The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has announced plans to recruit and welcome 100 young musicians from underrepresented communities into its lineup next season.
The move is a direct response to a hostile encounter University of Toronto international security professor Aisha Ahmad had last week, when she said a male patron attacked her and called her a “bitch” before a performance at Roy Thomson Hall.
At the time of the incident she said she was the only person of colour sitting in the section.
The offender has been banned from future TSO events, but Ahmad and her colleague David Welch followed up with the symphony requesting the organization show its commitment to diversity and inclusion by reaching out to marginalized communities and welcoming them into the orchestra space.
“I am so delighted and thrilled that they’re stepping up and taking this concrete action,” said Ahmad.
“I think it’s a great teachable moment for our city, and I hope it shifts this conversation away from a negative experience and into what we can do collectively to make our city more welcoming.”
In a statement to Metro, TSO spokesperson Francine Labelle indicated the details about the initiative are still being worked out. The symphony first wants to contact music groups and gauge their interest on available programming for next season.
“Everyone is welcome at the TSO,” she wrote in an email, noting the symphony has different outreach and educational initiatives to reflect the city’s multiculturalism. “Diversity makes us stronger, and we will continue to strive to make Toronto an even better place for everyone.”
Ahmad said her experience made her feel worried that Toronto may have “pockets of exclusion” that are in contrast with the perceived image of a welcoming city. The TSO’s new initiative is one step in the right direction to make sure music is for everyone, she said.
“This incident was never about me but about all the minorities who feel they’re being discriminated against,” she said. “This shows we have the possibility to shape the destiny of our city together, and build a future we can all be proud of.”