It was not all that long ago that women musicians were denied the chance to perform in a professional orchestra. The fight to be allowed a seat was hard fought, but won. The progress that has been made since that time, only several decades ago, is quite impressive. But representation of male and female genders does not inherently signify equality, or diversity, within symphony. The next time you are fortunate enough to go to a performance, or catch one on television, remember to look also for equal representation of people of color.
The Chicago Tribune recently reported that African Americans and Latinos only consist of 1.7 to 1.8 percent of professional musicians in American orchestras (a statistic taken from the League of American Orchestras). And, to demonstrate exactly how far we have come from the outright denial of women in the only recent past, the lack of representation of minority groups has become a topic of great concern for those interested in the future of American orchestras – particularly the Sphinx Organization.
Instead of merely agonizing over the bleak statistics, the Sphinx Organization is taking huge steps to help create and foster an orchestral environment more representative of the diversity that is celebrated throughout this country. The Chicago Tribune credits the Sphinx Organization for its great work in helping young African American and Latino musicians to achieve their full potential by awarding over $100,000 in prizes and scholarships each year through national instrumental music competitions. The organization, based in Detroit, has been working proactively since 1996 and includes the Sphinx Symphony – comprised of Black and Latino professionals from around the country committed to promoting the works of composers of color. The Sphinx Symphony regularly tours throughout the United States.
I was (and still am) a bit awestruck by this organization, the amazing work that it accomplishes, and that I had not known of it to this point. The combined efforts for the greater good of all through the embrace of classical music is heartening. The website has a lot of information, including a video about the organization featuring some of the students.