Symphony six

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The Symphony six were a group of Canadian musicians who were denied permission to enter the United States.


The Toronto Symphony Orchestra was invited to perform at the Masonic Auditorium in Detroit, as part of the Major Symphony Series on November 27, 1951. (This was its first concert in the United States.) At this time in the United States, McCarthyism had created suspicion of people with real or suggested links to left-wing politics. When the names of all who would be going on the trip were submitted to US immigration, they refused visas for six musicians, without explanation. Replacements were found, and the concert went on as planned.

Around the same time, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra had an extensive tour of the US planned, and had entry refused for a few of its members. They cancelled the whole tour, and many were to suggest later that the TSO should have done the same thing. The six musicians were: Dirk Keetbaas (flute), William Kuinka (bass), Abe Mannheim (bass), John Moskalyk (violin), Ruth Budd (bass), and Steven Staryk (violin). At the end of the season, with more American concerts planned for the orchestra, all six did not have their contracts renewed. They got together and wrote to their local union; however, the union agreed with the original board decision to let the Symphony Six go.

The story created controversy when it became public, and got media attention across the country, and internationally. Many people wrote letters to the TSO and some subscribers cancelled their subscriptions. Members of the orchestra board disagreed, leading to two resignations. The orchestra's conductor, Sir Ernest MacMillan, avoided stating an opinion about the incident. He was criticised for this. The six were subject to suspicion, and avoided by other musicians who wished to avoid guilt by association. In 1952, the six had many meetings, with the Civil Liberties Association, the Toronto board of control, the Toronto Musicians' Association, and the TSO Board, but the matter was not decided in their favor.

Speculating about possible reasons for the restrictions, Staryk related that he had played at Ukrainian and other ethnic events, and Budd, that she had been a member of a left-wing youth group. However, Harry Freedman, who was on the board of the musician's union at the time, stated that he was not aware of any of the six promoting communism.

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