American Orchestras that already regularly play music by POC

So there’s been a lot of chatter about diversity (or lack thereof) in Classical Music and Orchestras the past few weeks. Just some examples: Holly Mulcahy’s piece about diversifying orchestra audition excerpts; Eric William Lin’s discussion (with wonderful interactive graphs) of NY Phil’s rep over 175 seasons; Rob Deemer’s unveiling (in a little more formal venue) of the massive database of Women Composers that he and his students have been curating for some time; and, of course, Anne Shreffler’s piece about the Canon’s Invisible Hand which I discussed previously.

While the issues in any of the above would give tons of discussion and insight, I thought I’d focus a bit on something that came up in a discussion thread on one of Holly Mulcahy’s posts regarding her audition excerpt reform piece and that posted as a comment there, that “Personally, I don’t have a problem with the big orchestras sticking to the ‘masterworks’ but hey, let’s call them what they really are then–HIP specialists in an arbitrarily narrow range of rep.” But I elaborated on what that meant for me further in the thread (edited slightly for clarity):

To clarify what about the ‘sticking to the “masterworks”‘ comment–I meant if they [Orchestras] solely stuck to the masterworks. Then most orchestras would be the next in line of HIP ensembles already focusing on baroque, classical periods.

What I’ve found interesting in my research about orchestra (and other classical org) formation is that there’s no lack of it–in fact, it seems like it’s accelerated in the past couple of decades. And what I’m seeing more and more is a plurality of types of orchestras. Everything from film score orchestras (some that focus only on live-to-projection events–others as primarily film score recording groups) to Contemporary Music orchestras, to Baroque orchestras, to VideoGame Music orchestras, to groups that specialize in symphonic rep from well outside the Western Canon. This doesn’t even touch on Soundpainting and Improvising orchestras; Laptop/Mobile phone/Tablet orchestras; Telematic ensemble projects and others that focus on technology.

Maybe it’s time to start turning some of that institutional/cultural funding towards the newer groups which do tend to be more diverse in rep/personnel/administration?

Given the above, I’m going to post a sampling of videos of American Orchestras that do actually regularly play music by People of Color. I’m not going to give any commentary on the individual groups, but I have blogged extensively about my research into the evolution of orchestras and large performing ensembles throughout history. My All Orchestras are Ethnic Orchestras post and my Timeline of Orchestras and Large Instrumental Ensembles Evolution can give you some background for those interested.

The point of this is to show that in the US there is already a wildly diverse orchestral environment. Most of these organizations, like the ones below, actively perform works by POC. Many of the organizations are run and composed primarily by POC. There is a high proportion of POC in attendance at events by these groups, and they actively commission new works by POC.

One comment I made in my previous post was that “so-called ‘quality’ is highly subjective, culturally specific, and that systems of institutional power will favor the work of some populations over other populations and reinforce the norms that allow that privilege to exist.” The same could be said of privileging one culturally specific type of orchestra (Western/European-styled Orchestras) over the wide variety we actually have.

By doing so, we ignore the evolution of orchestras past the mid 20th century, and fail to see where they are already going while focusing on changing the European Styled Orchestras into something different into a universal representation of some ideal orchestra archetype rather than one of many variations on a branching orchestral tree.

Note that this is just a small sampling of US based orchestras. Most of these types of orchestras exist throughout the world. With that, enjoy the videos.



National Arab Orchestra (formerly the Michigan Arab Orchestra) performing Baligh Hamdi’s “Alf Leila Wa Leila”


Seattle Chinese Orchestra performing Jiaqing Zeng’s “Song of the Ali Mountain”


Sphinx Symphony Orchestra performing Paulo Bellinati’s “Concerto for Two Guitars and Orchestra”


Houston Latin American Philharmonic performing Abelardo Valdés’ “Almendra”


American Balalaika Symphony Orchestra performing Evgeny Trostiansky’s “Grotesque and Meditation”


San Diego Mandolin Orchestra performing “Rosas Pandan” a Philippine Folk Song


Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra performs Yuan Gao’s “The Mystical Udumbara”


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