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Doug Shadle @DougShadle
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1/ Thread about Systemic Discrimination in Orchestras inspired by comments about prominent orchs neglecting women composers. Thoughts stem largely from the short history of the @chicagosymphony I just finished for @UChicagoPress.
2/ To define "systemic discrimination" - I mean racism, sexism, and other biases that cut across organizations. This concept is especially important for understanding how discrimination infects Hollywood, the pop music industry, academia, and other "left-leaning" fields.
3/ Systemic discrimination *relies on* an individual's abdication of responsibility for the problem. "I'm not sexist," you say, as you sign off on the all-male program for the year. "It's not my problem to fix."
4/ It's useful, then, to think about how the interlocking parts of "the system" work together to breed discrimination and allow it to fester, like a wound that goes untreated. The moving parts I'll address are: Programming Directors, Conductors/Soloists, Marketers, and Patrons
5/ And let's not forget that we are talking about real people's lives here. Discrimination affects the material and emotional well-being of its victims.
6/ PDs - There's a great story in the @chicagotribune about Martha Gilmer (now CEO of @SanDiegoSymph) and her working methods as VP of Programming for the CSO. In the "old days" she would set out note cards in a calendar with things like soloists, conductors, composers, & pieces.
7/ It's a delicate process because these folks often need to be booked 2-3 if not 5-6 years in advance. A single season comes together in a piecemeal fashion, making it difficult to think about a year-long arc. ---> easy to miss forest for trees and "overlook" lack of diversity.
8/ C/S - If we add conductors and soloists to the mix, we encounter a factor that complicates the work of even the most progressive PD: these folks have limited repertoires and are typically averse to learning new works.
9/ Sociological research on performance explains that the rewards (both financial and cultural) for "sounding good" (i.e., virtuosic) are far greater than the esteem that accompanies a premiere (or "liberality"). Therefore C/S's have very little external incentive to "innovate."
10/ Music directors rarely appear for more than 10-12 weeks and can get away with a limited repertoire that can be stretched over 3-5 years. S's appear only once a season and only need not play what an S on the same instrument is playing elsewhere in the same year.
11/ Guest C's therefore function more like soloists and only need not conflict with the MD.
12/ Put it all together, and C's fill in gaps with repertoire that is no trouble to learn. Why else do you think so many concerts start with a Berlioz or Rossini overture? (Pace Bernard Haitink, who learned Haydn's Creation in his 80s.)
13/ In all ---> Protecting self-interest inhibits diversification.
14/ So far, this whole situation is a dream for marketers, who can rely on well-known images of public figures (Mozart, for example, or a crazy-haired old male conductor) to create a visually attractive marketing campaign for a dull season.
15/ Mature women and PoC present "problems" (i.e., actual work) for marketers because public images are often less "sexy" (in the case of mature women) or rarer (in the case of PoC).
16/ How do I know? A conductor (and woman of color) once told me that she was denied a music directorship because, "We don't know how to market you." That was in 2007, not 1957.
17/ Marketers also have a built-in way to pitch the canon: "Greatness." There is no real need to sell Beethoven or Mozart--simply focus on supposed universal greatness. That's the strategy, literally.
18/ I'll never forget the concert ad for a Dvorak symphony I saw on FB that read, "Dvorak was the greatest symphonist of his age, save perhaps for Brahms." Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but throw the words "great" and "Brahms" in there--Done. Who are they kidding?
19/ Marketing is where programming and musicians interface with patrons. The result is that the marketers reify an ignorant public that simply wants to devour greatness at every opportunity. ---> No need to look elsewhere for material.
20/ Finally, patrons themselves. I think patrons are the least complicit in the situation, but they certainly play a role. I sympathize, e.g., with a regular subscriber who wants to hear the MD excel alongside the orchestra as a whole.
21/ Hearing a Mahler 2, or a Bruckner 7, or the Rite of Spring is thrilling when a virtuosic orchestra synergizes with an insightful conductor. *Those opportunities are rare because of the scheduling system.*
22/ Audiences are not apt to complain when they get to hear the high-flying MD direct their favorite pieces for the first time, or second time in 5 years (or 10!). Some patrons also probably become habituated to the standard repertoire, perhaps thinking it's "all there is."
23/ ---> No cage rattling for diversity. This is how echo chambers take shape. Virtually everyone in this equation likely sees lack of diversity as a problem, but it's not *their* problem.
24/ Some orchs make ancillary efforts to "solve" the problem but ultimately mask it. Students in a seminar of mine examined *local* images on orch websites and compared them to diversity of programming. Rainbows in the images; terrible rep. Zero correlation.
25/ How to solve? Here's what I do: Amplify the voices of experience, buy CDs of diverse repertoire, and refuse to pay for the same old thing. Would love to hear more.
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