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A flurry of issues over an ‘elitist’ Juilliard feature

April 10, 2017 by norman lebrecht

10 comments.


A week ago the Wall Street Journal magazine published a 12-page spread on the performing arts school.

Initial reactions ranger from ‘that’s a nice piece of PR work’ to ‘this is eactly the sort of thing that gives classical music a bad name.’

The photographs showed preppy-looking types in designer clothes larking around at the school.

The feature is paywalled so we can’t show you very much.

But one concerned relative has been troubled by a significant, injurious bias in the promotion.

Here’s what she writes:
The Wall Street Journal’s April 3rd online magazine feature on Juilliard students with photographs taken by Thomas Gebremedhin could benefit from your attention. More specifically, the sheer absence of any Asian or Asian-American students from an otherwise diverse collection of several fashion forward musicians and dancers strikes any student, faculty/staff member, alum, or patron of the venerable institution as, well, peculiar.

Independent of one another, a cellist named Mosa Tsay and I both pointed out this omission of a specific demographic on Twitter.  It seems that either Mr. Gebremidhin or members of the editorial staff at the Wall Street Journal may not be inclined to regard Asian musicians as attractive enough to merit visual attention in the newspaper. Since students with cultural backgrounds stemming from Korea, Taiwan, China, Singapore, and Japan constitute a rather large percentage of the population attending Juilliard these days, the lacuna of such faces is startling, to say the least.  One wonders whether a deliberate omission has taken place rather than an unintentional oversight.  The photographer who attended both Duke and Philips Andover, according to LinkedIn, might be best positioned to answer this question accurately.  Apparently, he has not responded to Ms. Tsay’s inquiries.  

Any assistance you could offer to draw attention to the hurt and insult felt by young dedicated musicians with surnames such as Lee, Wang, Kim, Zhang, Takebe, and Yu would be greatly appreciated.  My niece who attends Juilliard is deeply injured, as are many of her friends. However, she does not believe anyone would support her if she were to raise the issue. I told her I would do what I could on her behalf.  

Juilliard is heavily dependant on its intake of Asian students. Who was on call when the photographer came round?

photo (c) Zoë Ghertner/WSJ.

Comments (10)

  1. Anonymouse says:

    The feature is paywalled, not firewalled.

  2. Steve P says:

    Not an unreasonable complaint: if a high percentage of students are of a particular race, then it stands to reason a decent selection of accompanying photos would be representative.

  3. Steinway Fanatic says:

    Juilliard would have to close down completely without Asian students!

    1. Henlevkea says:

      Most definitely @

  4. Buxtehude says:

    Pay-walled, fire-walled or Chinese-walled, it’s Rupert-Murdoched inside & out. If I remember the WSJ Magazine, it’s a guide to spending obscene amounts of money for any and everything. With this in mind, the types and numbers of people left out and therefore “insulted, hurt, deeply injured” may be imagined. A stonking, gigantic number! Let’s hope the Julliardeers are not driven away from music altogether, from the shock of this. Blame Wendy Chen, Tony Blair, call in the United Nations — but I find it a little hard to care about this one.

  5. timbits says:

    Never say “the lack of” something when you can say “the lacuna” of something [and be technically incorrect, the best kind of incorrect] instead!

    Nonetheless, this is a pretty bizarre situation. A photographer would have to try rather hard to exclude Asian students from a photo array of Juilliard.

  6. James says:

    I haven’t read the piece so maybe it’s explained within but it seems odd to blame the photographer. Wouldn’t the editor or photo-editor be responsible for selecting the images for use in the piece? I’m guessing the photographer took hundreds of shots and unless every one of them was staged would’ve found it difficult to exclude any specific group of students.

  7. Pianofortissimo says:

    What is the name for White people who are race counscious that way?

    1. Fan says:

      This is about being excluded, not about excluding others: nowhere in the complaint says “no white is allowed”. Nevertheless, there can be legitimate reasons for the editorial choice, such as trying to attract more white students who *might be* prone to such campaign.

  8. SPark says:

    Similar to Vanity Fair… when they did a feature on the Sochi Winter Olympics, it was bizarre when they interviewed the figure skaters and left out Yuna Kim. How is that possible?

    Or the Hollywood film Descendants, which was set in Hawaii had no Asian people in the film, even as extras, when Hawaii is 60% Asian. Or many Hollywood films, for that matter, that show SF, LA, Hawaii, etc. with no Asian people on the streets.

    It’s as if a Zombie Apocalypse occurred and killed off only the Asians.


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