Mercy Muroki: It's not morally right to put 'increasing diversity' over people’s job security and livelihoods

If you want to increase diversity, great! I back you. But I'd rather you do it by giving equal access to opportunities for all.

Published

The English Touring Opera have effectively sacked almost half of its orchestra in a bid to ‘prioritise increasing diversity in the orchestra’.

The Opera currently has no musicians from a non-white background. At least 14 members of the opera were sent a letter being told they would not be booked for the 2022 tour as the company were following firm guidance by the Arts Council to ‘increase diversity’ in order to ‘shape the modern orchestra'.

The Arts Council, who fund the English Touring Company, by the way, deny authorizing this move. When they said ‘please increase diversity’, they didn’t mean literally fire half of your white members.

I understand that these musicians are hired as freelancers so can be dropped from the opera in any season. Fine. But some of the members have been performing with the English Touring Opera for twenty years, being loyal season after season and have now effectively been dumped by text.

We’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, for God’s sake – there’s no way you can convince me that it's morally right to put ‘increasing diversity’ over people’s job security and livelihoods.

Now, there are no accurate figures on how many black and Asian classical musicians there are in the country, mainly because the figures are so small. But lets think this through – why might the numbers be so small? My bet is that it’s mostly do to with class, and lack of opportunities rather some kind of systemic racism in the classical music world.

How many working class kids do you know who are given the opportunities to access classical music lessons from an early age? How many state schools do you know offering this to any high standard? And we know ethnic minorities are far more likely to be from working class backgrounds.

Look, the most famous black classical music family in Britain are the Kanneh-Masons. Sheku Kanneh-Mason is the 22 year old musical maestro in the family with a impressive ensemble of accolades under his belt. At the age of 9, he passed Grade 8 cello with the highest marks in the UK, he then went on to win BBC Young Musician of the Year, and performed at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan. He is genuinely breathtakingly talented.

But, it comes as no surprise to me that he’s the son of a luxury hotel business manager and an academic. Would his musical flair have been discovered, let alone invested in if he was a poor black kid on a council estate? I think not.

Look, if you want to increase diversity in classical music - great! I'm all for it and I back you. But I'd rather you do it by giving equal access to musical opportunities for people without them - and letting it trickle down - not by sacking accomplished musicians and bringing in a few black and brown faces to plug the gaps.