Orchestral Maneuvers

A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research applies the concept of a level playing field to the symphonic stage. In "Orchestrating Impartiality," economists Claudia Goldin and Cecelia Rouse demonstrate that female orchestra musicians have benefitted hugely from the use of "blind" auditions, in which candidates perform out of the sight of evaluators.

In 1970 female musicians made up only 5 percent of players in the country's top orchestras: the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Such a showing, Goldin and Rouse note, reflected extra-musical attitudes like that of Zubin Mehta, former conductor of the Los Angeles Symphony and the New York Philharmonic, who once proclaimed, "I just don't think women should be in an orchestra."

But beginning in the '70s and '80s, more and more of the orchestras switched to blind auditions, partly to avoid charges of such bias. Female musicians currently make up 25 percent of the "Big Five." Through an analysis of orchestral management files and audition records, Goldin and Rouse conclude that blind auditions increased by 50 percent the probability that a woman would make it out of early rounds. And, they say, the procedure explains between 25 percent and 46 percent of the increase in women in orchestras from 1970 to 1996.

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