Sunday, May 15, 2011

Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana: 'Orchestras slowly add racial, ethnic diversity'

[Aaron Dworkin]

Fort Wayne, IN
Published: May 15, 2011
Emma Downs
“Although racial and ethnic diversity is increasing in the United States, many orchestras and symphonies across the country still do not represent the communities they play for. At least not yet. As of 2008, roughly 87 percent of the musicians in orchestras nationwide were white, according to the League of American Orchestras. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s diversity is slightly greater than the national average. White artists make up 81 percent of the local orchestra.

“Slowly but surely, the national disparity is changing, says John Bence, director of public relations for the League of American Orchestras. 'Change happens slowly in orchestras,' he says. 'Orchestras are like universities. There is a tenure for the artists. Once you’re a member of an orchestra, you can be there for life. So a pipeline begins to form. But we are seeing a change.' The lack of diversity is based on several factors, including historical precedents.”

“Thanks to a number of initiatives by orchestras to expose children of all races to classical music and to assist with the professional development of minority performers, an increasing number of orchestras are hiring minority musicians. Some programs, such as the Boston Symphony’s Project STEP, the Chicago Sinfonietta and the Atlanta Symphony’s Talent Development program, target minority musicians specifically. Violinist and music educator Aaron Dworkin is the founder of a similar program, the Sphinx Organization, which is entering its 15th year. The Detroit-based non-profit is dedicated to the development of young black and Latino classical musicians.

“Dworkin, a member of the Obama National Arts Policy Committee, agrees that increasing diversity in orchestras is a slow – but necessary – process.” “'In cities where the minority is the majority, or will be soon, to have a lack of diversity puts limitations on our art form,' he says. 'Music thrives on new interpretations and new voices. By limiting these types of voices, we limit the evolution of the art form.'

“One of the most significant barriers to increasing diversity in both orchestras and audiences is the decrease in music education in public schools, Dworkin says. 'It’s important that a person be engaged at a young age,' he says. 'So increasing diversity becomes a complex problem, which is why orchestras are creating programs that create access for children.' Locally, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic exposes children to classical music via programs such as Discovery Concerts, school concerts, Young People’s Concerts and Club O. Access to music bridges racial, ethnic and economic disparity, says Aaron Butler, director of education for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.”

“Programs such as Club O are working, but Dworkin wishes changes would happen more quickly. 'I’m an impatient person,' he says. 'But it’s more important to bring about change in a sustainable way that maintains our artistic integrity. We don’t want to change quickly just for the sake of changing quickly. But it should be a priority of every major orchestra to realize how diversity affects their community. Orchestras are businesses designed to deliver an artistic product. To not encourage diversity and exposure to young people does their community and themselves a disservice.'” [Aaron P. Dworkin (b. 1970) is profiled at and has a personal website,]

No comments: