Monday, October 26, 2009

Students, Musicians & Symphony Benefited from 'Classically Black' Concert

Classically Black by Eldred Marshall
Classically Black started in 2001, my then girlfriend was a good violinist, she was also a student at Yale. For Parents' Day at Yale in October, she wanted to have us play together. We got together with the Associate Dean of Yale College, Dean George, who also is a classical pianist. So we all decided to put on a concert, to invite our friends and the rest of the Yale school during Parents' weekend, to a concert called “Classically Black” that featured the Black students who studied Classical Music, or had studied Classical Music, at Yale. A part of that arose out of the issue that a lot of the Black Classical Music students did not really have a venue to perform at Yale. We had the concert, it was very well received, it happened again the next year and then the following year. The series has continued, even now.

So we fast forward to 2009. The San Bernardino Symphony got contacted by my Assemblywoman - I was working for her before I came to school. They
contacted her back in March. They had a grant from the James Irvine Foundation and they had to use a portion of the money to directly advertise something to the Black community. I contacted the Symphony and said “Okay, look. Why don't you sponsor a concert to which we would invite up-and-coming Black musicians as well as talented young students. I knew the Symphony could sponsor this, but to have an added community benefit, I wanted the community itself to have a real part of this. So I talked to my Assemblywoman, who I worked for, and I pitched the idea to her and I asked her “What group in the community could I really work with to support Black and Brown youth and really try to get them to learn and try to get them to do what they need to do?” She and I put our heads together and we also talked to some of our friends. And it was almost uniform for all of us when someone suggested the Boys and Girls Club of San Bernardino. “We were like, of course, that's the best group!”

What happened was, I didn't know this, but when I came to the Boys and Girls Club to say “Hey, the San
Bernardino Symphony will allow you to do this concert. Do you want this to be a fundraiser for the Club?” I had no idea that the Boys and Girls Club of San Bernardino was instituting its own Music Education program, where they would allow the group's members to pick up an instrument and to learn it on-site with professional musicians. Really it was perfect timing, “Classically Black” and the start of that new program. They pretty much gave me a free hand artistically to go ahead and recruit the musicians I wanted, to put the program the way it's supposed to be. Knowing that I already knew of several Black musicians I had either worked with or known of, I contacted them and got them on program. We rehearsed. We did one piano four-hands, and the William Grant Still “Suite for Violin and Piano”. I also worked with the students. I had a clarinetist who did the Weber “Concertino”. We also had another student pianist do some works by Pulau and some of his own arrangements. It was a beautiful program.

The Boys and Girls Club got a lot of sponsors and took in a lot of money from it. The San
Bernardino Symphony got publicity from it. When my concert in January happens, people who normally wouldn't show up for a symphony concert will actually be there. So from the Boys and Girls Club raising the money that they needed for the Club, to the Symphony getting their exposure, to me allowing the other Black musicians to perform, as well as being able to mix with young people, it was like perfection across the board! There's a lot of excitement about doing it again next year, in fact I've already been told specifically in October. So it will happen again and it will be even bigger and even better. My professor here in Dallas, at SMU, wants me to do a similar thing here in Dallas. So hopefully I can take this and make this national and take it across the country!

Comment by email
What a great story this was! Although I'm a classically trained dancer, I feel like an instrument in a symphony when I move. I wish there was a fundraiser or event like this to raise awareness more in the Black community for dance. It was a coincidence that it was with the San Bernardino Symphony, I have danced with them for 5 years in The Nutcracker. Thanks for posting. Rhythmically yours, AJ

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