US composer: Classical music is segregationist

US composer: Classical music is segregationist


norman lebrecht

February 17, 2021

The words of Tyson Davis, 20, presently working with the Albany Symphony:

‘The problem is, classical music, at least over the past century has been such an extreme ivory tower,’ Davis said. ‘And it’s so annoying. It’s almost segregationist and classist — classical music in general. There’s been this tradition of having the concert hall be peaceful and quiet and having the tickets be expensive and only being for old people and often times the music is very old….’

Davis grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and was raised by a single mom. He says he remembers going to his first symphony and not seeing anyone who looked like him. ‘No Black people in the North Carolina symphony – at all,’ Davis said. ‘And I don’t think there’s any Black people today.’

More here.

Your thoughts?


  • In the Monterey Bay area I see more black people in the orchestras than in the audience.

    • Fred Neumann says:

      See Norm took down the ethnic boy’s profanity driven rant.

      If only all Libs like Bottini were canceled as swiftly.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        It took it down because one of our commenters tracked downOmar’s email and harrassed him. That’s unacceptable

        • Christian Sommerling says:

          Seems quite a stretch to justify the entire subject’s censorship as the party implicated was not either you nor your employee.

          However affording respect and consideration to conservatives is also expected in the spirit of equality. Don’t you agree?

          • BruceB says:

            “Censorship”? Really?

          • L.B. Cohen says:

            Yes BruceB!

            Norman used his white privilege to cancel the colored bloke giving a vague justification. Happens all the time with those of Norman’s background. Glad he canceled that guy too! Chucking rubbish like that makes room for more intellectual, worthy Jewish subjects readers gravitate towards. Everyone is long-weary of the egotistical and gratuitous black aka diverse topics. Only a couple of them are worth publishing that uplift the arts. Besides, there are other races besides the blacks!

        • doofus1714 says:

          dear Norman.
          yes it is a misguided attitude..but he is 20…you post these things on your blog to entice the get-a-lifers who turn out droves whenever you post anything about gender, race etc…this is not really an important story, but if it makes you feel important than continue to have at it. the worth and seriousness of this often fantastic blog for classical music fans (not really for profis) is lessened with this sort of post.

        • Richard Zencker says:

          I’ve been tracked down over a comment here, but I wouldn’t call it harassment. On the other hand I knew what to expect in these comments, and now I’m going to take a long shower.

  • JussiB says:

    How can classical music be in “extreme ivory tower” when every major Hollywood movie features classical orchestral music and sometimes even a chorus? Maybe classical music has a ‘perception problem’ more than anything.

    • John Porter says:

      You must be watching a bit too much of the movie Humoresque, for most of the movies today do not feature classical music. They may or may not use orchestral instruments for the score, but it is not “classical music.” Once upon a time, you would hear classical music on ads or in restaurants, or even in the dentist office. Those days are largely gone, as are the big orchestral scores of Hermann, Steiner, Waxman, etc.

      • BruceB says:

        A lot of people seem to think that if music is produced by “classical” instruments, then it’s “classical” music. Therefore movie soundtracks are classical?

  • Brian says:

    Gosh. If only there were some music for young people of color to enjoy. But we definitely need to get rid of Beethoven. Mozart, too. He was probably a white supremacist.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It is indeed very irritating that all those European composers from the past were white, and that their music has become old. But what can we do about it?

  • Miko says:

    I’m a wight, privileged, middle aged male musician.

    Listen to him. He’s right.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    You can’t argue with him….

    • Wise Guy says:

      Exactly. You can’t argue with him , which is why his stupid statements go unchallenged.

    • Patricia says:

      Yes. We can. He is too young to know much about anything. His opinions about skin color are about as useful as his opinions about classical music.

      • Concertgoer says:

        He does know some things. He’s a student at Juilliard. He has work at a Top 50 U.S. orchestra. He has commissions elsewhere. And he’s generating publicity.

        • Jaysun Billings says:

          THIS is what Juilliard accepts into its formerly esteemed educational environment and will eventually pass off as a representation of its brand?!?!

          Doesn’t speak well of a once great school. At least they will be accepting less qualified candidates and lowering their tuition after this kind of damage to their reputation. They’re already accepting low level people like this so who cares?

          • E Rand says:

            I tolllllllld you all just a week ago that Juilliard has entered the “woke-entropy” stage of its decline. No one liked me for saying so.

          • Marfisa says:

            “low level people” – why don’t you just come out with it and say “black”?

          • E Rand says:

            It takes a racist to automatically conflate “low-level” with “blacks”.

          • Wise Guy says:

            This is the circular reasoning of the liberal elites: Admit black person to Harvard simply because they are black and then retort to criticism of said person by saying “But he went to Harvard!”

        • Guest says:

          Could be a product of affirmative action, also known as Black privilege.

        • Michael James says:

          Sounds like a good career move. In a few years everything will have to be diverse by law and quotas of performances of music by black composers will be enforced throughout the media. Tyson Davis should be riding high, checking that the quota is being observed.

      • BruceB says:

        Hmmm, yes. Too young to have had the experiences he has had, or to understand what they mean.

    • Paul Carlile says:

      “Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
      Or you will also be like him.” (Proverbs 26:4).

      “When you argue with a fool, he’s doing the same!”

  • J Barcelo says:

    If black people want to study an instrument or go to a concert what’s stopping them? I don’t know the situation in North Carolina, but out west there are plenty of musicians who are black, Asian, Latino…even white! There are conductors of all races. The audiences are really old – but when you’re 20 anyone over 35 seems old. But he’s right about one thing: we play too much music that is really old. And that problem seems to have no solution.

    • Anon says:

      J Barcelo,
      Because it’s not a problem. It’s a wonderful and beautiful thing. I feel sorry for those who think otherwise.

    • Paul Allen says:

      The biggest problem is the fact that most blacks people in US can’t afford it, but that’s really has nothing to do with classical music itself but rather bad state of their economic well-being generally. In US people still don’t know how to treat a root of a problem – only symptoms, from healthcare to politics. Classical music situation is a symptom.

      • alexy says:

        Dear Paul, did you ever compare the price of classic music and pop concerts? You would be surprised! (50-100€) And they are full with mixed public. Almost all orchestra has special youth/students prices. There is a problem but it’s image and communication not money.

        • Paul Allen says:

          Pop music has herd appeal and massive communication budgets so it’s much easier to convince someone to join in on the hype train. 50$ for pop concert and 50$ for classical concert are two different 50$ for an average consumer.

          There was a time when some artists tried to be more informal, in hopes of bringing wider audiences, and that had absolutely no effect. People enjoy classical music precisely because it’s a more elevated experience than a pop concert. Classical music is elitist just as fine dining is elitist compared to McDonalds.

          If black neighborhoods are seriously invested in, not least in terms of education opportunities, desegregation in the housing is facilitated, etc. then many will be able to afford classical music experience as an elitist one in the good sense of the word even though that word currently has a very bad rep. Elitism is bad only because the wealth gap is too big.

          • BruceB says:

            “If black neighborhoods are seriously invested in, not least in terms of education opportunities…”

            And of course we fund schools in this country with property taxes, so the schools in lower-income neighborhoods have less money…

      • Enquiring Mind says:

        I’ve paid $15 tickets for the Baltimore symphony in Baltimore for superb seats. They have $15, they just spend it on something else. Get real.

  • Charlie says:

    In the United States the word segregation reminds us of a shameful time when keeping blacks and whites separate and unequal was done by force of law. It’s entirely inappropriate in this context, unless it can be shown that music directors deliberately made choices based on race, preferring white musicians and composers who whose talent and ability was inferior to more talented black applicants. Where I attended music school, most of the black students were in the jazz department for reasons that didn’t seem unusual at the time. I’m glad to see that more black students are being exposed to classical music and choosing to make careers as classically trained musicians, but it’s a bit of a stretch to say that our music world is intentionally segregated. Furthermore, the reason that our concert experience demands a quiet concert hall is that the music can’t be fully heard otherwise, since classical music has such a wide range of dynamics.

  • Samuel R. says:

    Whoever dragged his bloviating ass through years of higher ed and handed him a great deal of money for white collar work??? The KKK?!?!

    He needs to be more self-aware of his privilege in his profession and address his daddy issues or get CANCELED straight away.

    • MWnyc says:

      Profession? He’s 20.

      The views Norman quoted sound like those of a young person, and some of those views will change. For instance, I imagine he’ll see the value of the concert hall being peaceful and quiet when it’s his music being played in it.

      • Liberal Prophecy says:

        Your comment is highly ageist as well as offensive to the classical and academic community!!

        He’s a college educated ADULT with personal and professional responsibilities. One doesn’t get the privilege of simply walking in off the street into a concert hall and conducting or performing. There are STANDARDS and very high ones at that.

        You just try coming in and going through a professional audition or hiring process with no educational background relying solely on talent as either a very young or older person. Good luck with that either in the arts or approaching a business!! The classical world is highly snobbish regarding educational pedigree and their own level of class above all others. It is a tight social club where few get in and fewer get jobs. They revolve around prestige and ultimately knowing the right people.

        Now that the diversity inclusion BS has become a liberal battle cry, they make mere overtures. Think about how far downhill the whole of just opera for example has slid in the last 30 years. Tossing in a few token, guilt singers only yielded diversity headlines. Better singers ended up getting hired in short order even though they don’t have the same solid technical beauty as the stars did 30 years ago which is clearly expressed in the lack of audience and interest.

        You see standards and levels of education as discrimination dog whistles but the classical music world sure doesn’t.

        At the rate liberals are collapsing on themselves to appear inclusive, branded universities will have to be canceled as they use high standards and are inherently offensive.

        Liberals continue to devour their own…

  • Herbie G says:

    Another deranged moron. I guess that this will be the start of another long thread in which erudite followers of SD will provide lucid arguments against this lame-brain, each of which will get about 85 thumbs up and 6 thumbs down. People who make statements like this are nothing more than anti-white racists who attack anything they perceive as being white-centric.
    I would like to hear of anyone trying to buy a ticket for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, the Carnegie Hall, the Royal Opera House or Philharmonic Hall who has been turned away because they are non-white.
    Could it just be the case that there are few black people at these venues because many black people prefer other kinds of music – and the same goes for millions of white people too? I guess that the audience for rap and reggae is predominantly non-white, so does that mean that they are inherently racist?
    In saying all this, I am disobeying the golden rule, attributed to Mark Twain: ‘Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference’. Please forgive me for this oversight.

    • Adrienne says:

      “Could it just be the case that there are few black people at these venues because many black people prefer other kinds of music”

      Yes, I’ve pointed this out many times. Both sides of my family are black but I’m the only member to show any interest in classical music. Believe it or not, black people are capable of making choices (even though some of those choices drive me to despair).

      I do not appreciate being used to measure the success of so-called equal opportunity projects devised by guilt-ridden (mostly) white do-gooders.

  • Hmus says:

    To be fair, he did say “almost” and he was talking about North Carolina. Given that context ,and the fact that he is only 20 (oh the things we say at 20 – I shiver to recall my musical opinions on my first radio interview way, way back when…) it would be churlish to subject him here to the full weight of internet trolling.

    Ironically, the music snippet provided was indistinguishable from much of the product of the milder end of academe for the last 40 years at least, with no discernable sociology audible, gender, race, anything… often I suspect new music would most benefit by being presented anonymously first and allowed to speak for itself, if it can.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    It’s annoying to see (as in Obama’s recently published autobiog) that black with spelt with a leading capital – “Black” but white is not

    • HR says:

      You can read about the reason for that if you’re truly interested.

      • Herb says:

        The reasons are articulated (for want of a better word) in Critical Race Theory, one of the more arcane branches of academia and largely off the radar of the general public, not least due to its propensity for generating almost unlimited quantities of opaque and indigestible prose. Slipped Disc has had ongoing heated debate as to its probity.

  • Anon says:

    I think he should start his own series in a concert hall that is neither peaceful nor quiet, charge cheap prices for tickets, ban old people from attending, refuse to play old music, and try to make the audience look however he wants it to look.
    I wish him much success.

  • James Weiss says:

    I didn’t know it was possible for a “composer” to be this clueless and stupid.

  • Denisha Kohl says:

    Under the Pulitzer winning NYT 1619 Project and Biden’s directive to launch a study of reparations today, Norman’s Blog is rooted in his own white privilege and will be struck down soon in the states. Good timing for this post!

    How much money have Jews (who are white) been setting aside to pay reparations they owe?

    Here’s why…“In one source, for example, one interviewee deemed America irredeemably racist, finding many Jews guilty of “white privilege.” One recommended curriculum admitted, “there’s no neutral” here.”

    Such a source I have for you!

    Oh, Biden’s announcement today via Jen of course…

    How much does everyone think sick, old, white privileged Joe will owe??

    • Mr. Knowitall says:

      Jews are not necessarily white.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Some white people turn yellow after having eaten something that did not agree with them, including people of Jewish descent. It recently even happened in Israel.

    • Herbie G says:

      Thanks for your post, Denisha. You have let us know not only who you are but what you are too. If there is a Trump on the right, you have filled the role as his antipode on the left.

    • Hayne says:

      I’m so sorry you have bought the victimhood nonsense. If you have shortcomings (and who doesn’t), blaming others will never work. You must confront them yourself. That is the only way you can progress as an individual. Do you really think your problems will be solved with money?

  • Tom says:

    So true. We need a REVOLUTION in Classical music.

  • Wise Guy says:

    Yes, classical music is segregationist, Tyson. It segregates the great musicians from the lesser ones, except in the frequent cases nowadays when musicians are given jobs just for being a certain favored race. That does make it racist, doesn’t it? Not sure what should be done about giving this huge advantage to people based on race. Do you?

  • anonymous commentator says:

    I’m not sure about being exclusively an ivory tower — there are plenty of Asians populating orchestras everywhere and performing as soloists, unless they’re considered part of the elite and ethnic majority in North America now …

  • Optimist says:

    Does his observation that “often times the music is very old” also serve to condemn viewing Renaissance Art in a museum or attending a Shakespeare play in the theater? Why do we so frequently damn classical music for preserving the greatest artistic achievements of a variety of significant past societies, when we rarely dismiss the historic masterpieces of literature, the cinema, photography, architecture, philosophy, et al, in a similarly derogatory manner?

    Does he believe there is evidence of black people being systematically kept OUT of the profession? Does he believe that the quality of a classical music performance correlates in any specific way with the exclusion or inclusion of black musicians? Why are we judging the visual impact of what we SEE on stage in an AURAL artistic medium?

    Culturally, racial diversity and inclusiveness is an absolute necessity in a just society, but achieving this basic tenet of human dignity will result from nurturing appropriate skills through EDUCATIONAL opportunities, not by placing musicians of color in strategic places to be seen.

    • MWnyc says:

      The answer to the question in your first paragraph (why does classical music get criticized for focusing on the past when other art forms don’t) is that those other forms — theater, cinema, visual art, dance — have always had a steady flow of new work for audiences alongside the work of the past.

      Western classical music seems to be the only major art form where, for several generations, new creations drove most of the audience away rather than attracting them. Thank heaven, that’s finally changing, at least in the U.S.

      • Optimist says:

        Expectations for “new” classical compositions are totally unrealistic. We should not expect that people will value the new as highly as the old: what we hear of “old” music has survived the test of time, but that filter has not yet been applied to the overwhelming flood of often indiscriminately offered contemporary fare.

        How much great music (percentage-wise) was written in 1810? Mozart and Haydn were dead, the 19th century crop were in their infancy or not yet born, so it was mostly Beethoven. If we were to hear only the very minuscule portion of contemporary classical music that will still interest people in the 22nd century, we would probably have a far greater opinion of it.

  • Chilynne says:

    He’s 20 and hasn’t studied economics. Don’t suppose he ever priced tickets to a Broadway show, either.

    • José Bergher says:

      Mr. Davis should read “Performing Arts. The Economic Dilemma. A study of Problems common to Theater, Opera, Music and Dance” by W.J. Baumol and W.G. Bowen. New York, The Twentieth Century Fund, 1966.

  • Minnesota says:

    I would want to know what this very young man actually likes about classical music and why he wants to compose in that idiom. See it my way or you are a racist–is not a winning argument in the long run–but it gets attention, especially in the present day if you are an undergraduate at an elite school. The question is whether his music will repeatedly hold an audience out of desire rather than duty.

    Many of the greatest composers also were rebels in one way or another, but then their greatness was recognized sooner or later, usually while they still were alive.

    Pierre Boulez also was a very angry young man back in the day: “I, in turn, assert that any musician who has not experienced – I do not say understood, but, in all exactness, experienced – the necessity for the dodecaphonic language is USELESS.” He later became part of the establishment and recorded Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony among many other non-dodecaphonic works.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Beethoven only used a restricted number of the 12 tones. He also did repeat them a lot, which is anathema in dodecaphony. One can imagine Boulez grumbling during rehearsels and concerts about the lack of consistency in those old works.

      • Herbie G says:

        John, it’s worse than you say. Beethoven never used microtones, just the white-privileged major and minor scales, and occasionally the equally white-privileged modes. And he’s also suspect because he rarely used keys with more than three black notes, ensuring a white majority. I can think of only one major work in F sharp major, albeit a very fine one, and a couple in A flat major too – also masterpieces, and I cannot think of any major works in D flat major or G flat major. Look at the symphonies – none of them has more than three black notes out of eight.

        There’s scope here for a major dissertation on the subject of ‘Intrinsic White Supremacism, Privilege, Exclusivism, Oppression and Slavery in the Tonality of Beethoven’s Works. Yes, slavery of course, because anyone playing his works is forced to propagandise for his racist music.

        Anyone who can complete a bulky thesis on this subject stands a great chance of being made Dean of the hugely influential Conservatory of North East Texas, one of the world’s major musical powerhouses.

        In the meantime, let’s destroy all his statues, ban all his works and disrupt all concerts in which his music is played; he can join Schenker in Hades.

  • IP says:

    Now that Affirmative Action has got him in, what do you expect — music?

  • Rob Keeley says:

    Grow a spine, young man. Oh, and grow up!

  • mikhado says:

    Making popcorn in anticipation of all the screeching far-right trolls.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    /spelt = “spelled”
    Yes, ironic when I was writing about their spelling !

  • french horn says:

    I can’t say he is wrong ! For instance, in Europe, when you go to a classical music concert, you see, mainly, old white people who want to hear music that has been composed one or two centuries ago. That’s just a fact !

    • Bob says:

      yes. another way of saying that is: ‘most cultured people, especially when they reach a certain age, enjoy quality western art music that has stood the test of time, performed in amazing concert halls by professionals who have spent decades mastering it and have won auditions over many other amazing musicians and this art form is all about preserving, respecting and honoring tradition. miraculously these stuffy old people don’t leave a symphony hall concert and go to a jazz bar and start demanding more white men in the band and less swinging of the eight notes, or interrupt a rapper in a club and demand he stop being so rude by calling women all sorts of names, while he’s supposedly making a social commentary.

    • Graeme Hall says:

      I have often noticed that age appears to be the only form of discrimination that is morally acceptable these days. I mean, how dare these old people have the temerity to go to a concert to listen to music they love? Shameful!

    • Alexander T says:

      Nothing wrong with that.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    That Mr Davis is working with the Albany Symphony is a proof that classical music is not segregationist.

  • horbus rohebian says:

    Here we go again! So what does he suggest we do about it? Increase the quotient of black players (of course) or ban performances of so-called ‘classical’ music? Little wrong with being 1) old 2) wealthy and 3) appreciating timeless masterpieces (unless he prefers to argue that they’re not). Farewell Leonardo, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, etc all white at the last count.

  • Peter says:

    Well, it is wonderful that Mr Raleigh wants to break the constraints that he describes. I hope his music is able to appeal to a wider, younger, more diverse audience. He seems to be wanting to create a better experience for others than he had himself. And in that I wish him every success.

  • Rogerio says:

    You sir, could use a little more Chutzpah in your complaining.
    Talk to Student-Token guy in the SD post directly to the right of your SD post.
    Destiny has brought you together today for a reason bro.

  • RW2013 says:

    “there’s all these stuffy old white people…in the audience”
    If that isn’t racist…(and grammatically incorrect).

  • Johann says:

    …and that’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, we like it!
    stay the hell out if you don’t.
    sincerely, all the musicians (90+%) who couldn’t care less about your nonsense academic ‘war’ against elitism, whiteness or man-only composers repertoire.
    start your own orchestras. hire whomever you want. play whatever you want. never play another old, white man’s piece again. good luck to you and may you have double the audiences than would show up to a Beethoven concert.
    agreed? cheers

  • Genius Repairman says:

    As I have said before, we need more classical music education in schools from 7 years old and up of all backgrounds. Include some jazz and other forms too. Let children learn to really listen to long forms of music and to respond as well. Great music was written by humans for humans.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Absolutely. The problem of inaccessibility, be it on the audience side or the professional side, is an educational and informative one. Throwing the racist stone in the fragile pond of concert life does not change the educational trajectory.

  • Nick Schleppend says:

    Cherchez les hommes blancs . . .

  • Albert Dock says:

    I apologise for being old. Not much I can do about that!

    I don’t apologise for the cost of tickets at my local concert hall for being under £9.00. The dearest ticket there averages out somewhere around £45.

    I suppose I had better not mention that standing places at the Proms cost £6!!!

    Compare that with some of the stupid costs associated with Premier League Football.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Being old is a sign of scandalous reglect, since people can easily stay young by avoiding listening to old classical music amidst other entirely lazy self-neglecting old people!


  • The classical music business has taught us that the only good composer is a dead composer, no matter what his/her color or cultural persuasion.

  • Dave T says:

    I don’t know what the price of a Classical music concert ticket in North Carolina or Albany is but I would bet that’s it is in line with tickets to rock, hip hop, Broadway, or other forms of top-line stage entertainment. I’m more certain that ACC basketball games and Panthers NFL and Hornets NBA tickets are way, way more expensive.

    What I’m less certain of is why Mr. Davis considers having African American musicians on stage or in the program important for him (or maybe other AA folks) to be able to appreciate and enjoy, or for that matter even attend, a concert. Neither Fleming nor Norman nor Chung look a bit like me (lucky for them, I suppose) yet I can respect and enjoy them. As for the others on stage, I really couldn’t care less what they look like and I don’t dwell on it. I also barely understand a word of French or Russian and I don’t powder my (non-existent) wig or take snuff but I can still appreciate music composed by people from those lands, from a distant time.

    I would really like Mr. Davis, or someone else, to explain to me why the presenter or the the presented should “look like me”. This is a serious question, so thanks in advance.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Well if Covid and the responses to it don’t kill off classical music then Critical Theory and cancel culture will. Maybe cis, white, old, people should just boycott classical music and leave it to those who it seems we have been denying access by our mere presence. Ditto, those performers who seem to feel that somehow they are not diverse enough because of some conspiracy to ensure that they are denied access. Well, if those with the ‘Privilege’ recognise it and absent themselves we’ll see how long the form manages to survive and when it is no longer available who is to blame. It most certainly be those who seek out victims, but more assiduously, their oppressors.

  • Roman says:

    I think that the fact that black people don’t visit classical concerts raises more questions to black people, not to classical concerts. Tickets for some hip-hop performances cost more than tickets for Yuja, Mirga, Rattle, Kissin or whoever you like.

    All concert goers I know would in fact like to see more young people in audience. The fact that young people is not there is worrying, people I know usually try to encourage them visiting the concerts. The problem is that young people in west just don’t understand classical music due to lack of education and constant feeding them with pop, hip-hop, metal and similar music which degrades their taste.

    It looks like the main objection here is not agains racial or any other segregation, but about the fact that classical music requires education and some degree of intelligence. Education and intelligence is what these people on the left despise, not elitism/segregationism/anything else.


    I am an American born in Cuba in 1956. I have a particular vantage point of observation that may not reside in the “mainstream”. I had zero exposure to classical music until high school. My family and extended family offered no music to my upbringing besides Cuban and Latin music. I am the only musician who appreciates all kinds of music in the my entire extended family of 20 uncles and 20 aunts and their progeny. It is pure conjecture on my part, but I wonder if this ‘segregation’ he speaks of is not MORE a connection to general attitudes among an entire segment of the population that shuns involvement and appreciation for anything that is not popular music? Doesn’t this include White, Latino and Black populations as well where mainstream radio dominates their focus of interest over any other type of music? As I see it, the segregation comes from the popular music side more than the classical side. So, I believe… but I may be wrong.

  • Gary Freer says:

    Perhaps this young man might benefit from a period living in lockdown in Nottingham with the Kanneh – Mason family.

  • Leo Doherty says:

    Of course classical music is segregationist, you either like it or hate it.

  • Kun says:

    Be constructive and compose more, activism via complains does little to move the needle…

  • M McGrath says:

    Oh give me a break!!!! I’m happy for you. Enjoy your job with the Albany band and change the future. Stop second-guessing the past. And showing your ignorance, sir. Classical music was a European phenomenon, taste and habit. It’s a rarified environment in the US and daily fare in Europe. Going to school in Chapel Hill it was like finding ice cubes in hell to find classical music. Does that make NC backward? Nope. Shall we also say that Jazz in the 20s-30s was ‘segregationist’ (whatever that means)?

  • Nick says:

    “Classical music was in ivory tower”? Really? And this is the problem with Classical Music? “….No Black people in the North Carolina symphony – at all,’ Davis said….”.
    Maybe there is a problem with Black People in North Carolina, not with Classical Music? Never contemplated this idea?

  • Wise Guy says:

    Opera Houses and Orchestras can look forward to much more of this kind of “gratitude” for their DEI efforts, which is simply rebranded Affirmative Action, after her name was changed for having such a bad reputation.

  • The View from America says:

    This is just another rant … just like the others.

    And equally tiresome.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Nobody talks about the music that this young man writes.

    In 2019 the NYO-USA performed Davis’s “Delicate Tension” in the Hamburg Elb Philharmonie, under Pappano. There are quite some coloured players in the orchestra, as well as players from Asian descent, and even a timpanist in pink trousers. Possibly there were also Jewish players but that is more difficult to spot. So, after all, it looks quite diverse.

    What kind of music is this? It is expressionist, harking back to early 20C Vienna, where ‘Jewish composer’ Arnold Schoenberg tried to unsettle the classical tradition that florished there since the 18th century. Does Davis’ piece sound black, or white? If anything, it seems that it reflects the work of white Viennese composers who lived a century ago, so really old music that could not be more ‘white’.

    The piece was inspired by a painting by Kandinsky with the same title, another Viennese white artist living a century ago in white Vienna:

    There is more:

    On the whole, it seems that Tysen should be grateful for these old white people writing the music he took as his example.

    • Andreas B. says:

      Interesting points!
      But surely, it is even more interesting and en vogue to look at the performances instead of listening to them?

      For example, the – remarkably quiet – Hamburg and Berlin NYO audience looked almost exclusively white (and seemed to be much older than orchestra members or composer…).

      The all female string quartet players looked very caucasian, too.

      Now I’m even more confused …

  • Monty Earleman says:

    Give the kid a break- he’s only 20 and still knows everything!

  • Seriously? says:

    It is so strange to see many people not having a clue about true origins of problems. The fact whether person is in Classical music or not these days defined by three things and three things only: 1 – economic means, 2 – interest, 3 – expertise. Let’s look at so called minorities: Asians – a lot of them check all 3 boxes, meaning enough money to fund their education, interest in classical music and strong early preparation. Slavic/Eastern European – not much economic funds, often has to rely on scholarships but plenty of interest and very high expertise from Soviet System of early education. African Americans – again, no much funds, but also no widespread interest and expertise dependent on American early education which is not so strong. So those factors are clearly in favor of some and as a result we have large Asian presence in US orchestras, some Eastern European and very limited African American. Those are just 3 examples. Nobody bars people based on their ethnicity or race in music conservatories. These kind of claims this gentleman is making is simply a very inefficient strategy to help Black people be more represented in classical music (which anyone would welcome but means needs to be actually proactive and not just a blame game).

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    Sorry, but classical music — whether we’re talking about symphonic music or choral music or chamber music or early music or contemporary music — isn’t bequeathed to us from family or ethnic or national community. It’s very much a personal choice; the music either speaks to you, or it doesn’t.

    True, it does have its financial, opportunity and psychological barriers. “These opera tickets cost a lot.” “We weren’t exposed to it at home,” or “They didn’t offer music lessons in school.” “The audience and the musicians onstage don’t look like me.” Those things are real, but they’re not insurmountable.

    And if you listen to classical music, if you love it, if you seek it out, you’re part of a self-selected community who share an appreciation for music of complexity and emotional depth. Okay, so some members of that community are snotty jerks, but most of us didn’t join for the camaraderie. The real relationship is a personal one between you and the music.

  • Stuart says:

    I respect his argument given what he thinks that he is seeing, but he really let’s himself down with some of his statements: Davis says classical music doesn’t always reflect the true pain of life – something he’s trying to change. “Often times I feel like there are some aesthetics, especially in classical music, that can be somewhat escapist when it comes to how they present music as being solely beautiful or solely joyous,” Davis said. “When there are so many aspects of the human experience that are not always beautiful or not always joyful.” And then he says: “Techniques specifically that are weird,” Davis said. “And not, you know, per say usual”. Well, he is only 20. He also reminds me of what Pierre Boulez (famously) said about opera houses: “There are composers out there, including myself, that are trying, and it seems like we’re doing a great job at destroying that mold,” Davis said. “Bombing that wall that they’ve put up for us.” Bombs away…

    • John Borstlap says:

      It looks like personal resentment – unfounded in this case – that is projected upon an entire cultural art form.

  • When I went to concerts as a young person, it never occurred to me to look for people who “look like me” on stage. That’s not what I came for. That’s not what anyone comes for. I never felt unwanted, nor did anyone ever treat me in an untoward way at a concert. Similarities in melanin simply do not enter my mind when attending concerts – or when performing them.

    My parents took me to concerts as a child and never once did they seem uncomfortable or exhibit indications of anxiety from being minorities in a concert hall. If you teach a child that he doesn’t belong somewhere, whatever the reality may be, that is the lesson he will learn – no matter what the reality may be.

    Some may think my experience is an outlier but it is not; I know others with similar experiences. The current social climate in the USA makes many reluctant to speak publicly against prevailing orthodoxy. The young man above seems rather angry for one fortunate to receive an opportunity to work with the Albany Symphony. It seems that the system is working for him. Congratulations to him and all good wishes. I’m envious; they’ve never called me!

  • Jimmie says:

    A 20 year old with a vast level of life experiences finds racism and envy which undoubtedly is a result of his indoctrination in our failed school system. In my 74 years on this planet and enjoying classical music for at least 50 of those years I’ve never considered race when I attend a concert. I feel for this idiot. He faces a miserable life unless he wakes up and realizes that racism and envy are not conducive to a happy productive life.

  • JussiB says:

    Great classical masterpieces are timeless and transcending political/racial boundaries. It’s the conductor’s job to make them relevant to our time. By the same token, people still go to art museums to see the same old masterpieces even today….WHY? Because they’re still relevant and speak to us in ways that new modern works don’t.

    • John Borstlap says:

      And isn’t this sad?

      But… it is only appearances: excellent visual art and musical works went on being painted and written, but they were considered no longer ‘relevant’ to ‘the modern world’ by the establishment people: the ‘curators’, ‘programmers’ etc. etc. – who never had any talent to create even a shopping list. The possibility that this so-called ‘irrelevance’ could mean that there is something fundamentally wrong with what is considered ‘the modern world’, is too subtle an idea to get wide circulation, because it requires some real thinking.

  • Why have a name? Almost no one else here does. says:

    He’s not wrong.

    Seeing so many of you struggle with that is exhausting.

  • It’s refreshing that there are black folk that are as dumb as white folk. They both seem to think that their personal views contain valuable information and are always correct.
    There’s not much we can do about that. But let’s look more widely: all the protest movements today, whether racially or gender or ethnic based, are manifestations of the New Intellectualism, which is happy to throw out all of culture and history and the arts because they were all white or men or heterosexual or whatever. Literature was the first victim (and continues apace) of philistinism. Film of course followed closely. Music was the next obvious victim (unfortunately sports proves them wrong). Sculpture (statues) is being dismantled everywhere. I urge our museums to place guards everywhere because old master paintings are next. The notion that music, a language based on tones rather than words, contains some kind of social or political message belongs in the realm of astrology and fortune telling. There has long been this cockeyed notion that music expresses the emotions of the composer rather than musical ideas. Of course this misunderstanding is what allows jerks like this guy to blame classical music for all the ills of society. At the risk of being misunderstood, I’d like to suggest that many blacks have received a very poor education, especially in the realm of reason and logic. I think they should take their gripes back to their homes, communities and schools, who they can then blame for their own poor education.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    We just have to wait out a period of exaggeration and overreaction (from all sides). On the one hand, classical music can’t help its European and ecclesiastical-aristocratic origins, nor should it be held responsible for them. (Every one of us is guaranteed to have reprehensible people somewhere in our family trees; that doesn’t make us responsible for the actions of some nth-great-grandparent.) On the other, the classical-music enterprise of today should do as much as is feasible to extend its reach in terms of creators, performers and audiences.

  • Samuel Taylor says:

    Has there ever been a black classical music composer or performer who did not have a huge racial chip on his shoulder? Or do the media simply ignore them?

    • Marfisa says:

      The answer question 1 is yes; to question 2, yes, to some extent.

      Successful black composers include, for instance, George Walker, Jeffrey Mumford and Joel Thompson. They talk with dignity about the real difficulties they faced because of their color. Only willfully ignorant people will deny that African Americans had to deal with blatant racist discrimination in the recent past, and still face racism today in different forms (as many comments on this blog demonstrate).

      Tyson Davis is young (20) and angry, and may not yet have learnt to express himself well either in words or in music. Give him time.

      By contrast, Joel Thompson (b.1988), in a 2019 interview about his The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed:

      “I do think I am ever the idealist; I believe in the wonderful experiment that is America. And I know this piece isn’t going to solve this problem in our country, but I do believe that revolutions and large-scale change happen one person at a time. And if one person comes away with a deeper understanding of the Black existence in this country through this specific lens, then I think I’ve succeeded, and that is one drop in the bucket of large-scale change.”

      “I think that many composers we love that are in the Western canon have used music as a genre to address issues important to them. Composer[s] did address feelings of nationalism and politics in their music. I think that will always be the case, but as a genre, there is a diversity and inclusion problem. But as the genre starts to include our voices, we will also write about things that are important to us. And I hope to be a part of a trend of more people of color in classical music writing about things that are important to them.”

      “I’m currently writing an opera based on a children’s book. It’s about wonder, joy, and childhood imagination. And I consider that to be just as much part of my social justice mission as a composer. Because it is highlighting [another] aspect of Black humanity, which is joy! I think classical music will continue to open its doors to voices like mine: not just in terms of race but in terms of gender, you’ll find that new repertoire will be addressing issues important to marginalized communities.”

    • Herbie G says:

      Samuel, if that’s your real name, I can mention one black composer who didn’t have a chip on his shoulder and that is your namesake Samuel Coleridge Taylor! A true musical genius who did encounter some prejudice but ignored it and never complained about anything. He died tragically young but left a wealth of wonderful music, much of which is recorded. Most of his works fell into obscurity after WWII but there’s renewed interest now.

      Chi-Chi Nwanoku made a TV documentary about him and her Chineke! orchestra is featured playing his music.

      Chi-Chi is a true one-off. For a start, she founded the first segregated British symphony orchestra – a bit like South Africa in reverse – whites need not apply. Maybe there’s a rationale for this and I guess one could defend it, though if someone dared to found a white-only orchestra they would probably face prosecution.

      Chi-Chi caused controversy last year when she called for ‘Rule Britannia’ to be scrapped from the Proms. That campaign was embarrassingly abandoned, possibly because of the public outcry.

      Then, she has posted on her website a passionate plea for her friends to support Black Lives Matter – the Marxist movement that went on the rampage last year, smashing and daubing our statues and whose followers in the USA torched buildings and other property, all belonging to innocent people. How on earth this will resolve the chronic abuse of ethnic minorities in the USA by the brutal police force I fail to see.

      BUT – to cap it all – SHE HAS THE ORDER OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE, a fact that she proudly proclaims at the top of her web page!

      Having your cake and eating it springs to mind…

      Oh – and by the way, her orchestra plays, as well as works by non-white composers, works by white-privileged classical composers like Beethoven.

      Figure all that out if you will – it beats me.

  • Jack says:

    A good deal of fusty, huffy, sanctimonious stuff in these comments, some laced with not a small amount of condescension and bigotry.

    I’d hoped to see a meaningful discussion of race in classical music (whatever that term means anymore) and why the field remains so exclusively white. Sadly there seems to be little of that here.

    This fusillade of negative comments suggests a level of defensiveness that a nerve has indeed been touched, and that Mr. Davis may just be on to something.

    • “This fusillade of negative comments suggests a level of defensiveness that a nerve has indeed been touched, and that Mr. Davis may just be on to something.”
      Garbage. Stop projecting. The fusillade of criticisms is because Davis is a racist imbecile.

      • HR says:

        It’s not actually possible to act as racist when one is in the minority. You appear to be the one projecting.

        • Herb says:

          One of the central planks of Critical Race Theory, and one that its proponents make many exceptions to. What if someone in a minority is too independently minded does not think like they are expected or ordered to think?

        • Barry says:

          Sure it is. It’s as simple as treating people poorly because of their race. What’s impossible about that? Of course, if you take the traditional meaning of a word, such as racism, and twist it to fit in with your societal view, you can make virtually any argument.

          • John Borstlap says:

            People are being treated poorly by other people for an infinite number of reasons and racism is merely one of them.

    • E Rand says:

      You’re boring. What’s your thoughtful comment on why an art form that was developed in Europe and reached its apogee 200 years ago might overrepresent white people? And why skin color matters at all? And why the art form seems to be so welcoming to Asians and any other group dedicated to the cultivation and appreciation required to master it? I’m waiting….

      • John Borstlap says:

        The apogee of European classical music was around 1900, so ca. 100 ago, not 200. The number of master pieces written ca. 1880 – 1930 is far greater than those of around 1800 and of the same level, I would say. I can’t give a list because SD would get stretched-out and snap.

  • JoshW says:

    We should also get rid of all those old paintings at the Met Museum. Too many old books in libraries as well.

    • John Borstlap says:

      When I pass a library in the street I always get this feeling of anger and frustration, knowing that it holds so many writings that are old, by people that are dead. How come??!


  • Gerald Martin says:

    I’m not moved by the rant of a twenty-year old whatever the subject. Like I’ve never heard this before?

  • Paul Carlile says:

    Strange, my very ordinary family (agricultural workers, carpenters), living in a working-class suburb, went to as many concerts as we could fit in, from my youth; tickets were not expensive, until recently Proms cost £6 entry…… An investigation into all events, (sports, pop/rock, clubs, theatre, opera…..) in London found that the cheapest events were at CoventGarden (for the Royal Ballet!), followed by orchestral concerts and opera. And MUCH cheaper than the cheapest for football, etc….
    I’ll try to find the link.
    I loved the hum of the excitement, tuning-up, then the hush to hear marvellous noises.
    I certainly never noticed or cared if people “looked like me,” indeed, even now i couldn’t (“could” for US readers!)care less what the performers look like; i want to LISTEN! (Some of my Old Favorites anyway are hideously ugly!)

    I recommend this composer to hire a large hangar next to, or better, underneath a motorway spaghetti junction, or rail goods marshalling yard to avoid peace & quiet, to hold his concerts. Ethnically approved security could refuse entry to anyone not “looking like” the composer, and anyone over a certain age (to be decided), could be humanely destroyed.

    • Marfisa says:

      With respect, the experience of a white (upper)-working-class lad in London, some years ago, with the benefit of the pretty good UK public education system (forgive me if I am making the wrong assumptions), is not directly comparable with the experience of a young black 21st-century lad brought up by a single mother in one of the southern states of the USA.

      It is easy not to care if “people look like you” when in fact they almost all do, in crude terms of ethnic identity. Do you really know what it must feel like to be the only black person in an audience among hundreds of white people, especially in the USA where there is acute awareness of racial differences and the associated differences in class, culture and upbringing?

      And Tyson Davis is not calling for segregated audiences, black or white, young or old; he wants mixed audiences where everybody can feel comfortable. Why not?

      • John Borstlap says:

        I would feel quite uncomfortable if forced to consider the composition of the audience I am sitting with, while I came for the music.

      • Paul Carlile says:

        Well, yes, i concede that it’s not an exact analogy- wasn’t really intended to be….but the complaint that one must be rich to go to “classical” always annoys me.
        I do have some mixed blood so might have been the “one who didn’t look like anyone else….” not that i ever cared or noticed.
        I wanted to say that the hush of concert atmosphere should be seen as a benefit, these days especially when we are assaulted by noise everywhere.
        We shouldn’t need a justification of single mothers/black southern states, (etc) for someone who spouts toxic nonsense. Plenty of Southern (and all-over) blacks build successful lives, but that doesn’t make headlines.
        Agreed of course, audiences should feel comfortable, but an aggressive attitude to age and color differences, plus a hostile attitude to the most basic requirement for “classical” -a quiet environment, will not be to anyone’s advantage.

  • JussiB says:

    I’ve never seen a Persian or (dot) Indian person in a symphony orchestra or chorus and I don’t hear their people complain.

  • Marfisa says:

    He’s almost right about the North Carolina Symphony – one black player as far as I can see, a trombonist ( in a state with nearly 25% black population. I noticed this also with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra – only the principal bassoon (but maybe one or two more) in a majority-black city. There are issues to be addressed, and this very young composer’s frustration is perfectly understandable.

    But there is hope in Tallahassee, Florida: Perhaps in 10 years or so Tyson Davis will compose music as good as Joel Thompson’s.

  • Alexander T says:

    He needs to improve a lot if he is to “break the mold”.

  • Jansci says:

    When are African Americans going to stop wining. They are 13% of the population … this ongoing grievance culture is about narcissism and entitlement and nothing else.

  • Leo says:

    Yes, “peaceful” concert halls are the problem. The segregation is so bad these days no one’s been able to see a concert for over a year.

    Tyson writer is seeing music and not hearing it.

    Most auditions are blind. There are no rules preventing anyone from being accepted into an orchestra if they practice hard.

    Yes, you can be black and be a classical musician. It’s a function of the quality of your sound, not your genetics. No one wants to hear an out of tune violinist who was picked for optics. Just be good, Tyson.

    Yes, you can be black and attend a classical concert. No one is stopping you but yourself, Tyson.

  • tyler kent says:

    ” …often times the music is very old…” Just like the continuous complaining from tasteless morons with a chip on their shoulders.

  • The expressions “utter hogwash,” or “Much Ado About Nothing” come to mind here. To quote the great Thomas Sowell. “Racism is not dead, but it is on life support – kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority denouncing others as ‘racist.’”

    • E. Rand says:

      Excellent. Love me my Thomas Sowell.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Funny. But it is not true, alas. There is the small-scale daily life racism that get unnoticed by whites, but is always felt by people of colour. Inconspicuous ways of making other people feel they are being looked-down upon.

  • E Rand says:

    Worry-not all! Academia is here again to save the day! How, you ask?
    By selling the new garbage thought that curriculli be “de-colonized” and divested of their white, male greatnesses (Shakespeare) and replaced with current, BIPOC scribblers. Shall we do the same to music and let the cultural-Marxists continue to destroy the West?

  • E Rand says:

    The responses to this post have given me hope that there may indeed be a point at which we say “enough” and push back at the new-Marxists doing all they can to destroy western civilization. Bravo all!

  • Jeremy Nirland says:

    What a silly argument. The quietness of the concert hall has nothing to do with racism. At. All. If his point was that classical music needs to be available to all, and that representation in classical music is important, I would agree with him 100 percent. Why waste a paragraph saying stupid things that have nothing to do with your argument?