Eurocentrism and Racial Bias in Classical Music

June 7, 2020

From its genesis, classical music has been rooted in, developed in, and centered around white men. We want to educate those who might not be familiar with this on the underrepresentation of minorities in modern orchestras, why it matters, and what you can do to address it.

In 2014, the percentage of musicians from African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and other non-white backgrounds was only 14.2 percent. A large portion of these people are Asian, and when you don’t include them, the number drops to under only 5 percent!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With conductors, minorities are still underrepresented. About 80% of conductors are white.

Groups 1-3 are orchestras with large budgets, while Groups 4-8 are orchestras with smaller budgets

Why is this happening?

First, the cost of learning an instrument.

 

Let’s take the violin as an example.

 

Instrument $500-2,000

Lessons $30/week

Strings $50/year

Accessories (stand, rosin) $30

Maintenance (bow rehair) $50 every 2 years

Music $20/year

 

If you play the violin for just 8 years, it will end up costing you between $13,770 and $15,270. This doesn’t account for repairs for any possible damage to your instrument, strings, or case. For instruments like the cello or the double bass, it will probably cost even more.

 

So how could someone who struggles to afford bills and basic necessities like food and clothes afford to participate in and enjoy classical music?

They probably can’t.

Underrepresentation perpetuates underrepresentation. Minorities don’t often see themselves in classical music and will consequently find the community uninviting and unfitting for them.

 

Also, while most rounds of an orchestra audition are done behind a screen, the final round is NOT. This triggers implicit racial biases of the judges (who are usually white men) and is one of the biggest reasons why there remains such a lack of diversity in top orchestras.

 

The overwhelming majority of orchestras haven’t even acknowledged this diversity issue, let alone taken the actions to address it. We typically see superficial solutions that involve dedicating a week or concert to music from a specific minority, but this creates a tendency to regard non-European classical music as “not mainstream” or “different,” further continuing the cycle of white supremacy in classical music.

What can I do to help?

 

Write emails and letters to major orchestras. Demand that they:

  • NORMALIZE the inclusion of classical music composed by minorities, rather than only through dedicated events and concerts.

  • KEEP SCREENS DURING THE FINAL ROUND to remove any chance of racial bias.

  • ADVOCATE for the importance of diversity and representation and encourage other orchestras to join them.

  • SET UP PROGRAMS to foster youth music education in underprivileged areas

 

We have a great template for you all to use! CLICK HERE

Donate. There are many great nonprofit organizations that are making classical music more and more affordable for underprivileged children, and they could use our help! Here are a list of a few that we found:

 

Education through Music

VH1 Save the Music Foundation

Hungry for Music

Inner City Arts

Sphinx Organization

Play on Philly

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Talent Development Program

Youth Orchestra Los Angeles

NOTE: Before we can demand an end to racial bias in classical music, we must first demand an end to racial injustice in America. Make sure you’ve supported the most important movement--demanding justice for the Black Americans who have been betrayed by policemen who have faced no punishment, systemic racism solutions, and large-scale police reform--through donations, petitions, and protests.

 

Thank you for reading! Please share this with your friends if you found this informative.

Sources:

http://www.ppv.issuelab.org/resources/25840/25840.pdf

https://culture.pl/en/article/defying-the-western-centric-bias-in-classical-music-an-interview-with-dai-bo

https://www.colorlines.com/articles/inside-battle-diversify-orchestras-one-costly-audition-time

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