Malcolm Gladwell
Contributed by Shemika Thormahlen

During the 1980s, there was an expert trombone player named Abbie Conant, who auditioned for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. Abbie chose to carry out a visually-impaired tryout for the symphony (i.e. where judges sat behind a screen, could not see the entertainer, and did not even know the artist’s name), who eventually wowed the ensemble’s chief executive, Sergiu Celibidache. When she appeared at the last round of auditions, Celibidache was horrified — as he had been anticipating a man. But Conant, a very gifted performer, eventually joined the symphony, notwithstanding the chief’s protests. Following a time of playing with the symphony, Conant was astonished to discover that she had been downgraded from first to second trombone — as Celibidache told her, “We need a man”. She became justifiably incensed and sued the Munich Philharmonic. Conant won her case and was re-established as the first trombone since she had confirmation that Celibidache had regarded her ability — amid the underlying visually-impaired tryouts (i.e. before he knew Conant was female) — and was exceedingly inspired with her performance. To put it plainly, Conant was “spared by a screen”.


In the final section of the book, the author studies the significance of blind auditions in the classic music genre (i.e. listening to music presented by musicians in an audition without seeing them perform). The experience of Conant with the Munich Philharmonic indicates that trained musical experts, like Celibidache, can also allow their biases and prejudices to affect their judgement and decision, without them knowing about it. A screen separating the judging panel with the performers is a form of protection against bigotry and prejudice. In the case of Conant, for instance, this screen helps her win the court case by simply proving that Celibidache believed she was one of the most talented musician. This was, however, contrary to what Celibidache had said after learning that Conant was not male — as, historically, the classical music genre has been one of the most sexist. The popular wisdom was that only men have the passion, the genius, and the creative mind to do well in classical music. Therefore, the aftermath of the blind auditions suggests that these ideas was just bigoted nonsense — as men and women have the same potential to do well in music, given that they have the equal opportunities that are not influenced by prejudices.

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