You Might Think This Wouldn’t Be A Problem Anymore…But You’d Be Wrong

July, 2021 saw three articles in traditional media outlets that examine how Asian classical musicians face discrimination at various points in their career.

The New York Times published two articles on July 21, 2021. The article by Javier C. Hernández chronicles how David Kim, a violist in the San Francisco Symphony faces what he describes as being marginalized.

“In March he resigned as the sole musician of color on an orchestra committee focused on equity and inclusion.”

Not exactly a badge of honor for a group that prides itself as being a leader on social justice and equal rights. Hernández’s article goes on to profile several additional Asian musicians, all of which very frank with their experiences.

The second NYTimes article was written by violinist Jennifer Koh and recounts discrimination going back to her childhood when a conductor, who never heard her play, told her she could never be a true artist. To help underscore her points, she references an article the paper published from 1980 with the headline “ORIENTAL MUSICIANS COME OF AGE” and how that has now morphed into the syndrome of an “overrepresented minorities.”

But wait, there’s more.

Jeffrey Arlo Brown wrote an article for the 7/29/21 edition of VAN that illustrates contemporary discrimination has no trouble adopting traditional flavor.

“Some artists have taken to social media to challenge their employers. Miran Kim, a violinist of South Korean descent in the Metropolitan Opera’s orchestra, recently wrote on Twitter about her ‘exhaustion and frustration’ playing works with racist caricatures, such as ‘Madama Butterfly.’ She also criticized the Met for selling a Butterfly-themed sleep mask described as evoking ‘exotic elegance’ and mimicking ‘the alluring eyes of an Indian princess or Japanese Geisha girl.’ (The mask was removed from the online store and the Met apologized.)”

Speaking of traditional options that aren’t aging all that well, the article includes the following quote from esteemed conductor Daniel Barenboim:

“We all know the Chinese can imitate better than anybody else, they will be able to make a car as good as BMW and Volkswagen but cheaper… It’s better to send the Berlin Philharmonic to play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 because [that is something] they can’t imitate. Neither the Beethoven nor the orchestra.”

Barenboim offered that quote during an interview with Van editors in 2015.

So that’s where we are. What do you think it will take to bring about substantive change?

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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You Might Think This Wouldn't Be A Problem Anymore...But You'd Be Wrong

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