A Time to Act
The recent events in Charlottesville have escalated divisiveness and intolerance in America to a frightening degree. The persistence of racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, Nazism, and other hate groups continues to be cause for profound concern as they threaten America’s founding principles of equality. Indeed, our Constitution, to say nothing of the countless lives lost defending it, offers an unequivocal basis for complete condemnation of these ideologies.
But what role, if any, do orchestras have in this volatile and raw moment? Yes, music can bring people together, and artists do have unique capacities for connecting and moving people. But we know from not-so-ancient history that art and artists can also be put in service of the most heinous ideologies. I don’t think our response can be a simple affirmation of the power of music to connect.
There is no simple or single answer to the question of our role, but sustained, deep institutional and artistic engagement in the issues of our time will be necessary. At the League, we have elevated the issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity to the highest priority. This began some years ago, with our own reflections with board and staff members about the nature of these issues, what they meant for us individually and institutionally, and what actions we must take. This led to our conviction that the orchestral experience is most rewarding for all when there are diverse participants at every level, inclusive environments all around, and equitable conduct internally as well as across communities.
Our best judgment now, as we observe the trends and forces at play in America, is that orchestras’ long-term artistic and institutional health, and their capacity to deliver their full potential service to communities, will depend on their engaging fully with the opportunities inherent in an ardent and sustained commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. And, we are now learning at the League that this effort must go from the inside out; in other words, organizations must do the hard work of examining their own behaviors and values, and consider that barriers to diversity and inclusion may lie within.
One of the actions the League has taken is to focus the field’s attention on these issues and to facilitate numerous and varied ways for orchestras to determine their own individual and collective actions. We have done this through our national Task Forces and now annual Diversity Forums where orchestras and their partners are incubating major collective efforts to address audition preparation and support, board and staff diversity, organizational culture, music education, and mentorships. We have also created a Diversity and Inclusion Resource Center and commissioned two major diversity research studies.
I hope that orchestras will see this moment as a crucial opportunity to double down on their authentic and meaningful engagement with the issues before the nation and its communities. This means engaging in challenging and often uncomfortable discussions within orchestras and with community stakeholders, and taking action. That is what makes orchestras living, breathing institutions and our art form have meaning in today’s context.
There are stirring musical illustrations of what taking action can look like: the Charlotte Symphony "Listen Up, Charlotte!" concert series that combined music and storytelling to tackle issues of racial discrimination, privilege, and equality; and the Seattle Symphony’s Music Beyond Borders concert celebrating the music of the seven countries affected by the proposed travel ban. And new fellowship programs at the Cincinnati Symphony, Nashville Symphony, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, to cite just a few. Or the Vermont Symphony’s delightfully straightforward and uplifting message to its community.
But, while there is progress, there is still a very, very long way to go. Please help us continue the work and help build our collective knowledge of what’s working by clicking here on Facebook to let us know—by way of comments, photos, or videos—what you are learning, what you are doing, and what you need to know.