Blind Auditions In Classical Music: Should They End?

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Some believe that blind auditions have served their purpose and now it's time for a new approach.



I was reading this article in The NY Times and I begin to think…


Is it time to end blind auditions in classical music?


Blind auditions started in the late '60s because of a discrimination suit against the New York Philharmonic. Consequently, these types of auditions were incorporated into the selection process in order to ensure the fair treatment of musicians.


The question, however, is this... has this process run its course? Is it time to stop? Is this process effective? These questions have been asked recently due to the fact that, while blind auditions have been helpful with gender diversity, it hasn't done much in the way of creating racial diversity.


Essentially, there are two fundamental questions that should be critically examined when discussing this topic; particularly when coming to a conclusion about blind auditions:


1. Should the audition process be completely meritocratic?

2. Should the audition process be completely fair?


Having asked, let's examine the pros and cons of a meritocratic orchestra in a bit more detail.


It's extremely difficult to argue against a meritocracy in any organized system. It just seems right to have the very best at what they do in the top positions, doesn't it?


If the orchestra is truly a meritocracy, in theory if nothing else, its members will consist of the best musicians, and concert goers will experience the best music possible.


Sometimes, however, having the best still means making a choice between equally qualified candidates. This is relevant here since it has been pointed out that these auditions typically attract many musicians at the same skill level.


And then there's the specious argument that minority musicians would be better represented if there was more support and more training at an earlier age.


However, Afa S. Dworkin, president of the Sphinx Organization, which promotes diversity in the arts, has refuted that argument going on record that she believes "talented musicians of color are out there and ready".


So, let's put that argument to rest for now.


Related: The I-Word That Is Defining Many Classical Musicians

As mentioned earlier, choosing any one of a set of qualified musicians competing at the same skill level, keeps the audition process meritocratic, does it not?


Now, assuming meritocracy and fairness are the fundamental reasons for the existence of blind auditions, we can probably move past the meritocracy part of the discussion.


Let's now examine fairness.


If fairness means fairness to the musicians, then assuming all things audition-wise is equal in terms of talent, fairness to the musicians would mean balancing out the representation among all the musicians in the orchestra. Particularly since minority musicians have been historically passed over.


If fairness means fairness to concert patrons, then diverse representation means a broader cultural experience, both in performance and possibly even better – in repertory.


So now I believe that reasonable conclusions can be reached with regard to the initial questions.


Yes, auditions should absolutely be meritocratic.


and


Yes, auditions should be fair.


And importantly to this discussion, these can both be true while simultaneously making the orchestra more diverse.


Consequently, a reasonable argument can be made for the cessation of blind auditions.


What do you think? Should the orchestras end blind auditions? Is the blind audition process effective? If not, what should be done about it? Let me know in the comments below!