DURHAM, N.C. — Almost 80% of musicians in orchestras across the United States are white, according to 2022 to 2023 data from the League of American Orchestras.

The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle is working to increase diversity and inspire the next generation of musicians with its new fellowship program.

What You Need To Know

  • Nearly 80% of musicians in orchestras across the United States are white

  • The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle is working to increase diversity through its new fellowship program

  • The fellows get professional experience through the program, and they also visit schools to play for students

It’s rare you see a string quartet performing for an elementary school music class.

“It’s a little different than some of the normal things that we do because we obviously play quite a bit together,” Tim Parham, a fellow with the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, said.

It’s all part of the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle’s fellowship and this is the program’s first year.

“So great so far, and I have a strong passion for playing and teaching, so getting the chance to kind of be in front of these kids is a really great thing,” Parham said.

A major goal for the fellowship is geared toward increasing diversity within orchestras. According to the League of American Orchestras, in the 2022 to 2023 season, 79% of musicians were white while approximately 13% were Asian, 5% were Hispanic and 2% were Black.

(Source: League of American Orchestras)

“We’re kind of getting there. It’s a slow process. But still, a lot of times if you go to the concert hall, it’s kind of hard as someone of a younger person of color to see myself represented in those ensembles,” Parham said.

Not only does the fellowship give musicians like Parham the professional experience they might be seeking, it also connects the Durham community to diverse musicians, allowing kids to see the possibilities of what they can be.

“Getting to see musicians of color from a young age and kind of experience that representation and say like, ‘Hey, like I can do that too someday,’” Parham said. “Getting to kind of be that for them is really gratifying and I love getting the chance to do that every day.”

Niccolo Muti, the executive director and principal conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, said other orchestras in the state have fellowship programs. For example, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and the Winston-Salem Symphony are launching a fellowship program next fall.

According to Muti, the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle is leading the way in offering a diversity-focused fellowship.

This first group of fellows is required to serve a two-season term from Sept. 2023 to May 2025. They’re also given the option to return for a third term.

While in the program, they receive a salary, benefits, private lessons and help with attending auditions for full-time employment with other orchestras in the country.