The lack of racial diversity in the orchestra field has been thoroughly studied and written about for over forty years. Fellowship programs have become the most common approach to increasing onstage diversity. While there have been some success stories—specifically through diversity fellowship programs at various orchestras—we are not yet close to having our orchestras resemble their respective communities. ICSOM supports underrepresented musicians at all stages of their careers, seeks to address potential barriers to access, and works to bolster the pathway of pre-professional orchestral musicians of underrepresented identities.
To that end, ICSOM, in collaboration with the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI), is proud to announce the creation of the ICSOM BU Tanglewood Institute Scholarship. The ICSOM BU Tanglewood Institute Scholarship is designed to provide support for musicians from historically and currently marginalized backgrounds who have significant financial need and who would benefit from the immersive summer music program at BUTI (a summer program already dedicated to advancing inclusion and belonging for students of all backgrounds).
One full-tuition scholarship per summer will be awarded to a musician attending BUTI’s Young Artists Orchestra (YAO) program, and ICSOM has committed to sponsoring this three-month scholarship for five consecutive years. The YAO is a summer orchestral training program for musicians from 14 to 19 years old—an immersive musical experience including orchestral performances, private lessons, chamber music, master classes, and access to every concert at the Tanglewood Music Center. It is ICSOM’s hope that this award will help further the advancement of musicians identifying as Black or African American, LatinX or Hispanic, or American Indian or Indigenous (currently underrepresented identities in the orchestral field) who have financial need that would otherwise prohibit them from attending without a scholarship.
The ICSOM BU Tanglewood Institute Scholarship ultimately stems from an evolution in ICSOM’s efforts to support young musicians of underrepresented groups. In 1979, the Mendelson Fund was created to assist and encourage the education of young aspiring instrumentalists. The fund was named after founding ICSOM member and former Chairperson Ralph Mendelson, a violist with the NY Philharmonic for 26 years. In 1987, part of that money was directed to a scholarship for students of ethnicities underrepresented in the orchestral field, and in 1993, ICSOM delegates passed a resolution assessing each ICSOM orchestra a $1 per capita donation to the Mendelson Fund. In 2003, ICSOM began providing scholarship awards of $500 to each of nine senior semi-finalists in the Sphinx Competition (see President’s Report Senza Sordino June 2021). Currently, the Mendelson Fund supports the National Alliance for Audition Support and Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions, both programs run by The Sphinx Organization. The audition Intensives are typically three-day events held at the New World Symphony Center in Miami Beach, where pre-professional musicians seeking an orchestral career receive coaching from professional musicians, perform mock auditions, and receive audition preparation mental training.
ICSOM’s efforts to increase racial diversity in the orchestral field started with the very founding of ICSOM itself in 1962. Press releases in 1962 and 1963 stated ICSOM’s support for equal opportunity for Black musicians in symphony orchestras and called for an end to racially segregated audiences. These are all significant indications of our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are proud to be able to offer this ICSOM BU Tanglewood Institute Scholarship in the hope that it will further our work toward diversification of our orchestras and help a young musician from an underrepresented group move into a professional career as an orchestral performer.