In Thursday’s (7/30) Philadelphia Inquirer , Peter Dobrin writes about the lack of African American musicians in orchestras, noting that the Philadelphia Orchestra has three, all of them hired in the 1970s. “But this month, in a relatively significant development at the Mann Center, the orchestra took a quiet baby step. Sitting in the principal oboe chair Tuesday night was a substitute musician who happens to be African American. … Why this is significant—he’s just subbing, after all—might not seem obvious until you think about the fact that many musicians land a spot in the orchestra by starting as substitutes. Such experience grants several advantages: It gives players a chance to hone their styles to the ensemble’s sound; they see and hear what others are doing and emulate it; they learn to fit in. And when at some later point a sub does get a chance to audition, the audition committee recognizes the sound of a kindred spirit. … It turns out that our oboe visitor studied at Curtis with a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. But he was called in to substitute because, as is required for playing in a principal chair, he has a title with another orchestra: He’s Shea Scruggs, hired in April as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s assistant principal oboist.”

Posted July 31, 2009