MARIETTA — Choral groups from Walton and Lassiter High school won’t be performing in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s holiday concerts this year because they aren’t “diverse” enough, the school district says. ASO, however, denies that is even a factor and says the schools were told nearly two years ago that their 2011 performances with the orchestra would be their last for awhile.
Charlie Wade, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s vice president of marketing and symphony pops, said in an email Thursday that his organization wants to open the program to other groups.
This is not the reason that Cobb Schools spokesman Jay Dillon said was given to Lassiter Choral Director Brian Williams and Walton Choral Director Dr. Jana Williams before the start of this school 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,” Dillon said. “Because of limited space, only a portion of the Lassiter and Walton choruses would therefore be able to attend.”
“Cobb County School District choral programs are open to all students and participation in these programs is determined on the basis of merit alone,” he said. “Because the full choruses would not be able to perform with the Symphony, both Lassiter and Walton have declined to participate this year.”
Students in both choruses were told Monday that they would not be participating this year.
However, Wade made no mention of diversity in his explanation for the change.
“The Lassiter and Walton high school choruses have done an outstanding job for the past four years, but they are only two of at least 12 very fine high school choirs in the Atlanta area,” he said.
“We think those choirs merit a chance to sing with the ASO as well.
“This year, we look forward to sharing our stage with the Grady High School chorus for the first time, and we’re delighted to continue our tradition of inviting talented amateur singers to perform with the ASO. We enjoy our partnership with Lassiter and Walton, and look forward to collaborating with them in the future.”
Wade also said that he told both choral directors almost two years ago, “after their December 2011 concert series with us … we would invite other high school choirs to sing with the ASO. The Lassiter and Walton directors thanked us for the opportunity we had afforded them and their students.”
For the past four years, only Walton and Lassiter’s choruses participated in “A Very Merry Holiday Pops,” which is part of the symphony’s Coca-Cola Holiday Concert Series held at the symphony hall in the Woodruff Arts Center, Wade said.
Throughout the two-day concert, the choruses collaborate and perform many pieces with the 93-member Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. This year’s concert is scheduled for Dec. 21 and 22.
When asked about the racial make-up of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Wade said that it is against his organization’s policy to share the race of its musicians.
Additionally, Dillon declined to comment on the racial make-up of the Walton and Lassiter choruses.
The two schools’ choral directors, along with many members of both programs’ choral booster clubs, were contacted by phone and email for a comment but none were returned by press time Thursday night.