Friday, June 21, 2013

Culturally Competent Orchestras #imagining2023

Thanks to the League of American Orchestras, I was able to attend their national conference free of charge. Aside from new connections, some of the sessions were very thought provoking including one discussing how to broach cross cultures. While I know etymologically the word culture come from its Latin root "to grow", the definition the presenter gave was the set of certain behaviors and values as things that are right and wrong.
What I found fascinating were the seven dynamics of culture
Getting things done

If you look at this link, you will notice there is a more individualistic, low affect side and a more communitarian, high affect side. Believe it or not, the new generation is tending to lean towards that similar of the archetype of Latinos, African Americans, and other high affect, communitarian peoples. So now let's apply this to orchestras. Everything from the structure of the concert hall being hierarchical to an exact duration of a piece to being reprimanded if applauding between movements are all things on the left side of these columns, where the archetype of Westerners tends to fall. But imagine if you tend to be on the right side of the above categories. You're used to expressing yourself, playing music in circles, and not knowing how long something will last because it will depend on that specific time of playing it (ex:drum circles, gamelan, indigenous music, jam sessions). Even if an orchestra ticket is available to you and they do include a composer from your ethnicity. Are they respecting your culture or at the very least acknowledging it? No. And that is why there hasn't been diversification of orchestra audiences. Sure part of it is an access problem, but why don't diverse audiences attend free concerts? Because they don't feel it's relevant to them, and how could they when only one end of the spectrum is being represented? How can we make it relevant to them so that they feel a part of their culture is reflected and thus it is of value? It's not because Latinos don't like classical music; did you know the first conservatory in America was in Mexico?
Obviously this wont't change overnight and I'm not necessarily suggesting people do the tongue flutter accolades done in E Africa in a symphony hall. But step one is for everyone to at least be aware and have the conversation. I asked when to have this conversation especially when beginning a new program? Her response will stick with me. "Well you have the operations, policies, etc. why not just add diversity as another topic?"

At the end of the conference we were all imagining our dreams for the orchestra in 2023 in six words or less. Mine was "orchestras truly represent communities and accessible to all." And then my colleague and friend Stan took the stage and boldly said we have bigger fish to fry than that we're not meeting our millions of dollar orchestra budgets. What about the future of children? Right now there is a 250 billion spent on children devoid of opportunity who end up in juv, welfare, pregnant, etc. that number will increase to 450 by 2023. Why not have the orchestras help this and worry about decreasing problems like the achievement gap in the twin cities, youth violence, teen pregnancy rates, etc. well said Stan well said!
So now I ask you. What do you think the world will look like in 2023 and how do you think orchestras can take a role so that they are not stifling, elite, sea-of-white hair institutions but rather the place their Greek root name derives, "the dancing place."

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