Old Commitment, New Energy

by Aaron Dworkin, Aaron Flagg, & Allison Vulgamore

Three views of the journey toward onstage diversity.

Editor's Note:

No orchestra in America would declare itself opposed to achieving true diversity onstage. Yet the goal of diversity, long sought, remains elusive, particularly with regard to African-American and Latino musicians. The reasons--including slow turnover in the orchestra field's "destination" positions, a dearth of affordable instrumental education in our communities and schools, and a maze of other obstacles to nurturing talent--are complex and intertwined.

Recent years have brought a surge of progress. The Sphinx Competition, founded in 1998, now recognizes gifted young black and Latino string players early, so their aspirations to orchestral careers can be encouraged. Its attendant orchestra, the Sphinx Symphony, brings together professional players of color each February for the competition's finals. The Sphinx Organization is now in partnership with the League to provide scholarship assistance to competition laureates through the League's Music Assistance Fund. These outstanding young musicians are also presented annually as soloists in young people's concerts by some 20 American orchestras, where they serve as realistic role models for aspiring performers in the audience. Meanwhile, orchestras and conservatories are creating programs that support the career goals of young players, and/or train elementary-level youngsters. At The Juilliard School, a Music Advancement Program offers private lessons to African-American, Latino, and Native American students in the New York City public schools. Orchestras in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit, among others, have developed a constellation of training and apprenticeship initiatives. The boom in youth orchestras, which as a whole enjoy a higher level of diversity than adult orchestras, holds further promise for the future.

Such efforts are devoted to the supply pipeline of orchestral talent, so their results may not be apparent in the ranks of professional orchestras for some time yet. But League statistics also tell an encouraging story: While the actual numbers are still quite small, since 1995 there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of black players in North America's 25 largest orchestras, as well as a small increase in the number of Latino musicians. Similar increases are evident in statistics for the American orchestra field as a whole.

Last spring, the League asked three individuals to open a public discussion of diversity onstage, focusing on both immediate and long-term ways to create opportunities and a welcoming environment for musicians of color. Their comments, presented at the League's 2002 National Conference in Philadelphia and adapted here for SYMPHONY, are enlightening, frank, and sometimes provocative. They don't agree on all points--each, for instance, defines "diversity" somewhat differently--nor will you, the reader, agree with all their ideas. Their objective, and ours, is to provide grist for the mill of creative thought and locally appropriate action. We invite you to consider these comments carefully, and share your own viewpoints with SYMPHONY by writing to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Old Commitment, New Energy
Three views of the journey toward onstage diversity

by Aaron Dworkin, Aaron Flagg, & Allison Vulgamore   

At the Feet of the New Out-of-the-box thinking is the first step.

With more than one-third of all Americans belonging to a minority group, it is increasingly difficult to be successful without incorporating diversity in your overall organization. More...
- Aaron Dworkin
Founder and Executive Director, The Sphinx Organization

Extend an Invitation
Those who welcome and nurture minority talent will reap the benefits.

I do not see racism or discrimination in the audition process as the key problem. The problem is that very few musicians of color are auditioning for orchestra positions at all. More...
- Aaron Flagg
Director of Educational Outreach, The Juilliard School; Freelance trumpet player

From Ideal to Reality
Understanding our similarities as well as our differences.

Start by recognizing that it's necessary to feed the talent identification system. There is a role for affirmative action, and there is a role for developing talent. More...
- Allison Vulgamore
President and Managing Director, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Graduate, Diversity Leadership Academy of The American Institute for Managing Diversity


This three part article is excerpted from the January/February 2003 issue of SYMPHONY, the League's award-winning bimonthly magazine, covering issues, artists, and trends in the orchestra field. To subscribe, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Or become an Individual Member of the League and receive SYMPHONY plus several other valuable benefits.