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Further Reading: Making the Case for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Orchestras: A Guide from the League of American Orchestras

An essential resource when advocating for programming diversification and overcoming resistance to change.

Fighting the narrative that unfamiliar repertory is of lower quality can be a daily battle.

The underlying assumption that Black and Brown composers are less talented than white composers is fundamentally untrue and racist. Our industry’s status quo obscures the work of many composers of color and allows us to wrongly assume that we are already aware of all the great works of the past and the talented composers of the present.

“The fallacy about compromising excellence needs to be left on the side. We can’t continue to inspire people if diversity isn’t woven through everything we do.”

Meghan Martineau, Vice President, Artistic Planning, Los Angeles Philharmonic

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Dismantling the perception that diverse programming is not needed in a predominantly white community can also be a struggle.

Even in the most homogenous community, the case for programming diversification holds true, embodying the ideal of a society where no one feels like the “other.”

“It’s not true we do not have people of color in Charleston, WV. We’re building better relations with West Virginia State, an HBCU (historically Black college or university). And the only growing populations here are immigrant communities from India and Syria.”

Joe Tackett, President, West Virginia Symphony Orchestra

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Fear of lost ticket sales should be examined carefully.

The risk to ticket sales of programming unfamiliar works can be exaggerated. Although audiences may initially push back against innovative programming, the example of the Handel and Haydn Society1 and data from Culture Track2, 3 suggest a longer-term benefit in reaching broader audiences. Storytelling, context-setting, and smart marketing can help build engagement. Many orchestras have developed successful strategies for balancing the familiar and unfamiliar, the accessible and the challenging, across the season.

“Start with concrete ideas, not abstract ones. To only say ‘new music is important’ can get resistance. But lead with exciting pieces; then people get excited.”

Aram Demirjian, Music Director, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra

“Audiences gravitate toward an experience, not just specific works. We need to make the experience feel cool and change the mindset of what it’s like to be an orchestra audience.”

Jennifer Arnold, Director of Artistic Planning and Orchestra Operations, Richmond Symphony

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Tokenism—real or perceived—can create backlash.

The apparent ease of swapping out one composer or guest artist for another belies the effort required to make effective change by activating expertise from across the organization. Short concert openers by historically excluded composers, in the absence of larger “second-half” works, are only cosmetic.

“We don’t want a tokenistic approach, not just ticking a box. We want something more substantial.”

Phillippa Cole, Senior Director, Artistic Planning, San Francisco Symphony

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Rental costs can discourage smaller orchestras.

Rentals provide income to composers for the use of their work. But some programmers less experienced with music under copyright can find it difficult to request and understand rental quotes, which now may include streaming and online video archiving. Although every publisher handles rentals in its own way, they all want to work with orchestras and will do what they can to make projects possible.

Further Reading: Music Publishers Association

This trade group provides information on how to navigate the rental process, and guidance on arrangements and editions of works still in copyright.

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Preparing less familiar repertoire for performance can require additional resources.

Preparing less familiar repertoire for performance can require more resources. Many conductors and administrators talk about the challenges of finding and working with scores that might be hand-written and whose ownership is unclear, owing to the historical marginalization of the composers. Music publishers are working to overcome these same issues in order to bring important voices to light, and to make their works lists searchable for racial, ethnic, and gender identities. Publishers, university libraries, and the Library of Congress can all be helpful, along with growing databases like the Institute for Composer Diversity’s Composer Diversity Database and Orchestra Works Database4, the African Diaspora Music Project5, and Latin Orchestral Music.6

“Remember to use all your resources, and one thing will lead to another.”

Norman Ryan, Vice President, Composers and Repertoire, Schott Music Corp.

Further Reading: Repertoire by Underrepresented Composers

The League’s Catalyst EDI Resources Center includes a section with direct links to multiple databases.

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  1. Conference 2022: Diversifying Audiences with Research and Relevance
  2. Culture and Community in a Time of Transformation, Culture Track (PDF)
  3. Black Voices for the Evolution and Culture & Creativity, Culture Track (PDF)
  4. Institute for Composer Diversity Database
  5. African Diaspora Music Project
  6. Latin Orchestral Music

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