This month, the League of American Orchestras (LAO), the Sphinx Organization, and the New World Symphony are jointly launching an initiative that will provide support to Latino and African-American musicians who are auditioning for orchestral positions. These organizations are making a commitment to address the lack of African-American and Latino musicians in US orchestras.
As reported by Michael Cooper in the New York Times, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation granted $1.8 million for an initial four-year period for the initiative, which will be known as the National Alliance for Audition Support.
While the US Census Bureau reported recently that 13.3% of the US population is African-American, the percentage of black musicians in our orchestras falls far below this figure (1.8% according to one study). The same is true for Latino musicians, who in 2014 made up only 2.5% of the orchestral population. Studies indicate that larger orchestras have lower minority representation than smaller orchestras. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, while considered minority populations, are far more proportionately represented in our orchestras and therefore are not considered in the new initiative.
The three organizations have been working since 2015 on plans for audition support for these under-represented musicians. ICSOM was introduced to this project in June 2017 at the League of American Orchestras conference in Detroit, when I was included on a sub-committee working on these plans. ICSOM supported this project and insisted upon the inclusion of the AFM and ROPA in the conversation.
In February 2018, ICSOM, ROPA, and the AFM were present at the Sphinx annual conference in Detroit when this initiative was announced to the public. Many aspiring orchestral musicians from minority populations expressed enthusiasm about the National Alliance for Audition Support and urged us to continue conversations about how Latino and African-American musicians can succeed in the orchestral world.
The program begins this month with 18 string players attending a three-day intensive course in auditioning at New World in Miami. Those selected to participate in the National Alliance for Audition Support will receive a combination of training, mentoring, and financial assistance. For more information about the program, including how to apply, visit the Sphinx Organization’s site.
As a result of this project, ICSOM currently is considering how best we can address the lack of diversity in our orchestras, and how our efforts can best complement other worthy initiatives like this one. As reported in ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow’s column in the March 2018 issue of Senza Sordino, we are seeking to form a minority caucus within our membership, whose lived experience can help us better identify the roadblocks to participation by minority musicians. Several conference calls have occurred with key players who would serve us well in this capacity, and we look forward to reporting more about ICSOM’s role in this arena in the future.