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Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: Hitting a Discordant Note, or Playing Just the Right Tune?

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BY DEBORAH HARRIS

Grady’s choir regularly sends students to All-State Chorus, the Chamber Chorus earns top scores each year at Large Group Performance Evaluation (Festival), and they have performed on international tours. So the choir’s invitation to perform with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra this year in the holiday pops concert series was another chance to demonstrate their musical talent, despite the taint of controversy.

The dispute began in the spring of 2012, when Charles Wade, ASO vice president for marketing and symphony pops, invited Grady to perform with the ASO in the holiday pops concert series, instead of Walton High School and Lassiter High School. For the past four years, the two Cobb County schools have performed with ASO in the same event.

Cobb County Schools’ director of communications Jay Dillon said, “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.”

In early August, negative responses flared across websites and media outlets. 11 Alive News reported that Lassiter and Walton had been denied the invitation because “they are not racially diverse enough,” while commentators such as Lori Rader-Jacobs, mother of two Cobb County students, posted, If ASO thinks this benefits minorities they are incredibly misguided. Grady HS should be insulted to be given this opportunity over another chorus because of their racial makeup. …Ability should be all that matters.”

In a letter to the community, ASO President Stanley Romanstein said, “The ASO has a long and proud tradition of inviting talented amateur singers to perform with us. …We are simply trying to share the experience with other talented choirs across the metro area.” Romanstein told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the whole controversy was an misunderstanding, My comment was taken out of context,” said Romanstein, “and I’m not very happy about that.”

Grady chorus students are both excited by the news and dismayed by the adverse reaction.

I was so excited,” senior Lana Claire said, upon learning Grady’s invitation. “We get to sing with the Little Mermaid!”

Senior Jeffrey Cox is upset with community backlash. “I think that [community outrage] is the product of rich, white suburban kids, feeling a sense of entitlement,” Cox said. “I don’t deserve anything either, but a lot of kids at Grady do.”

Kevin Hill, Grady’s chorus teacher, said Grady was chosen for more than its diversity. “[According to] news reports, Grady was only selected for diversity,” he said. “ASO wouldn’t select just because of diversity. We were selected because of our reputation for our musical excellence.”

Grady High School will perform “A Very Merry Holiday Pops” with the ASO in December. 

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Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: Hitting a Discordant Note, or Playing Just the Right Tune?