Change for the Better

by Lorna McGhee

Our hope is that one day orchestras will be more reflective of the communities we serve. Our hope is that no matter their gender, ethnicity, race, sexuality or disability, all people will feel welcome in our concert hall both on and off stage. Fifty years ago, there were hardly any women in orchestras, let alone female conductors. There were historical factors that discriminated against them — in short, sexism. Thankfully that has changed, but it takes time, commitment, and a willingness to evolve. Consider that it is only really in the last ten years that we have seen female conductors in any kind of significant numbers on the scene. It has taken that long. Change is possible. Change is enriching. Change is necessary. 

It is never easy to talk about issues of race, but one can see the parallels of historic discrimination and societal economic inequalities that have put African Americans at a disadvantage in terms of accessing opportunities in classical music – in short, systemic racism. For example, up until the 1970s Pittsburgh, like many other cities had a separate musicians union for black musicians and white musicians, with classical job postings only being accessible to the white musicians. What message does that send? Classical music is not for you. You are not welcome. This is not your music. Such actions, even at a distance have a generational half-life. Perceptions take a long time to change. So, what can we do about it now? 

One of the small ways we can make a difference is through our Paul J. Ross Fellowship Program (formerly known as the Orchestral Training Program for African American Musicians). As stated on the PSO website, “the fellowship is a two-year pre-professional program designed to enable young musicians identifying as Black or African American to dedicate themselves to the pursuit of an orchestral career. Fellows work closely alongside members of the Pittsburgh Symphony to train and prepare for professional auditions and opportunities, with substantial financial and professional development support, and robust mentorship in a welcoming and inclusive environment.” 

If we break it down, what are the components? How does it help? Fellows take lessons with members of the PSO, perform in a variety of settings with the orchestra, do mock auditions and participate in outreach. For example, our current Paul J. Ross Fellow is flutist, Shantanique Moore. Shantanique is a gifted flutist from Detroit. She won the Fellowship through a rigorous audition and interview process during which she impressed the panel with her communicative musicianship. Shantanique has taken many lessons with members of the PSO flute section. She has gained performing experience with the orchestra in Pops concerts, education concerts and was involved in our Hartwood Acres return to live concerts this past summer. She will be playing in several classical subscription concerts in the new year. She has worked in a chamber music setting with the flute section in our digital “Front Row” series during the covid lockdown and in several outreach settings. Shantanique has worked closely with our education department and has lent her voice to many of the PSO’s online educational productions. She appeared as a soloist with the orchestra in Martin’s Ballade on our last ‘Lift Every Voice’ concert. She also recorded a fabulous solo performance for our “Extraordinary Measures” digital initiative during the covid lockdown. Additionally, she has gone through several ‘mock auditions’ where we try to simulate the experience of a real professional audition, with many PSO jury members who then offer their constructive feedback. For non-musicians, it is hard to understand the terrors of the audition process. Conducting mock auditions in this way allows a person to learn how to handle the challenges and stressors in a safe setting. Auditioning is a skill that can only be learned by going through the experience multiple times. These mock auditions help Fellows determine what they need to be able to handle the real thing. It is always wonderful to hear our colleagues’ thoughtful feedback and to know how much they care. We have our next ‘mock audition’ for Shantanique on Dec 14th

Since Shantanique has been in the program, she has worked with New World Symphony and been a featured artist at the National Flute Association’s national convention and has been invited to be a guest artist at Oberlin College. Most recently, Shantanique was invited, at the recommendation of flutist and composer, Valerie Coleman, to perform as a soloist alongside members of the Imani Winds with Chineke!Orchestra at London’s famous Southbank Center.  Chineke!Orchestra is a the first professional orchestra in Europe to be made up of majority black, Asian and ethnically diverse musicians. Shantanique was featured as a soloist in Valerie Coleman’s work Phenomenal Women and as guest principal flute in Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. She was singled out for the tenderness of her playing in the review of the concert in the London Times. We, in the PSO flute section couldn’t be prouder of Shantanique! 

Going forward, Shantanique is growing her freelance connections. She continues to sub frequently with the Detroit Symphony and is now engaged to sub with Seattle Symphony for the first time in several concerts and a recording in February. She will also have the wonderful opportunity to play Mahler 9 with the Charlotte Symphony in January. We fully support her in all these endeavours. 

This April we will be holding new auditions for the Paul J. Ross Fellowship as Shantanique’s term will end this summer. It has been wonderful to work so closely with Shantanique and to have the opportunity to see how the Fellowship works and how it can be improved going forward. We now have a much-needed steering committee comprised of musicians and staff to guide the Fellowship. Our auditions procedure has been improved to make it more welcoming and more constructive for all participants, regardless of whether they win or not. Thanks to donor support, we are expanding the program to offer two positions now, not just one. We hope that Shantanique will be part of the audition panel for our incoming applicants. Her perspective is extremely valuable, and we hope she will continue to be a guiding voice even after her term with us as Fellow is over. 

Lastly, it is important to share that the Paul J. Ross Fellowship is named in honor of the late Paul J. Ross, the violinist who, in 1965, was the first African American musician to receive a full-time contract from the Pittsburgh Symphony. The legacy of Paul J. Ross is notable for nurturing, mentoring, and supporting young musicians, and his devotion to sharing his joy of music. The musicians of the PSO are incredibly grateful to EQT for their continued support of the Fellowship, and to the Arts, Equity, & Education Fund, and Hans and Leslie Fleischner for their generous new investment. Thank you for your belief that change is possible. We feel the responsibility of that trust. Thank you for your leadership!

Key components of the Fellowship

  • Fellows will receive annual pay equivalent to minimum orchestra weekly scale for 21 work weeks ($43,308.30 in the 2022-2023 season), playing across all Pittsburgh Symphony programs.
  • Fellows will receive full benefits of Pittsburgh Symphony insurance plans and up to $8,000 in reimbursements for audition and professional development expenses each season.
  • Fellows will have increased playing opportunities, and all candidates will be considered for Pittsburgh Symphony substitute musician opportunities.
  • Fellows will be invited to work with the Learning and Community Engagement Department in schools, hospitals, and community settings.
  • Fellows will receive additional access to observing Pittsburgh Symphony member auditions to provide insight on the audition process.

Key accomplishments of past Fellows since the start of the program in 2007: 

  • 2017-2019 Fellow Joshua Jones, percussion, won a position with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra as Principal Percussion during the first year of the fellowship. He joined the Kansas City Symphony as Principal Percussion in 2020.
  • 2015-2017 Fellow Torrell Moss, percussion, was accepted as an Artist Diploma candidate at Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, as a result of his fellowship. Moss has recently held positions with the Rainey Institute and Ashland Symphony Orchestra in Ohio, and performed in M.U.S.i.C.’s Stars in the Classics garden concert in 2020.
  • 2013-2015 Fellow Adedeji Ogunfolu, horn, won a position with the San Antonio Symphony during the first year of the fellowship. He joined the Pacific Symphony as second horn in 2018, and has been appointed as Professor of Horn at the University of California, Irvine.
  • 2011-2013 Fellow Ryan Murphy, cello, won a position with the San Antonio Symphony in 2012 and is currently in his ninth season with the orchestra.
  • 2009—2011 Fellow Christopher Davis, bass trombone, is a lecturer at Northwestern University and Wheaton College.  He performs regularly as a substitute musician with the Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland, Colorado, Detroit, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and St. Paul Chamber Orchestras. 
  • 2008-2009 Fellow James Stroup, double bass, resides in Florida and is a substitute musician with Chattanooga, Florida, Naples, Charleston, and Atlanta Symphony.
  • 2007-2008 Fellow Geoffrey Johnson, oboe, was the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s first OTPAAM Fellow. He won acting second oboe of the Detroit Symphony from 2014-2017, and he is currently a private lessons teacher and guest oboist in major orchestras across the country.