ASO: ‘Chorus Should Reflect Diversity of ATL’

NOTE: This was the first big story I covered on my own as a Local Editor at Northeast Cobb Patch. I remember the adrenaline rush I got from reaching out to official spokespeople for the first time. The story generated dozens of comments for my site, which was the metric the higher-ups in New York were using to measure how well a site was doing. I finally felt like a real journalist after doing this story.

A spokesperson for the Cobb County School District says that two Cobb County high schools have been told they will not be performing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) in the fall because they lack racial diversity.

The choruses at Walton and Lassiter and high schools have been barred from full participation in the ASO’s joint holiday concert held in December.

Both schools would still be allowed to send smaller contingents of chorus singers to the performance due to space restrictions. Midtown’s Grady High School chorus will take the place of Lassiter and Walton.

Cobb County School District spokesperson Jay Dillon told 11 Alive News that, “the schools were informed by Symphony officials that their choruses are not diverse enough, and that the Symphony would be inviting a third, more diverse chorus.”

Membership in both choral groups is based upon merit alone.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated ASO matter, musicians from the Midtown-based Symphony have asked ASO staff to join them in salary cuts to help balance the organization’s budget.

The musicians have indicated they would take an 11 percent pay cut if members of the ASO administration would do so, as well.

Update, 3:00 p.m.: According to Dr. Timothy Furnish of Woodstock, the Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra called him after Furnish left a heated voicemail with the ASO. Furnish says the director made no mention of racial diversity. Additionally, the director said that after four years of working with Lassiter and Walton high schools, they wanted to give other schools a chance to participate in the holiday concert.

Neither the ASO, Cobb County Schools, nor Lassiter High School has been reached by Northeast Cobb Patch for comment at this time.

Update, 3:15 p.m.: Patch has received an official response from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Vice President for Marketing and Symphony Pops, Charlie Wade. Wade’s statement reads as follows:

Thank you for your concern, and we apologize for any misunderstanding. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) has a long and proud tradition of inviting talented amateur singers to perform with our orchestra. Our audiences have heard the Young Singers of Callanwolde, Morehouse and Spelman College Glee Clubs, and Gwinnett Young Singers —accompanied by our talented musicians. Four years ago, for the first time, we invited two high school choirs to participate in our Holiday Pops concerts. The Lassiter and Walton high school choruses have done an outstanding job, but they are only two of at least 12 very fine high school choirs in the Atlanta area. We think those choirs merit a chance to sing with the ASO as well.

Two years ago we told the choral directors from Lassiter and Walton that, after their December 2011 concerts with us — capping a four-year run — we would invite other high school choirs to sing with the ASO beginning in 2012. The Lassiter and Walton directors thanked us for the opportunity we had afforded them and their students. This year, we look forward to sharing our stage with the Grady High School chorus for the first time, and we’re delighted to continue our tradition of inviting talented amateur singers to perform with the ASO. We enjoy our partnership with Lassiter and Walton, and look forward to collaborating with them in the future.

Update, 3:50 p.m.: Jay Dillon, Cobb County spokesperson who was quoted in the original 11 Alive story has released the following statement to news agencies:

For the past four years, the Lassiter and Walton high school choruses have performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. This year, the schools were informed by Symphony officials that their choruses are not diverse enough, and that the Symphony would be inviting a third, more diverse chorus. Because of limited space, only a portion of the Lassiter and Walton choruses would therefore be able to attend.

Cobb County School District choral programs are open to all students, and participation in these programs is determined on the basis of merit alone. Because the full choruses would not be able to perform with the Symphony, both Lassiter and Walton have declined to participate this year.

Northeast Cobb Patch has asked Dillon to produce the documentation the ASO gave the schools about their decision.

Update, 6:40 p.m.: In an interview with WSB-TV, ASO President Stanley Romanstein said, “We want the stages of the Atlanta Symphony, whether here, Verizon (Wireless Amphitheatre), or Chastain Park to reflect the diversity of Atlanta.”

Romanstein went on to express his surprise at the reaction from what he called this “interesting misunderstanding.”

“There are at least 12 very talented high school choirs in Atlanta,” Romanstein said to WSB-TV. “We gave Lassiter and Walton choirs an opportunity to perform for four consecutive years, and they were marvelous. We think it’s time to give other Atlanta high school choirs, who are very skilled and deserving, their chance to perform with the ASO as well.”