Not Every Organization Needs to Reflect the Community

by Evil HR Lady on July 20, 2020

A few days ago, Anthony Tommasini wrote an Op-Ed at the New York Times titled “To Make Orchestras More Diverse, End Blind Auditions.”

Blind auditions vastly increased the number of females in orchestras, but it hasn’t increased the number of minority players–well, it hasn’t increased the number of Black and Hispanic players. Asian and Pacific Islander musicians have increased.

Tommasini says this isn’t good enough. He writes:

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.

He’s wrong.

The ideal situation isn’t to make every organization reflect the community. As my friend, Amy Alkon, points out we need to ask why.

We have no problem respecting the racial makeup of professional sports teams because we can all observe the merit of each player with our own eyes.

It’s a bit more difficult to tell the merit of individual musicians. Unless you, too, are a musician, it can be difficult to tell the difference between two musicians. But, expert musicians can tell the difference between good enough and really good. And the really good deserve the spots in the orchestras.

Here’s the truth about being an expert in music: you need training and you need to focus your time on learning. If you want to increase Black and Hispanic members in professional orchestras, focus on increasing funding for music programs in schools. Provide scholarships for students to study privately with good teachers.

And, it’s okay if not all groups place the same focus on classical traditional music lessons. Not every group needs to have a precise racial and gender makeup. What isn’t okay is discriminating on the basis of race or gender to get a magical balance on paper. That doesn’t help anyone.

Blind auditions are the gold standard of orchestral auditions. It’s one of the few fields where you can truly judge someone by their skills alone without unconscious bias creeping in. Let’s keep it that way.

Photo by Roxanne Minnish

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