Friday, March 4, 2011

Aaron Dworkin in Red Thread Magazine: 'I grew up Jewish and it’s a very important part of me'

[Aaron P. Dworkin, Founder and President of the Sphinx Organization]

Red Thread Magazine
A Publication of The Detroit Jewish News
Making classical music accessible to tens of thousands of minority kids is what he does.
By Robin Schwartz on March 3rd, 2011
“The violin is his instrument — for creative expression, personal escape and orchestrating social change — and he’s a pro. But, to truly understand the depth of Aaron Dworkin’s love affair with classical music and his connection to the art form, you have to peel back the layers of the maestro himself. Dworkin, an accomplished electric and acoustic violinist, describes himself as a 'black, white, Jewish, Irish Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness.' The 40-year-old, who lives in Ypsilanti, was adopted as an infant by Barry and Susan Dworkin of New York City; both Jewish neuroscience professors, Susan has since passed away.

“'I grew up Jewish and it’s a very important part of me,' says Dworkin, who currently doesn’t practice any particular religion. 'Nine years ago, I was reunited with my birth parents. (He’s still in regular contact with them.) I found out my mother is a white, Irish Catholic, and my father is a black Jehovah’s Witness. I certainly don’t fit into any box, and I never have.'

“Religion aside, Dworkin is a man of many other things: a husband (his wife, Afa Dworkin, has a Muslim mother and a Jewish father); a father to sons Noah, 11, and Amani, 3 (the family regularly takes advantage of events at the JCC in Ann Arbor); and founder and president of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization, the leading national arts group focused on youth development and diversity in classical music. His programs have fostered the musical development of tens of thousands of African American and Latino students (both of his young sons also play the violin).

“Because minority musicians are grossly underrepresented in orchestras across the country, Dworkin knows the mountain he’s climbing is steep. 'Today, about 4 percent of orchestra members across the country are both black and Latino combined,' Dworkin says. 'About five years ago, the Chicago Philharmonic hired its first African American musician in history. The New York Philharmonic has none.'”

“When he was 10, Dworkin’s family moved to a small town in Pennsylvania. That only amplified young Aaron’s feelings of isolation. 'I was a young kid with a huge Afro; I was black, yet I had an older brother who was white. I played the violin — pretty much all of the core tools necessary for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to torture a fellow classmate,' he says. 'Music was my therapy.'

“Dworkin first picked up a violin at age 5 after he heard his adoptive mother, an amateur violinist, playing classical music. He instantly loved it; he was hooked. 'The violin has been part of my life since before I could read so it’s always been a core part of me,' Dworkin reflects. 'I always had the ability to communicate through the violin. It’s been my solace and the biggest constant in my life.'”

Editor’s Note: You can catch Aaron Dworkin’s upcoming performance at the University of Michigan Museum of Art Helmut Stern Auditorium, 525 S. State St., in Ann Arbor, on Sunday, March 6, at 6 p.m. A reception will follow the one-hour performance. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, go to” [Aaron Dworkin (b. 1970) is profiled at and has a personal website,]

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