more purposeful resolutions to the disparity between musicians of color and white musicians.


Music Education for All School Districts


The Fight for Arts Education


Music Education, along with Arts Education in general, has been a highly energized, and often disputed point of conversation. Though there is an abundance of scientific evidence that music improves the cognitive function of children (NAfME, the Novak Djokovic Foundation, and the NAMM Foundation, to name a few), some believe that Arts Education is a negligible part of what their children should learn for life success. Yet the privilege of a quality STEM and Arts curriculum is a larger part of the issue.


When school districts lose funding and must cut programs to stay afloat, arts programs must go first. Basic courses required by the state such as science and math can be debilitating to students who are more creatively minded. Without this creative outlet, students may lose their passion for learning and the arts forever.


But why do school funding levels come to this point? What happens beyond the schoolyard that makes it so hard to fight for all areas of education for students?


Gerrymandering


The Washington Center for Equitable growth outlines how gerrymandering affects school district borders and therefore funding for those schools. Crampton in his article on this subject outlines the beginning of desegregation and the slow progress it has gone through in the past 60 years.

With people of color being forced into lower-income neighborhoods, “there is evidence that some school districts have purposefully gerrymandered district lines to segregate low-income students,” Crampton says.


This perpetuates a lasting cycle that can keep students without proper funding for their schools, lessening arts education for people of color exponentially.


The Taxpayer Cycle and Musicianship Today


This just shows the advantages many musicians have over their peers if they come from a higher-income neighborhood. With more funding for schools, students are more likely to have an effective arts education program during school hours, creating a ripple into their musicianship throughout their life. It is important to note that wonderful musicians emerge from these situations all the time through perseverance and the encouragement of others around them.


So what could be the advantage they need heading into an audition many years down the road?


Why Isn’t the 'Blind Audition' the Solution to Everything?


The Gender Bias


In the early 1970s, orchestras began to employ blind auditions in an attempt to address the gender and racial uniformity seen in ensembles across the country.


In 1980, as Malcolm Gladwell describes in his novel Blink, the Munich Philharmonic appointed Abbie Conant as their principal trombone, without ever seeing her face. Disgusted, Maestro Celibidache tried to have her demoted. Only after Conant won in court against the Philharmonic did she regain her place, left to battle for equal pay for the rest of her tenure as are womxn still to this day.


Over the years, the gender gap in orchestras has continued to close due to the practice of blind auditioning, but what of the diversity of other identities throughout global musicianship?


Racism in Classical Music: The Numbers


As the New York Times states, “American Orchestras remain among the least racially diverse institutions.” They go on to specify that Black and Latinx musicians are particularly underrepresented across the board.


In 2014, 1.5% of musicians in top orchestras in America were black. 2.5% were Latinx.


Despite a quarter of New York City's population identifying as black, there is only one black musician in the New York Philharmonic: Anthony McGill, the principal clarinetist.


To Remove or Not to Remove: That is the Question


The New York Times begins to argue that, seeing as the New York Philharmonic clearly doesn’t reflect the diversity of the city, the blind audition should be done away with. This would allow them to ensure that diversity is included in their spaces. But as before, there are many obstacles that musicians of color have to overcome before even facing this curtain. Where does this challenge begin, and where does it end?


Ensembles across the country are using their quarantine to reflect on their auditioning practices. Ultimately, the removal of the screen or the promise to stick with blind auditions will be up to the leaders of those organizations. We, however, as musicians, can create an atmosphere that changes more than the curtain.


Committing to creating a diverse space starts with those already in it. Musicians across the country need to educate themselves on issues regarding funding for Arts Education as well as how their internal biases impact current and future colleagues. All musicians should make a significant effort to tour, teach, or showcase themselves and their talents to all communities across the globe for all income brackets and neighborhoods.


As more students interact with musicians of both similar and different identities who encourage their musicianship, the disparity will begin to fall. By exerting presence and pressure in both political and social spaces, artists can engage in dismantling barriers that musicians of color face each day. This is what must happen to push forward.

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