A Bunch Of Racist Nonsense

A recent article in the San Antonio Express-News inspired me to write about an issue that’s been steadily growing in my mind.

I’ve been bothered to see an increasing trend in this industry by some to explain away the declining audience base for classical music:  that some immigrant and minority communities aren’t interested in classical music because their respective cultures don’t have a traditional relationship with it.


The San Antonio article’s author, Mike Greenberg, reported that some supporters and detractors of the San Antonio Symphony keep telling him that the low turnout to some community concerts is an indication that classical symphonic music is culturally alien to San Antonio’s Hispanic population.

I applaud Mike for going on to state that he doesn’t buy into this rubbish.  But what really bothers me is how casually this reference is made by some in the industry, as though it’s some sort of scientific fact.

Back in April I wrote about how an orchestra executive director, not just a symphony supporter but the executive in charge of the entire operation, wrote to me with the following reason behind why classical music has fallen out of the American mainstream:

“Changing immigration patterns, with millions now coming here from non-Western countries which may or may not have a tradition of orchestral music.”

At that time in April I said the remark bordered on being racist, but because I hear this statement coming from so many other people inside the industry it’s now moved well beyond the border.

Statements like this are not only a thin veil of absolution over the declining audience problem, they actually add to the trouble by further alienating minorities.  If you were a minority, would a statement like the one above make you more or less inclined to attend an orchestra concert?

I would love to hear any of these people explain to me why then have there been orchestras playing for decades in places like Japan, Hong Kong, South Africa, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and even Baghdad?

It’s racist to assert that people from varying cultures don’t want or can’t learn to love classical music.  Classical music sells itself, just like any form of art, and it doesn’t take much to get people from any background interested in it.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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