Shortly after picking up the instrument, me and my violin were inseparable. I became “THAT” girl and when there was an opportunity to play my violin I took it. For show and tell I was known for always playing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from the Titanic. I remember the day my Mom took my sister and I to the music store. After perusing though the entire store, I came across that magical Titanic score. I even requested to join the Spice Girls after Ginger left and my selling point was my violin. Unfortunately, at 8-years old I wasn’t selected to join the band but nevertheless I persisted.
Because of our violins, my sister and I even got the opportunity to play for the late Yolanda King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King. The violin opened doors to many once in a lifetime opportunities.
Distance from the ViolinAs me and my sister got older, I remember my mother telling us there’s not a lot of black violinists. She wanted us to continue to play so we could fill that void. She did everything to make sure we would play including signing us up for private lessons that were almost an hour away from home. Time goes on and teenage rebellion kicks in and both my sister and I’s violins get dusty in favor of other extracurriculars.
I started another instrument (oboe) and began running track and dancing on the poms team. My sister joined the drill team and started focusing more on basketball. Much to our Mom’s dismay, the violin was put on the back burner.
Decades pass and I still remember my Mom telling us that there weren’t many black violinists. Years later, I wish she were wrong. However, when you look at the lineup of major orchestras that sentiment still holds true.
Quitting the violin remains one of my biggest regrets. I threw away over a decade of experience and I don’t think I even have the skill to conduct a simple tuning of my instrument. It wasn’t until I got older did I realize all the opportunities the violin gave us.
While not a practicing musician, I knew that my Mom made a valid point. There aren’t a ton of black violinists or string musicians. Or rather, they don’t get their proper recognition. How do we change that? Enter, D-Composed; my first ever curated experience.
A Tale of Two CitiesBe the change that you want to see, If I had to sum up one phrase that guided the D-Composed process, that would be it. From years of attending events I got to a point where I was frustrated. Frustrated not seeing more than 5 people who look like me and frustrated because these luxe events highlighted a harsh reality. The reality that not everyone has access. And the reality that I should probably get used to the fact that I would be one of a few people of color in the room.
As bloggers, we live a very charmed life. Don’t get me wrong, events can be a blast but it took some time for me to become comfortable with my otherness in certain spaces.
It’s common knowledge that Chicago is one of the most segregated cities and that’s even more clear with events. I can pretty much predict where a party is going to be located. Everything is centered in the city causing a clear division between the haves and the have-nots. The West Loop has all the trendy high-end restaurants. Head to the Loop for anything theater related from Cadillac Palace to the Auditorium Theater. With the exception of a few hidden gems, rarely do we leave the center of Chicago for the arts.
The Fine Arts DivideWhile it’s not exclusive to just Chicago, the fine arts is where this division is more noticeable. Every city has their go-to spots for people who wish to visit cultural institutions. For those who rarely venture outside of their neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to find people who have never sat in a symphonic performance or watched the ballet.
Because of the lack of access in largely communities of color, select activities such as the orchestra or ballet have been marketed and labeled as not for us. When inclusivity is on the forefront, we start to create black and white labels when it comes to experience. For example, when you hear the word ballet your mind more than likely shifts to a lily white image.
There’s definitely coded language in our fine arts institutions. There’s this expectation that you are to behave and act a certain way in these spaces. That in itself causes a lack of comfort and some may distance themselves from the space.
Historically, orchestra was seen as an art form for the bourgeoisie so the typical symphony experience has been plagued with rising costs. What results is a smaller segment of the population able to take part in these luxe experiences.
Of course, some orchestras and fine arts programs have started initiatives to increase access but one major problem remains and that is representation.
Why We Need D-ComposedThe only time I’ve ever seen enough people of color where I don’t have to count on my hand, goes back to the days of when I would watch my sister in her Strolling Strings ensemble. As I got older and I attended an official symphony, the number of people of color both on and off stage began to rapidly decline. I started the counting game, where I would count on my hands the number of black people either in the orchestra or in the audience. It’s weird how you let out this sigh of relief when you see another black person, even if the number is menial in comparison to the majority.
While the orchestra has a glaring problem with diversity, this extends to beyond the orchestra pit and affects whose music we get to hear. We all know Bach and Beethoven, but how many of us can name at least one black composer? Does the name Florence Price ring a bell? What about William Grant Still. Prior to D-Composed, I’m ashamed to admit that I couldn’t name not one musician. It wasn’t until I attended a black composer event that the thought even crossed my mind.
Here I was an HBCU grad having been fully immersed in black culture and I had never been exposed to a black composer. I never even took responsibility to learn more about black composers. That realization was incredibly embarrassing for me and I knew that something needed to be done.
Since I, an ex-musician couldn’t do it all myself, I sought out the help of a complete stranger; Danielle Taylor.
Meeting DanielleI found Danielle after doing some research on the musicians from Chicago Sinfonietta. For those of you who aren’t aware, Chicago Sinfonietta is an orchestra that has shown an increased interest in promoting diversity in the symphony.
I discovered that Danielle had already done research on black composers which made her a Godsend for this series.
One night I sent her an email and shared with her the vision behind D-Composed. I mentioned how there aren’t many black orchestra experiences and we began creating a plan for how we would bring a black chamber music experience to Chicago. Oddly enough, Danielle was also interested in bringing this series to Chicago which is why she thought our chance e-meeting was initially spam. Thank God she took me seriously.
After months of planning and phone calls and just one in person meeting, D-Composed was about to come to fruition.
Through her expertise, we were able to give a platform to hidden figures such as William Grant Still, Florence Price, George Walker, and contemporary composer Jessie Montgomery. In addition to hidden composers, we sought out Chicago’s most talented musicians who range from students at prestigious universities, to a cellist from Hamilton.
Put it all together and you get a truly magical experience.
D-Composed was created so we would know what it felt like to see ourselves celebrated and appreciated in the form of classical music. Prior to D-Composed, I had never listened to classical music in a room full of black people. Once our first event happened, no longer did I feel alone and I stopped the counting game.
I wanted change and instead of complaining about what I didn’t see, I created what I wanted to see.
FUBUD-Composed is the result of the necessity to create a fine arts experience that is the full embodiment of FUBU (For Us By Us). Shout out to Daymond John and Solange.
Our next event is right around the corner so I thought I’d share with you all a little back story on why D-Composed was created and why it has taken more of my focus. I cover many events but the lack of representation has always bothered me. I want to create experiences that myself and people like me would feel comfortable in. There is no reason only a few of us should have these experiences so it’s my goal to increase access and awareness to unique experiences.
While I love the blog and attending events, it’s a different feeling when you can actually create the experience that people can take part in.
I look forward to sharing the D-Composed journey with you all. For now all I ask is that you continue to support black musicians and composers.
Hope to see you at our next event 🙂