Photo by Michael J. Lutch
Photo by Michael J. Lutch
The living tradition of orchestral music is one of humanity’s great cultural achievements. Throughout their history, orchestras have been invested with important symbolic and social significance by the various cultures that have produced and sustained them. In America today, orchestras have the opportunity and obligation to develop this vital artistic tradition in new ways, in partnership and in dialogue with their communities, while also serving as aspirational models, embodying both the individual and harmonious collective pursuit of excellence.
But to do so effectively in a diverse, multicultural society, orchestras must reflect the communities they serve—in their administrations, boards, programming, and crucially, their musicians. The failure to include underrepresented groups is triply limiting: it deprives orchestras of needed talent, inhibits the creative evolution of the art form, and alienates communities and audiences. Conveying the implicit message that artistic excellence belongs primarily to the distant past, and is the inheritance only of a select segment of society, orchestras risk isolating themselves and undermining their own legitimacy. Diversity, engagement and inclusion are potential sources of renewed vitality, waiting to be tapped.
Professional orchestras are well aware of this, and have sought remedies for decades, but have not made significant progress; according to the League of American Orchestras (LAO), as of 2014, African‐ Americans and Latinos still comprised only 1.8% and 2.5% of musicians in American orchestras, respectively. These persistent inequities have deep roots in larger issues of inequality that constrain opportunities for young musicians—especially students from historically underrepresented and low‐ income communities. Geographic, economic and social barriers limit early exposure to classical music and access to opportunities to learn and develop musical skills. The pathway from introductory music classes to advanced playing is typically both expensive and exclusive, requiring private lessons and program tuition, instrument and travel costs, as well as the cultural capital to know where to go, with whom to study, and how to audition or apply for scholarships—all factors that make it difficult for poor and even moderate‐income families to afford the costs. Early disparities are already evident at the level of youth orchestras, and are reflected in their demographics of race and ethnicity—according to LAO’s 2015 survey of 54 youth orchestras, for example, only 9% of players are Latino and 6% are Black, whereas these same groups of young people represent 23% and 14% of the general population aged 10 to 19.
It takes tremendous commitment, energy and time to attain the highest levels of musicianship; the professional orchestras of tomorrow are unlikely to be more diverse than the youth orchestras of today. BEAM is therefore dedicated to extending opportunities for music education, and creating pathways for sustained musical development, for middle‐ and high‐school instrumental musicians of underrepresented communities.
Boston BEAM will achieve its mission by providing sustained pathways of educational opportunity to highly engaged and talented middle and high school instrumental musicians from communities historically underrepresented in classical music professions.