Opinion: Classical music should address economic dimensions of field’s lack of diversity

Posted on: December 16, 2020

“Few art forms on earth are more indebted to class privilege than Western classical music,” writes Robert Jackson Wood in Thursday’s (12/10) New Republic. “For most of its history, it has relied on monarchs, aristocrats, and wealthy patrons even to exist…. Today, the genre is grappling with what … might seem like an entirely different aspect of its legacy: the historical lack of diversity in its orchestras and ensembles…. These legacies could hardly be more intertwined…. Prior to the Gilded Age, classical music in this country enjoyed a comparatively democratic existence, performed alongside jugglers and vaudeville tunes in raucous theaters…. Yet by the mid-nineteenth century, all of that began to change…. Conservatory training and instruments still cost a fortune…. In 2018, the median income of Black workers in the U.S. was $41,361, while the median income of white workers was $70,642…. While the reasons for these disparities are inextricably tied to historical racism … as long as critics, fans, and musicians fail to take stock of the material dimension of these issues, economic restrictions on access will forever remain normalized.”