Comment Of The Day: “The Classical Music Critic Of The New York Times Thinks That Symphony Orchestras Should Choose Members According To Race, Gender, And ‘Other Factors’ That Have Nothing To Do With Music”

The Comment of the Day that follows by David Rohde is welcome for many reasons. First, he is a professional musician, and a skilled one. Second, he defends the author of piece I criticized vociferously (and will continue to). Third, I think this is an important issue. Fourth,, a new voice here is always welcome, and we haven’t been getting as many as I would like of late. Finally,, as required for COTD, it is well written and worthy of considerations and debate.

Not that I agree with it, but that has never been a criteria for Comment of the Day honors. Here’s David Rohde’s Comment of the Day. on the post,The Classical Music Critic Of The New York Times Thinks That Symphony Orchestras Should Choose Members According To Race, Gender, And “Other Factors” That Have Nothing To Do With Music.”(I’ll be back with my reaction at the end.)

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It may be that using blind auditions has elevated the performance level of symphony orchestras. Or it may be serious overkill in an era of a supply-demand imbalance for classical musical talent. But either way, simply rolling this issue into what I know is this blog’s current obsession with – in other words, against – identity issues misses a lot that’s going on here.

First of all, you have to admit that hiring people without knowing who they are in ANY field is kind of strange. In particular, you certainly wouldn’t use blind auditions to cast people in a show, now would you? I know I know, different genres, different requirements. Roles in theater are individual, while 30 or 40 violinists in a symphony orchestra are doing much the same thing.

But I would argue that live classical music IS showbiz, and the sooner that people in that field realize it, the better. If the product is just “the music,” and many people assert that the overall technical performance level is higher than ever, then why is classical music struggling at all?

Second, I think you have to remember what the main impetus of blind auditions was in the first place. While I’m oversimplifying, the essential problem was (or shortly became) the inability of women to secure places in symphony orchestras. A quick check on YouTube of recent orchestra performances now versus 30 or 40 years ago will demonstrate the resulting change. Part of Tommasini’s argument is not to let solutions to problems become so institutionalized that they run past their sell-by date while different problems fester.

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The Classical Music Critic Of The New York Times Thinks That Symphony Orchestras Should Choose Members According To Race, Gender, And “Other Factors” That Have Nothing To Do With Music

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.

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