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Black Orchestral Network protests Kansas City Symphony tenure decision

Josh Jones
Posted at 5:35 PM, May 10, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A national organization is protesting the Kansas City Symphony’s decision not to grant one of its Black members tenure.

The Black Orchestral Network said a principal percussionist is not staying in Kansas City because of an inequitable tenure process.

In a statement from the Black Orchestral Network, it said in part percussionist Josh Jones should be granted tenure.

“When, as with Josh, our playing is not an issue, tenure committees find other, pretextual ways to criticize the way we do our jobs. Much too often, “leadership” or “management” or similar factors become the excuse instead.”
Black Orchestral Network

A 2018 study exemplified the lack of diversity in orchestras across the nation, finding less than 2% of orchestra members are Black.

In Kansas City, there are 70 tenured members of the symphony. Their demographic information is as follows:

  • 16 (23%) are Asian
  • 44 (62%) are Caucasian
  • 6 (9%) are Hispanic
  • 4 (6%) are two or more ethnicities

In a statement sent to KSHB 41, the CEO and president of The Kansas City Symphony said it's committed to focusing on diversity and inclusion.

While this individual situation is a personnel matter and our comments therefore are limited, our tenure process is comprehensive and objective. This process includes regular, detailed feedback – both in-person and followed-up in writing – at scheduled intervals, so that all parties avoid any surprises about that process, or the outcome of the proceedings. Race is not a factor in these decisions.

Principal positions in an orchestra are charged with leading their sections. Thus, successful Principals must possess not only the on-stage artistic talent and individual performance excellence, but it is imperative that they also demonstrate the operational proficiency, leadership, organization, planning and communication skills required behind the scenes to ensure the smooth and effective functioning of the entire section.

The Kansas City Symphony is committed to our focus on diversity and inclusion within orchestral music, whether through the recruitment process, featuring a diverse range of composers and artists during performances, expanding the appeal of our concerts across demographics, and building new relationships throughout Greater Kansas City.
Danny Beckley, CEO and president of the Kansas City Symphony

Jones left a tenured position in 2020 to grow his talents with a tenure-track position with the Kansas City Symphony.

“This zooms out to even bigger societal issue with the orchestral space,” said Titus Underwood, a committee member with the Black Orchestral Network. “So, this has been happening for a while, over decades, with Black musicians having a hard time through the hiring process, during the tenure process.”

Fellow Kansas City musician and teacher Julian Goff said this decision is an example of the work that still needs to be done.

“For as much progress we feel we are making, there are always those little big things that happen that still show us that we haven’t made the progress that we think we have,” Goff said. “And that the growth we are looking for, it’s a long and arduous road and it’s tiring.”

Underwood and the Black Orchestral Network recommended the symphony reverse their decision or restart the tenure process for Jones while making some changes that mirror the National Alliance for Audition Support Guidelines.