Changing the Face of Classical Music Through the Next Generation
Updated: May 16, 2019
Like many of my other colleagues in the field of Classical music, I often wonder, “Where is this machine heading?” “Will society think of this art form as relevant 20 to 50 years down the line?” “How do we make Classical music accessible and relevant to people from all backgrounds so that it truly inspires the people who live and work in our communities?” “What should we be doing as artists to preserve the art form and promote its importance for future generations?” Often many artists and institutional leaders in the Classical realm lose faith in the genre’s ability to flourish because of an apparent lack of marketability to the general public. Particularly in the USA, popular music genres lie at the forefront, driving the economy and occupying most of the space we receive our information from. Not that there’s anything wrong with popular music. In fact, R&B, Jazz, Gospel, & Neo-Soul have all had profound influences on my music as a composer. So, what’s the solution?!
I believe it’s about going back into our communities and re-examining the many benefits that this music has. Studies have shown that Classical music and the arts train our minds to focus, making us better equipped to tackle other worldly tasks. My experience as a Black American citizen as well as a living composer has spearheaded my mission to showcase the beauty of this music to underexposed communities, focusing particularly on the youth of our current generation. By introducing them to the art form now, it allows them the opportunity to develop a long-lasting relationship with this music. In terms of communities of color, this means diversification of concert-going audiences, a greater demand for Classical music, and marketability that transcends barriers of color, class, etc...
This past summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and work with Stacy Sims, creator of Mindful Music Moments, an organization that takes Classical music into 70+ schools (and growing) around the country. Each morning during the announcements, the students are played a different piece of music and are encouraged to meditate during the excerpts. They are then asked questions about the piece and how it made them feel. This not only exposes the children to different composers and Classical pieces, but it allows them to clear their mind of any worries or anxiety they might have before coming into the classroom. That is particularly helpful, considering the environments many of the kids have been exposed to. In partnership with Mindful Music Moments and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Educator Network, we established the Sempre Sano Artist Residency held at the Music Resource Center of Cincinnati, July 23rd to the 31st, in 2018. Cincinnati’s Music Resource Center is an incredible facility. Ran by executive director Karen D’Agostino, it is a multifaceted teen program that uses recording and performing arts, as well as life skills mentoring to create a sense of empowerment & accomplishment in the urban community. For just $2 per month, teens in grades 7-12 can attend the MRC to learn computer music production, create multi-track recordings, and take private music lessons. Incredible right?! It is a wonderful creative hub that gives the kids purpose and an ever-growing sense of hard work and responsibility.
During my week of residency at the MRC, I got the chance to meet and work with so many different teens who each had a unique perspective on what music meant to them. What especially inspired me was the look of intrigue on some of the kids’ faces when I explained my journey as a composer and artist. I imagine many of them didn’t foresee that as a possible career choice! Nevertheless, there I was, working in one of the studios with a baby grand piano, getting out the kinks on a piece for prepared piano and string trio as apart of my residency. Many of them would look in astonishment as I threw Ziploc bags of dominos and taped Jenga blocks on certain strings inside the piano. I received comments like, “Man, that sounds so cool!” “I didn’t even know a piano could sound like that!” This was quite meaningful to me because all of the kids came from every background, excited to work and simply gave into the visceral call that music gives to us. I was also thrilled because there were kids who looked like me, getting to see someone who looked like them, making music that was so drastically different than what the norms of society had taught them was popular, let alone an option!
During one of my last days of the residency, I had finished the studio recording of a piece for piano and Tibetan singing bowls with some of the teenagers. I was then approached by a young rap artist who had come into the studio to finish up a song he was working on. This was a very dedicated and passionate young man, as I saw him in the studio every day working at his craft, perfecting his vision as an artist. He said to me, “Man, I love that pioneering mindset you have. I would’ve never thought to use those bowls like that.” We then had an enthusiastic talk about various instruments and how they could be used in a variety of musical contexts. I then realized that this was exactly why I dedicated my life to music. Just your physical presence is enough to inspire the next young artist to pioneer ideas that are life-changing, perhaps even community-altering. That talk gave that young man a desire to be different. Perhaps he’ll want to enroll in an institution that offers study in composition. Maybe he’ll stumble upon a compositional process that one of the great masters like Stravinsky or Bartók used and apply it to how he constructs his raps!
That’s what it’s about! Music removes the illusion that we are somewhat too different to find commonalities. Music inspires us to think higher, reach further, & dream bigger, leading us to incredible advancements that change the face of mankind. It is with that fact that my main goal as an artist is not merely to entertain, not simply to soothe the soul, but ultimately, beyond all else, to inspire. Inspiring young people also inspires me to keep breaking down barriers of my own. As long as I’m alive to do it, I will continue perusing initiatives that expose young people to the arts and encourage multicultural relationships between music lovers and concert-goers alike. Now that’s a legacy every artist should leave!