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ASO Denies Diversity Snub Allegation

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has denied allegations that Lassiter and Walton High Schools will not be allowed to perform in full with the orchestra because of their racial makeup.

Update, 3:50 p.m.: Jay Dillon, the 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.

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

Update, 3:15 p.m.: Patch has received an offical 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, 3:00 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.

Original Report

Two East Cobb 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 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.

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.

Atlanta's chorus will take the place of Lassiter and Walton.

Helen Mills August 17, 2012 at 04:15 PM
There's something fishy about all of this "racist uproar". As someone that grew up in the East Cobb school systems, I know the fine arts programs are incredibly talented across the board. There's no doubt about it. There are many parents of these students who enjoy fine arts and are patrons of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Why, then, would the director of the ASO say something so radical and offensive and not expect backlash? I suspect because he never said it. There is no proof, otherwise I would be just as shocked as the rest of these commenters. What I do sense is some animosity from Dillon-- it seems to me that they were floored that the ASO were to give other schools a chance to perform, and perhaps felt the need to project his own reasoning as to why things didn't pan out. I partially have to feel for these other kids. East Cobb is well known for being affluent. A lot of these kids are born into great opportunities, whether or not they have talent. There are kids at schools that aren't appraised as the best public schools in Georgia that also have talent. I think it's great that they would also be able to perform. These kids are not professionals that have beat each other out-- they're kids getting an opportunity to feel special. I think a four year run is awesome for Walton and Lassiter. I also think it's time other kids got to enjoy that sort of performance.
Raymond Koepsell August 17, 2012 at 04:38 PM
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Raymond Koepsell August 17, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Helen, I not only grew up in the East Cobb school system, I am a Walton graduate - so now we've pointlessly compared our credentials long-standing suburban Atlantans- let me respond to your statement "East Cobb is well known for being affluent. A lot of these kids are born into great opportunities, whether or not they have talent." You imply, intentionally or not, that Walton and Lassiter performed at ASO based on affluence, not on talent. That is poppycock. You made a statement I completely agree with: "I think a four year run is awesome for Walton and Lassiter. I also think it's time other kids got to enjoy that sort of performance." However, when my daughter came home on Monday, she didn't say Walton wasn't going to perform at ASO so that other, less affluent schools could participate, she said Walton was not invited back "because there are not enough black faces" in the chorus. This was corroborated by an official statement by Cobb County School Board by way of Mr. Dillon. I challenge you to explain how Mr. Dillon's statement could possibly qualify as "animosity." He said "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." Where is the animosity in that, or than in your imagination?
Frank August 17, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Jamie: You are so right on this issue! The ASO is speaking out of two sides of its instrument. Being dishonest is no way to win over any community and this is a public relations nightmare for them - The ASO denies the snub is diversity based, yet follow this link to see a different story on the ASO website. http://www.atlantasymphony.org/EducationAndCommunity/TDP/History.aspx Here are two quotes: "...diversity on the stage would result in diversity in the audience as well." "Over the years, more than 100 students have benefitted from the Orchestra’s long-term commitment to increasing diversity on the American orchestral stage." Note to ASO - Diversity is the inclusion of all, not the elimination of any. When you pull these types of shenanigans, the community becomes more divisive not less. You have lost my business and that of many of my friends. Additionally, ASO musicians perform at other venues such as Chastain and Verizon Amphitheater. You've lost our business there too as long as they choose to associate with the ASO. By the way ASO - Thank you for the Gospel rendition of Amen seen here and its less than stunning lack of diversity in the choral group: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r9V5WV_Fbk How's that diversity working out for you? Can I hear an AMEN?
Beth August 17, 2012 at 07:32 PM
The ASO decision is the lead story on FoxNews.com. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/08/17/georgia-high-school-choruses-reportedly-not-diverse-enough-to-perform-with/

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