Music: Rhapsody in White

Last spring a black violinist, Booker T. Roe, showed up in the string section of the Philadelphia Orchestra for a few months. Just out of Yale University’s music school and with no real experience under his belt, the Orchestra took Roe on to fill a vacancy in the hope that he would work out. According to Ormandy, he needed more instruction and experience. "We sent him to Ivan Galamian in New York who is the best teacher there is and he joined the National Symphony in Washington this season to get some experience. I think he will make it."

Roe is going to audition this month. There are openings in the violin and viola sections for the ’70-’71 season. Ormandy says with passion, "With as little time as I have, I’ve offered to teach Roe myself if he’s accepted. His responses are on a high level. I know he has the talent. He’s just had improper training. I pray he will be the best in the auditions."

This doesn’t sound like a bigot talking. It sounds like a man who is desperately trying to communicate his good intentions. Ormandy takes great pains to enumerate other ways he’s trying to get qualified candidates for the upcoming auditions — the ones that could thrust the Philadelphia Orchestra into the news in the ugly way the New York Philharmonic has been thrust into print for over three months.

In 1954 a black viola player auditioned for an opening for solo viola. According to Ormandy, he was good enough for the section, but not for the solo slot. He now plays first viola with the New York City Ballet. Ormandy recounts how he ran into him at Saratoga this summer and asked him if he’d be interested in the viola opening coming up. At this point in his life he really wasn’t interested. It would mean giving up a first chair to sit in the last one in the section.

Then he goes on to tell about how when he was in Washington recently he talked with Dr. Warner Lawson, an old friend who is the dean of the College of Fine Arts at black Howard University. "I asked him, ‘Do you have any string players who will be able to play auditions for me?’ He answered, ‘In voice or woodwinds, yes. But in strings — no luck. At the moment it doesn’t look good.’ I was surprised. I expected him to say, ‘Yes, we have a wonderful viola player or a few very good violinists.’ I asked him, ‘What can we do?’

"’Pray some will try. All you need is a few and the others will come up like mushrooms.’’"

Manager Sokoloff had a doom and gloom outlook on string players, too. "We used to have 40 to 50 candidates. Now we’re lucky to have four or five — black or white."

Preparing to play stringed instruments takes longer than most. You should really start when you’re seven or eight. And even if you make the big time, it isn’t that lucrative. Why would parents encourage it?