As it becomes increasingly clear that diversity in our orchestras must be a priority moving into the future, more opportunities to facilitate that goal are being created within our industry each year. The National Alliance for Audition Support (NAAS) is an unprecedented national initiative created by the Sphinx Organization (which is the program leader and fiscal administrator of NAAS), the New World Symphony, and the League of American Orchestras (LAO). With a four-year grant of $1.8 million from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as well as contributions from orchestras across the United States, NAAS will provide African-American and Latinx musicians with grant money for auditions, including travel and accommodation, potential lost income, instrument repair, coaching, lessons, and other audition-related expenses. NAAS Audition Intensives, hosted by the New World Symphony, offer mock auditions, lessons, and performance psychology training. To date, 16 of our ICSOM orchestras are partners with the NAAS initiative. A number of our ICSOM musicians are advisors who have helped to create and guide this program, including John Lofton (LA), Alberto Suarez (Kansas City), Beverly Baker (Virginia), and Kenneth Thompkins (Detroit).
“This unprecedented collective action on the part of America’s orchestras addresses some of the main barriers to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in orchestras,” said Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of LAO. “The unique and coordinated network of support is informed by research and extensive discussions with many Black and Latinx musicians as well as many other individuals in orchestras and higher education. We are especially grateful to the American Federation of Musicians, ICSOM, and ROPA for their participation and support.”
More information on NAAS is available at http://www.sphinxmusic.org.
Another initiative launched this year, created by LAO with support from the Mellon Foundation, is the Catalyst Fund. This three-year pilot program will award annual grants to orchestras to advance their internal capacity for equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), and foster effective EDI practices within their organization. With a grant from the Catalyst Fund, orchestras can engage a consultant to audit and help in developing a strategic program of coaching, mentoring, and training staff, board members, and/or musicians in best EDI practices for their organization (https://americanorchestras.org).
An increasing number of our orchestras have created fellowship programs available to musicians from underrepresented populations. These initiatives are designed to enhance career development through mentorship and performance, with the long-term goal of increasing the diversity of professional orchestras.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Fellowship, launched in 2012 in partnership with the Sphinx Organization, offers a single residency that includes performances with the BSO, mentoring and working in education and outreach initiatives, including OrchKids and the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra.
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has partnered with UC College-Conservatory of Music (CSO/CCM) to offer a two-year program for up to five string players, which includes full tuition for a Master of Music or Artist Diploma, five weeks per season of performances with the CSO, plus a variety of additional work focused on community engagement and educational activities. Each Fellow also has access to audition and professional development travel stipends.
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has had the longest running program of our ICSOM orchestras. Since 1980, the DSO has been a leader in fostering opportunity for African-American composers and musicians. Their current program, created in 1990 and sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, has just been increased to two positions. There are currently more than 15 alumni of the DSO Fellowship Program working professionally in the music industry.
The Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, in partnership with the Chicago Sinfonietta, has a unique training program, Project Inclusion, that sponsors both string players and singers. In addition to playing the summer festival, fellows perform in community concerts throughout Chicago.
The LA Phil just launched its Resident Fellows program this season. Up to five musicians, string players or percussionists, have the opportunity to participate in a three-year program that includes salary, housing allowance, a minimum of 22 weeks of employment—including orchestral, chamber, new music, and education concerts—plus assistance with audition preparation and travel expenses.
The Minnesota Orchestra’s Rosemary and David Good Fellowship is a two-year initiative that grew from the orchestra’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, comprising board, staff, and musicians. This season, two musicians were hired, both brass players.
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s EQT Orchestra Training Program for African American Musicians (OTPAAM) is open to all instruments with the exception of keyboard. One Fellow will spend two seasons playing with the orchestra, studying, and preparing for auditions.
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s IN UNISON initiative, created in 1992, began as an outreach program through African-American churches in the community. In 1994, the IN UNISON Chorus, comprising 120 voices, began performing as part of the SLSO season. In addition to three combined performances a year, SLSO still presents free performances in the 30 partnering churches. Since 2005, the SLSO’s Music Without Boundaries program has provided free admission and transportation for immigrant and refugee populations to SLSO performances in hopes of fostering greater understanding of and appreciation for the diverse populations of St. Louis.
Of course, all our ICSOM orchestras have community engagement and education programs. They are an integral part of our work schedule and provide an invaluable link to our communities and audiences. Just a few of the programs targeted specifically towards increasing diversity and fostering talent in underserved communities include:
- the Atlanta Symphony’s Talent Development Program, now in its 25th year;
- the Nashville Symphony’s Accelerando initiative (Note: See the March 2016 issue);
- the Philadelphia Orchestra’s HEAR: Health, Education, Access and Research program;
- One Nation, now in its 18th year, a musical and cultural partnership between the Phoenix Symphony and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community;
- the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra LA, celebrating its 10th year;
- the Music Advancement for Newark-area Youth (MANY), a partnership between the New Jersey Symphony and NJ Performing Arts Center that prepares music students for performance-based educational programs within the Newark area.
Our orchestras, by their very nature, are slow to change. Steeped in tradition, with highly dedicated professionals who are intent on their individual performance, we are not always cognizant of the changing world around us. We are lagging behind in the push towards diversity and relevance to our communities. Collectively, we have begun to strive for progress. But it is clear that we must give these efforts time to bear fruit. We are in a marathon, not a sprint, and we must continue to support and maintain these programs, as well as create many more.
Note: the author is ICSOM Chairperson.