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New Organization Seeks To Elevate Musicians Of Color

cso musicians of color
Courtesy of Mark Lyons
Participants in the first NIMAN convening, held in Cincinnati at Music Hall and hosted by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in November 2019.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is a founding member of an organization seeking to address racial inequalities in the field of classical music. The National Instrumentalist Mentoring and Advancement Network (NIMAN) is a collection of music organizations and artists that want to improve resources and opportunities for classical instrumentalists of color.

"Until now, there has been no single resource to connect all the dots and shepherd talented musicians of color through the long and complicated process between starting as a student and maturing into a professional," says Jonathan Martin, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra president and CEO.

The group's stated mission is to work "as a connector, convener and facilitator for music organizations and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) instrumentalists."

Stanford Thompson, a founding member from Philadelphia where he's the founder and executive director of Play on Philly, says NIMAN has several goals.

"We want to see a much higher representation of African American and Latinx musicians on professional stages. We also want to see many more opportunities provided to those musicians to actually advance at various levels."

That includes more orchestras creating opportunities - including at training orchestras and other professional musical performance groups - as well as access to things like mentoring, summer music programs, and providing supports to young and school-age musicians of color.

NIMAN wants to create several national programs to boost young musicians. For example, recruiting programs to encourage young people of color. Thompson points out music schools like Juilliard and UC's College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) compete for students and aren't likely to work together on recruiting programs.

"I think this is where we can step in and create that kind of recruiting program," he says.

NIMAN launched in January after several years of planning and is looking to attract at least 100 founding members by the end of February, according to Thompson.

"If the field of classical music is going to evolve in the next generation and be more vibrant, find more support, I think that's going to be because there are diverse people around the table that have different ideas; that would want to program differently. Perhaps work in a different community, perhaps even create a different type of program than we would typically see."

The CSO in August unveiled a 10-point diversity, equity and inclusion action plan. The symphony said the plan was developed to "prioritize the organization's deepening commitment to better representing and serving the entirety of its community." It also pledged to create a Community Advisory Council, implement implicit bias training, and work to amplify the work of BIPOC musicians within the CSO.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.