Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Minority Report

This evening I ventured out into the St. Patrick’s Day-saturated world – but not to carouse so much as to get a little culture.

There was a choral concert being put on, and I had gotten the heads-up about it from my friend Yuh-Rong, one of the folks who sings in my church choir. “You are cordially invited to my Chinese singing group’s annual concert,” she eMailed me awhile back; and as she does appear to be of Chinese descent, I suppose it made sense! It struck me as a good thing to go listen to – because it’s good to go support the people I work with or sing with (or both), and because I can always stand to acquire a little culture. And, in my case, because I really enjoy the occasions where I can sit and listen, while someone else takes care of the conducting or playing or organizing or whatever. I can function in the spotlight; I can lead an ensemble; but I’m not addicted to it. (It’s sometimes more of a challenge to mute my error-detection and -correction, music-teacher self and just listen for enjoyment, but that’s an occupational hazard and a tale for another day.)

So I spent a good portion of the evening listening to the Greater Boston Philharmonia Singers, which is an ensemble of 19 singers, few of whom are probably conservatory-trained (which is okay!), all of whom were clearly enjoying what they were doing (also good), and all of whom were happily presenting a repertoire which veered wildly from sacred anthems to Chinese folk melodies to Stephen Foster to African-American spirituals to Gershwin. And all of whom were of Chinese or at least southeast Asian descent.

The audience was large — to the point where in the middle of the second tune, there was some desperately muffled shuffling noises in the back which turned out to be the Singers’ support team frantically setting up more chairs in the back of the room – always a good thing to have more people come to your concerts than you anticipated!  And, as you might expect for a group of fans of a Chinese choir … the audience was very predominantly Chinese. I would judge that I was among the perhaps three or four percent of the room who didn’t look terribly Asian.  (Okay… okay… at all Asian.)

Which got me to thinking – not during the music-making, but during the intermission! … I’m a middle-aged white guy. I grew up in a town that was a bit diverse, but not very. I did attend a university whose student body could look like the United Nations if you walked past the graduate research building but often looked a hell of a lot more white than “ethnic”. And the towns in which I student-taught, and now teach, and do my church-music-making, are each, well, not overly diverse.

About fourteen years ago, I worked in Boston as one of the instructors for a summer band program for Boston high school students, sponsored by the Boston Police Department. The Crosstown Band consisted of about thirty high school kids from the city: two were white, one was Asian, two were Hispanic, and the rest were African-American. It was the first time I’d gotten to spend extended time as the only white guy in the room.

I was, in actual fact, a minority.

And when the three white guys who were the instructional staff chanced to venture across the street from the school where we held daily rehearsals, and grab a bite to eat … it was really obvious. We were in the minority, all right. We certainly didn’t have to imagine that people were taking a good hard look at us.

The band kids played well, performed successfully in front of a few important audiences, and were really fun to work with, but it was a worthwhile thing to do, just for that experience.

And again, tonight, I sat with a few other folks from my church, doing “silent cheers” for Yuh-Rong … and kinda sticking out as the only people in the room who weren’t part of the majority. I don’t think people were staring us down, giving us suspicious looks, or anything like that. We came to their concert; yay.

But there are people in the world – lots of people – average everyday people, but also lots of decision- and policy- and law-making people … who would really benefit, I think, from experiencing what it’s like to not be in the majority. It’s a useful perspective. It would inform some of the decisions, policies and laws that are proposed and made and implemented, a bit better, I think. It might keep certain decisions, policies and laws from being made in the first place. Whether it’s average everyday people, or people who happen to be selectmen, or mayors, or Congressmen and -women, or CEOs … we all could do with an experience every now and again that perhaps might enable a little empathy.

It’s worth it to know what it feels like to be in the minority.

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March 17, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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