Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sphinx Chamber Orchestra Violinist Shelby Harris Began Studying Instrument At Age 2

Old tunes, new tones

Sphinx music program brings cultural diversity to classical music
By Christine G.K. LaPado

"'An African-American girl came up to me after I played and she told me, almost in a whisper, like she didn’t want anyone else to hear, "I didn’t know African-Americans played the violin.’" I told her I didn’t know that either when I was a kid.' Shelby Harris, 28-year-old African-American violinist with the Sphinx Chamber Orchestra (performing in Laxson Auditorium, Oct. 21) was recalling one of the more poignant moments of her 11-year tenure with the all-African-American and -Latino orchestra—a moment that she said gave her goosebumps.

"The little girl made the whispered comment to Harris after she had finished performing before hundreds of children at a mostly black inner-city school as part of a nationwide outreach program by the Detroit/New York City-based Sphinx Organization. Sphinx oversees the orchestra and conducts these programs as part of its aim to increase the cultural diversity of performers and audiences of classical music. 'I’m sure there are thousands of black children who don’t think blacks play the violin because they just don’t see us doing it [very often],' Harris added, speaking by phone from her home in Chicago recently, after performing with the orchestra the previous night at New York’s Carnegie Hall. 'There are a lot of people who think blacks and Latinos don’t play classical music. They think blacks play jazz and Latinos play salsa, or that we play traditional music from our culture.'

"Harris became part of the SCO in 1998 after making it to the semi-finals of Sphinx’s annual competition to find the most talented young black and Latino string players in the nation. Both semi-finalists and 'competition laureates,' as Harris described the winners, are invited to join SCO. She started studying the violin at age 2, but Harris—whose mother used to play violin with the Rockford (Ill.) Symphony—said she wanted to start playing violin when she was a mere 1 1/2 years old. [Full Post] [The Founder/President of The Sphinx Organization is violinist Aaron P. Dworkin (b. 1970), who is profiled at]

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