Just what we need: another area of society where progressives are clamoring for illegal discrimination.
Anthony Tommasini, the New York Times senior classical music critic, argues in an essay whose thesis would have been laughed out of the paper just a few years ago—you know, before the dawn of the Great Stupid—that…
“…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….now more than ever, the spectacle of a lone Black musician on a huge, packed stage at Lincoln Center is unbearably depressing. Slow and steady change is no longer fast enough.”
Orchestras now have blind auditions, with those seeking employment playing behind a screen. In the epitome of results-based reasoning, Tommasini believes that auditions must allow unscreened auditions so “diversity” can be achieved, and ensembles “reflect the communities they serve.” In other words, quotas. In other words, hiring lesser musicians because they are the “right” color or gender. This, in an institution that has only one goal and aspiration: to play beautiful music as well as possible. The clear meaning of Tommasini’s conclusion is that it is more important that an ensemble be made up of the right kind of people than it be able to serve the function for which it was created. It is better to have a worse orchestra that ticks off the right EEOC boxes than to have one that sounds good.
Oddly, nobody has ever made this argument regarding, say, NBA basketball teams. Hop-hop music groups. Heart surgery teams. In fact, if I had to pick the perfect example of a field in which requiring racial and gender diversity is self-evidently bats, a symphony orchestra might be it.
“If the musicians onstage are going to better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve,” the critic says, “the audition process has to be altered to take into fuller account artists’ backgrounds and experiences. Removing the screen is a crucial step.”
It’s a step to having a worse orchestra. Nobody should care if an orchestra “reflects the diversity” of a community. They should care about how the assembled musicians sound when you close your eyes, and be proud of an ensemble that represents the community well by playing superbly. Is there any aficionado of classical music who would say, after a stirring rendition of Brahms, “Yes, it was very beautiful, but there are too many Asians in the string section, and I didn’t see a single wheelchair”?
The writer doesn’t even come near a coherent justification for using racial discrimination and gender bias to pick an orchestra. This is the best he can come up with:
“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. 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.”
That’s pathetic. In any highly specialized competitive field, the margins of superiority among competitors are filament thin, but they still exist, and expert evaluators can make the distinctions. Tommasini is saying that it’s difficult making the calls based on musical ability, so let’s just base it on something irrelevant, like race. And if a white musician with superior skills doesn’t get hired, so what? Most people won’t notice, but they sure can notice his skin color!
“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.” To “embrace diversity as a social virtue and assemble a freshman class that advances other values along with academic achievement” is a euphemism for “discriminate against whites and Asian-Americans,” which I believe is illegal, definitely is unethical, and may soon be struck down as unconstitutional. Even if we accept the critic’s logic regarding colleges and universities, those institutions have a far broader purpose than symphony orchestras, which have exactly one: to sound as good as possible, not to look “right.”
He says, “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.” Nonsense: if those qualities make the musician play better, then it will be evident in the blind audition. If the musician possesses all of those qualities plus a sparking personality, they only become relevant after the player’s superior instrumental abilities have been demonstrated. And to state the obvious only because its obviousness is being frequently obscured, being a certain race or gender isn’t a “quality” that should matter when it comes to making beautiful music.
So the critic defaults to statistics, as if lack of “diversity” in all fields prove injustice:
“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.”
Call me crazy, but somehow I suspect that if African American families didn’t tend to raise their children to the strains of hip-hop, rap, soul and jazz, instead of filling their homes with Beethoven, Schubert, Gershwin and Grieg, the pool of black symphony orchestra candidates might be just a little bigger.
I’m only guessing, or course.
You know what other arts institutions arenotably non-diverse? Broadway musical productions. More than 50% of all performers, especially dancers, are gay. That certainly doesn’t represent the city or state of New York. Why aren’t the Times theater critics arguing for audition processes that give an edge to actors who have sex the old fashioned way, even if the quality of the productions is a little (or a lot) worse?
They aren’t arguing that because it would be idiotic—just like what Tommasini is arguing.