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Diversifying Orchestras still do not Include Black Musicians

By: Brayden Yin

American orchestras have been criticized in recent years for their lack of diversity. They have made progress in hiring more musicians of color, especially Asian and Latino players, in the past decade. But in a new study, the number of Black musicians has barely changed.

Nowadays, people of color make up 21 percent of all orchestras in the nation, according to the League of American Orchestras. This increased from 14% in 2013-14. However, the percentage of black players barely rose, only increasing from 1.8% to 2.4%. While the number of women conducting almost doubled, the Black population in orchestras is sorely underrepresented.

To diversify the audition for entering the orchestra, many orchestras have adopted the “blind audition”. In this form of audition, musicians play behind a screen to minimize bias while hiring, and this system has been credited for helping women achieve places in orchestras.

A report from 156 orchestras showed signs of progress in diversifying the program. The number of Asian and Asian American players have gone up to 11 percent from 9 percent a decade ago. The number of Latino players also went up, from 2.5 percent to 4.8 percent.

While 4.8% may seem like a small number, Latinos only represent about 20 percent of the US population, so they will most likely remain unrepresented, but not as much as black musicians.

Afa Dworkin is the president and artistic director of the Sphinx Organization, which manages an audition support program, and she said that orchestras needed to redouble efforts to include minority musicians. “There’s really not a shortage of talent,” she said. “There are ranks and ranks of Black and Hispanic musicians who certainly are ready to perform as part of major American orchestras. And we’re not engaging nearly enough of them yet.”

While orchestras have diversified in the past decade, they are not including nearly enough minority musicians yet. Orchestras should conduct more outreach programs to communities of color so they can focus on hiring talented musicians.


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