There’s a sense [among conductors] of: “Why would I want one black spot in the orchestra? It spoils the view”.

-Paul Gladstone Reid

I read this here. In the US we have, for the most part, behind the screen auditions. Some orchestras remove the screen for finals, but not all do. (The two I’m in keep that screen up.) This is to make sure there isn’t any discrimination. In most places it began to prevent minorities and women from being rejected due to race or gender. (In one orchestra I was in it was more likely to avoid becoming and all female orchestra! 😉

So does the UK not use a screen? Are they really choosing people due to race?

Oh. Wait. (Read the whole thing, Patty!) Yes, they do use screens sometimes.

Okay. so there you go. A screen will mean you can’t determine race. (I’ve always been able to “hear” the gender because of the breathing; women, if you want to disguise your gender breathe lower!)

I think there’s more than one issue that causes the lack of minorities. I doubt one can point a finger at one thing and say, “That’s it!” It doesn’t work that way. But things are changing, as you can see if you look at orchestra pictures from “way back when” and look at them now. It’s a good thing, and I’m happy to see it.

If you read the full article you’ll read what some musicians think about the issue. (And two who are quoted are oboists!)


  1. I read an article a few months ago about one of the first female horn player to get into… was it the Chicago Symphony? (I should really go check. It was at the end of the book “Blink” by Malcom Gladwell. sooo interesting) and how much of a “scandal” it was, lol. The funny thing was that she had even subbed for the orchestra more than once but no one recognized her behind the screen.

  2. I read that book, Miriam, but it was a while ago. I know there was a trombone player in Europe who had to fight for her job. The conductor was quite blatant about needing a man for the job. (grumble) I don’t recall reading about an American orchestra, but my memory is not all that good, so I probably forgot.

  3. I always felt there was another reason, but then I live and work in what is supposed to be a quite good country when it comes to discrimination issues….

    The screen (which we always use in at least the two first rounds, sometimes removed in the last round but never if we know there are people we know well who audition) really helps the jury with the listening, since there are no visual distractions. Personally I find it much easier to judge that way.

    I have never encountered discussions concerning racial issues in connection with auditions, the only thing we constantly seem to discuss is the sad lack of good swedish musicians. This is of course what happens in the end, when the politicians drastically reduce fundings for the music schools.

  4. Interesting to read, Katarina. When you refer to “music schools” are these for younger children, or are you talking about something similar to our conservatories?

    (Music in our elementary schools is nearly non-existent around here, and for many it’s non-existent in secondary schools (high school) as well. I don’t know that conservatories receive any funding from the government.)

  5. Sorry about that, I realised too late that no one would have a clue as to what I was referring to….

    We have (still, but with much less funding), what we call Communal music-schools. They exist in almost every “commune” in Sweden, and are for children from the age of 8 and up to 18. This system was created to give everyone who wanted the opportunity to play an instrument a possibility to do it regardless of the family’s income. It used to be mostly classical instruments, but nowadays there’s a lot of typical pop/rock-instruments as well. They also have a lot of diferent chamber music ensembles, orchestras choirs etc.
    One might say that it’s been the fundament of instrumental education in Sweden. It’s a bit like in sports, the same “pyramid”; if 20 kids start at a young age with something, you’re lucky to find 1 professional at the top some years later. But if you have 2000 kids at the “base”, the chance/probability is of course much bigger.

    An example of how it works nowadays: my son just started playing the trombone (he chose completely by himself, I was a bit surprised but very happy – I like trombone, and tromboneplayers!), and I think we pay approx €175/year, and that gives him a 20 – minute private lesson each week and the possibility to participate in different orchestras when he has learnt a bit more.

    This is not within the regular school-system, even if they sometimes do borrow rooms after school-hours, it’s a completely independent organisation.

    Clearer? I feel a bit muddled in general today, I might just have confused you even more….