Music: Rhapsody in White

Admittedly, the climate ten years ago was different than it is today. Apologists for the Philadelphia Orchestra could use all kinds of excuses in those days for the subtly unfriendly signs that told blacks they weren’t wanted. Maybe other Orchestra members wouldn’t want to work with them, maybe there would be difficulties touring in the South. One classic excuse was that there are two musicians’ unions in Philadelphia, one white and one black, and that since the Orchestra contract was with the white union, no one from the black union was eligible. This was ridiculous, of course, since musicians from locals in other parts of the country were hired without any difficulty. That’s been straightened out now, and no one tries to use that line.

There is another reason given for Philadelphia not hiring any black musicians that is much more serious. It is the accusation of James Lincoln Collier in the Village Voice, and of others, that Eugene Ormandy has the reputation among black musicians of being a bigot.

A board member of the Orchestra who has been associated with liberal and civil rights causes says, "I don’t think Mr. Ormandy is a bigot. I think he’s just oblivious. Or at least he was. He’s not oriented toward politics. He lives entirely in the musical world. When this thing first came up, he couldn’t understand what the problem was. I think they were just waiting around for someone to turn up. Now I think he realizes they have to make an effort to find people."

Ormandy certainly is giving that impression now. Relaxed and jovial off the podium, he snaps to attention on the race issue. "Black, white, yellow — races, religions don’t exist for me. I only think of people as people. If I think anything it is that the colored people are extremely talented musically, but many are poor and have to start making a living early. They can’t go to music school. They will pick up a sax and start playing with no formal training, form a jazz band, play in a dance band. This is our greatest enemy — things come too easily for them. They learn in six months to a year and get a job right away. It takes 10 to 15 years to get ready for a career in classical music."

In the past, Ormandy insists, the few Negro applicants for jobs have been given a fair shake. As far as the audition of Earl Madison was concerned, Ormandy feels he performed well in the solo part that he had prepared, but his sight reading "was far from acceptable. There were three or four candidates who sight read better. I didn’t need a soloist. To work with an orchestra you have to be at home with sight reading. Quality is what we’re after."