The Corner

Our American Scene

Toward the end of Impromptus today, I have a note on star hoopsters, including Dr. J — known more formally as “Julius Erving.” A reader writes with a memory of a long-ago headline: “The Black Man with Two Jewish Names.”

Though there is a mishmash in my column, as usual, there’s nothing on music — and I thought I’d do a note here. Music in the context of American society (which can be a very sorry context indeed).

Last summer, I wrote about the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s latest stunt: They denied two local high-school choruses the chance to perform with the orchestra, because the choruses weren’t “diverse enough.” In other words, the kids in the choruses were not the right color, or combination of colors, or something. Because, as we all know, the most important thing in music is race. Right?

A spokesman for the school system had this to say: Participation in the choruses “is determined on the basis of merit alone,” and all students are welcome to try out. Parents of the choristers pointed to a basic unfairness: The kids just want to make music. Isn’t that an innocent, wholesome desire, and shouldn’t that be protected from the politics of race?

This issue has been around for a long time, of course — race and music, and the poisoning of the latter by the former. In the ’90s, I wrote a biggish piece on this subject. It was published in this collection, in 2007.

Anyway, there was some upset in greater Atlanta, and members of the orchestra — on their own — decided they wanted to make amends: They offered to perform, free of charge, with the choruses at some point. They suggested that the choruses could make a fundraiser out of it.

Which they have. A reader sends me this video, from the concert that came to pass. He says, “I give you 200 teenage voices and the ASO performing ‘O Fortuna,’” from Carmina Burana. “Please pardon my whoop at the end of the video. The whole piece gave me chills.”

Very nice. Incidentally, I wrote a little something about Carmina Burana, and “O Fortuna,” last fall. Here is the review — and the relevant excerpt:

Carnegie Hall opened its season with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under its music director, Riccardo Muti. On the menu was a single piece: Orff’s Carmina Burana. “Nazi dreck,” a scholar friend of mine said before the concert. Well, dreck in parts, and maybe by a Nazi, but not Nazi dreck per se. The most popular section of this pagan oratorio is the opening one, “O Fortuna,” which the composer had the good sense to repeat at the end. This music really is a masterstroke. You or I should have written it: We’d be rich.

We sure would. We’d be rich if we could move like Dr. J too.

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