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You still aren't making an appropriate analogy though. We are talking about large institutions and their employment practices. If there's a level playing field for conductors and musicians with the big orchestras, regardless of gender or race, great - but people plausibly argue this isn't the case.

 

I could start listing modern black painters, but where would that get us?

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How many black audience members are there at most classical concerts? Not none -- but nothing near congruent with the population.

 

I'm not trying to justify racial exclusion. I have a feeling that, except for the fact that, as Alex Ross noted, it doesn't like changing ANYTHING, the Classical Music Establishment would LOVE it if there were more major black conductors. It could help bring a new demographic in.

 

Some of the status quo is racism. Some of it's something else. And some of it's inertia.

 

How many black Classic Rock stars are there? One? Two if Buddy Miles is a star? Three if Sly & the Family Stone is "Classic Rock"?

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Again wit' de analogies. Western popular music is predominantly black music. There's a whole history to that, and again I miss Tuckerman's robust opinions, but that's how it has panned out.

 

What I think sparked this digression is the difficulty (in my mind, anyway) of reconciling classical music's exclusivism when it comes to age (previously discussed), race and class with John's apparent view of it as a threatened bastion of social enlightenment. We have had classical music, not to mention theater and art and literature, for centuries now - but it ain't done the poor a lot o' good.

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But this is all a side show. It has nothing to do with the work itself.

 

Sure, you could list a bunch of black modern painters. But there was only one -- ONE -- black member of the New York School. Are we going to drop that movement now because it wasn't sufficiently racially mixed?

 

I listen to Herbert von Karajan and Elizabeth Schwartzkopf and the music of Richard Strauss even though they were Nazis. Nazis. Because the work is good.

 

You don't judge art by how admirable or unadmirable the creators are. Or, I'd say, by how admirable or unadmirable the means of performance are. If someone started a new orchestra tomorrow with the best employment practices possible (in a subsequent post, I'm going to talk about current employment practices some more, because I think you're all being unfair), I wouldn't go to see it on that basis. I'd have to have some reason to think it was a GOOD orchestra, playing repertoire I wanted to hear.

 

If current employment practices bother you (see subsequent post, though), you lobby to change them. But I think it's idiotic to boycott an art form on that basis.

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Again wit' de analogies. Western popular music is predominantly black music. There's a whole history to that, and again I miss Tuckerman's robust opinions, but that's how it has panned out.

 

Which to me makes the racial exclusivity of Classic Rock even more of an outrage.

 

What I think sparked this digression is the difficulty (in my mind, anyway) of reconciling classical music's exclusivism when it comes to age (previously discussed), race and class with John's apparent view of it as a threatened bastion of social enlightenment. We have had classical music, not to mention theater and art and literature, for centuries now - but it ain't done the poor a lot o' good.

 

Well, yeah.

 

That's yet another reason why, with all due respect, John is wrong in insisting that art be a vehicle for social improvement.

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I really don't see the shortage of black conductors as evidence of anything: there is a race/culture confound.

 

The shortage of female conductors is pretty striking though.

 

On some of the other points; rhere is a political subtext to some peoples love of classical music, just as there is to some peoples love of specific popular music genres. The sort of music you like, or profess to like, is one of the ways people communicate with each other about their position in society, their views on life and so on.

 

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Orchestral Employment Practices

 

There is not, to my knowledge, a single major orchestra in the United States that does not conduct auditions blind. Auditioning musicians are screened precisely so that that the auditors cannot see their race or gender. The orchestras WANT to eliminate those considerations.

 

As for choosing music directors, obviously the problem is the pool from which you can choose. There are only so many major talents in each generation. There has to be a lot of recruiting done at the school level before the racial mix of possible candidates is evened out. Obviously, past exclusion is regrettable. But there is simply no reason to assume it's inherent to the musical form, or that it's going to continue. I doubt the Establishment WANTS it to continue.

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The class/gender/race issues in classical music are something I'm seriously seriously not proud of. For what its worth, a higher percentage of the students at my institution come from private schools (admittedly mostly the 3 or 4 major UK specialist music ones) than at any other university in the UK, Oxbridge included. We have, unsuprisingly, a very high percentage of east-asian students, but very few from other ethnicities. That said, we tend to have more female students than male, and if this balance isn't quite reflected in orchestras yet it is certainly getting there.

 

Sadly, it does seem unsuprising to me that a culture that has been the domain of white middle-class males will continue to be so to some extent, and as a middle class European white male I'm not helping.... Although my last major performance was by a black cellist in a working-mens club.

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But this is all a side show. It has nothing to do with the work itself.

 

Sure, you could list a bunch of black modern painters. But there was only one -- ONE -- black member of the New York School. Are we going to drop that movement now because it wasn't sufficiently racially mixed?

 

We can certainly drop touting it as the last best hope of humanity. Absolutely we can.

 

You don't judge art by how admirable or unadmirable the creators are.

 

Of course, of course. And I don't think anyone's suggested a boycott. You have it back to front. Some on the thread were trying to make a positive case for classical music being some kind of besieged summit of mankind's hopes. That's what's hard to reconcile with its narrow, exclusivist actuality.

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