Michael Morgan and Gateways Festival Orchestra 2011
ROCHESTER, NEW YORK - African Americans have made and continue to make significant contributions to the field of classical music as conductors, composers, musicians and educators.
However, that historic legacy is often overshadowed by their contributions to other, more widely popular music generes such as hip hop, rap, rhythm and blues, jazz and gospel.
The Gateways Music Festival in Rochester is seeking to close that public awareness gap by shining the spotlight on classically-trained musicians of African descent and broadening the audience and community arenas of classical music as much as possible.
Gateways will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its founding at this year's festival. Youth and adult musicians will come to Rochester from throughout the United States to participate August 14 through August 18.
"Rochester has a long and strong history of arts and culture, however the presence of people of African descent in the field of classical music is extremely limited," said William Lewis, president of the board of directors of Gateways Music Festival, Inc. "Gateways was created to address that concern."
Barbara Jones, co-chairperson of the GMF Planning Committee, elaborated further about that limitation. "The participation, either on stage or in the audience of African Americans in classical music performance is almost non-existent," she said.
That is why "Gateways is a unique program that is not duplicated by any other arts organization and that increases the presence and performance opportunities of African Americans in classical music, " she said.
Armenta Adams Hummings, a concert pianist and graduate of the Juilliard School in New York City, founded Gateways in 1993 in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
Mrs. Hummings' vision was not only to make the broader community aware of the talents of musicians of African descent, but to make classical music more accessible, especially to people who, because of economic, social or other circumstances may never have attended a classical music event.
All of the Gateways Music Festival events and solo, chamber and orchestral concerts are free and open to the public. They are held in various venues throughout the city of Rochester ranging from schools, and houses of worship to concert halls..
Another part of Mrs. Hummings' vision of "opening the gates of classical music" was to provide inspiration and role models for young musicians of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Her vision is captured in the stated mission of Gateways Music Festival, Inc.
The Gateways Music Festival was held in North Carolina in 1993 and 1994. After Mrs. Hummings moved to Rochester to accept a position with the Eastman School of Music, the festival has been held biennially since 1995 in Rochester in collaboration with the Eastman School.
A former associate professor of music at Eastman, Mrs. Hummings stepped down as president and artistic director of Gateways at the end of the 2009 festival season. She remains festival advisor.
Some 500 musicians have participated in the Gateways Music Festival since its founding. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience levelsm ranging from current and recent graduates of the nation's top conservatories and music schools to experienced and established musicians with major solo and/or orchestra careers with musical organizations such as the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philaharmonic and the Detroit Symphony.
From audience surveys collected at each Gateways concert, this picture emerged in 2011 from the self-reported demographics of festival audiences: 45 percent African American, 45 percent Caucasian, 3 percent Hispanic and 7 percent other. Adults made up 86 percent and 14 percent were young people 17 years old or younger.
About 5,000 people attended Gateways festival concerts and events in 2011. Festival organizers hope attendance will be even larger this year.
Another thing that makes Gateways unique is that is has no paid staff. More than 200 volunteers work to make the festival successful. The 501(c)3, not-for-profit organization relies on grants, individual and corporate donations and in-kind assistance to meet festival expenses.
Among the festival expenses is a small stipend Gateways provides to the musicians, many of whom forego more lucrative assigments in order to participate in the festival.
Gateways is described as a "giving back to the community" program. And in that sense, even the musicians are "volunteers."
Michael Morgan, music director and conductor of the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra in California, who was music director and conductor for the 2011 Gateways Music Festival, returns this year.
For more information about the Gateways Music Fefstival check the web site at: www.gatewaysmusicfestival.org.