Eastman, the music school of the University of Rochester, has decided to remove all Korean students from their Philharmonia Orchestra for their short tour of China.
China refused to issue visas for Korean students, forcing Eastman to either remove them or cancel their tour. Eastman has shockingly chosen to go with the former.
Even more stunning, the students in the orchestra themselves voted overwhelmingly to go ahead with the tour by leaving their peers behind. Under such tremendous pressure from their fellow students and school administrators, the Korean students could never have voiced any objections that they may have had.
There have been countless times in history where musicians have been called to stand up for their colleagues in the face of discrimination. In the Civil Rights era white jazz musicians would refuse to tour when their black colleagues were unwelcome. In World War II, which musicians chose solidarity with their colleagues and which chose collaboration is forever linked to their legacy.
By bowing to Chinese demands and enabling them to dictate exclusion on the basis of nationality in their orchestra, the students and administrators of Eastman have shown a remarkable lack of character and have put a black mark on the reputation of classical music when we can ill afford it, as the corruption and misconduct at institutions such as the Cleveland Symphony and Metropolitan Opera is fresh in the public mind.
Classical music speaks to the common experience of being human. It should not entertain the barriers of nationality, race, sex, or creed that may divide us.
UPDATE: Eastman reversed course on Tuesday night and has effectively cancelled the tour.
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