Friday, July 31, 2020

Luke Welch: Life As a Black Classical Pianist

Life As a Black Classical Pianist

From an early age, as I was first enrolled in piano lessons, I was quick to realize that there were not (m)any other young black pianists who were learning how to play classical music – at least that I had ever met. Fast forward a couple of decades, and nothing has changed. No “growth of the sport”, no “catering to a wider audience”. There are so many ways this writing can go… is it a question of the chicken/egg concept (i.e. is there a lack of interest in classical music within the black community because it is so underrepresented at the highest levels/”misunderstood music”/etc., or is the lack of representation yet another form of systemic discouragement towards some groups of society)?

I have always loved everything classical music has to offer – from a seemingly endless expanse of amazing music spanning hundreds of years, while providing those who choose to play it a parallel variety of technical, musical, and ideological challenges. No matter how many hours of practice, there will always be more work to do and new heights to reach. Delving into the diverse works of J.S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti could by themselves cost a lifetime of exploration, let alone engaging into the oeuvres of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, and beyond. As “musically gifted” as I was told to be when I was young, there were so many other pianists who seemed to be light years ahead of what I thought I could ever achieve. Therein remained the goal to improve and become the best version of my musical self that I could be.

Luke Welch performing at the Embassy Festival in the Netherlands

While I was committed to my own improvements, and those my piano teachers laid out for me, I was often met with equal confusion, resentment, discouragement, and sometimes straight-up disdain from others around me. I don’t “look” the part of a classical musician, nor do I talk as such (whatever that means). I have often been told – especially during my time living abroad – to perhaps switch my musical focus to something more in my lane, such as jazz music. I have even been stopped from entering a concert venue in which I was the performer until I was able to convince the unidentified individual (thankfully not the concert promoter!) to actually look at the advertising poster to confirm that I should even be allowed inside the building. In another instance I was questioned, while at a music store looking for recordings of pieces I was intending to prepare and perform, as to whether the music I sought was actually for me. Once stated that I, too, am a classically-trained musician, the look of shock was also followed by the comment “Wow, you definitely can’t judge a book by its cover!”

“Wow, you definitely can’t judge a book by its cover!”

The amount of restraint it took to not lose my temper in that moment took every fibre of my being. I remember discussing the situation with my father shortly afterwards, and was even more disheartened to hear his sincere, yet candidly matter-of-fact response: “Well, son, get used to it.” Unfortunately, he was one hundred percent correct.

During all of my academic years, from elementary school through university, I did not encounter a single other black pianist. This interesting observation extends not only at my own schools, but also to competitions, professional performances, piano masterclasses, or any other musical environment. It was not something I dwelt on at the time, as I was so preoccupied with building my own career and completing my education that I didn’t have the time to be as cognizant as I probably should have been. I only tended to notice the imbalance when people would bring it up to me in conversation as they were meeting me for the first time at my own performances.

Once the proverbial light bulb *finally* went off in my head, I realized the stakes were much higher than simply accomplishing great feats at the instrument and making a name for myself. I also came to understand and appreciate that I represented a community within the community – and by that I mean being a black classical musician (see: unicorn) in an already marginalized society (and yes, I admit that those who immerse themselves within the classical music community tend to be pigeon-holed as being on the fringes of mainstream). Not only was it – and still is – of paramount importance to be at my best on stage, but it was imperative to remain aware that the lights, camera, and attention may not necessarily stop for me just because the performance is over.

…it was imperative to remain aware that the lights, camera, and attention may not necessarily stop for me just because the performance is over.

I am not one to theorize whether or not my ethnicity impacts my career opportunities, nor do I care. It’s rather quite the opposite. I believe that quality will always succeed, so as long as I continue to prepare well, push myself to be a better musician tomorrow than I am today, maintain a respectful attitude, and appreciate the incredible support from everyone around me and those who have contributed to my career, the rest will take care of itself. I make no secret – diving even deeper into the seemingly infinite pool of classical music, travelling the world, seeing new places, meeting new people, performing, recording albums: these are among the many things that continue to fuel my passion for making music. If part of the job description involves being an ambassador of sorts, I fully welcome the opportunity every time, especially if it has the potential to encourage more young black individuals to explore a world they may not otherwise know exists, or feel entirely comfortable stepping into at first. It is a wonderful feeling to do what you love, regardless of perception as the next classical unicorn – or more importantly, as the next wonderful musician and human being.

The same sentiments hold true in between performances as well. As an independent artist, I have continued to focus the majority of my waking hours on building the practical component of my career – concerts and international travel to destinations around the world to share my music with others. Simultaneously, I have focused on teaching as well – working with students of all ages and abilities – first in Europe, and now here in Canada as well. It has been a long-standing dream of mine (again, no major revelation) to achieve a position within a higher-education institution such as a college or university – working with students who possess the highest level of talent, passion, and dedication to their art the way I also did.

It’s incredible how many positions just like these continue to be filled with faces and backgrounds which look remarkably the same. How many institutions in this vast expanse of the Great White North employ any teachers/professors/music educators who look anywhere similar to me? How long will this trend continue? Even as recently as a month or so ago, I applied for an associate professorship at a university not far from where I live where not only did I meet the outlined qualifications outlined in the job post, but I anticipated that my educational background in multiple continents in addition to my performance and teaching experience would have at very least warranted a cursory response. Unfortunately, there was not even so much as an acknowledgement to my follow-up let alone an invitation for a conversation. Gullible, yet optimistic, I remain for the next coveted opportunity.

Gullible, yet optimistic, I remain for the next coveted opportunity.   

My intention is to share some of my experiences with those who are willing to read about them, and maybe in some way can relate. Let us continue to live side by side in melody and harmony. Let us continue to learn from each other. Let us continue to come together (with the perfect excuse!) for our shared love of music. Stay healthy and safe!

Thank you very much for reading.

– LW

Oskar Morawetz Scherzo - Luke Welch Official

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Orli Shaham's Bach Yard and Kaufman Music Center present Bach Yard Playdates, celebrating the life and music of Florence Price, premiering Sunday, August 2

Free interactive video series for children
This week's episode celebrates the life and music of Florence Price, premieres on Sunday, August 2

Who is Florence Price?
Written and illustrated by the Special Music School Middle School 

It's hard to believe, but our last  Playdate  episode of the summer is finally here - and its a big one! Orli Shaham's Bach Yard is teaming up with Kaufman Music Center's Special Music School Middle School to  celebrate the life and music of Florence Price.   The video premieres on Sunday, August 2, 2020 at 11 am EDT on  Kaufman Music Center’s website .

The episode centers around  a book about the life of composer Florence Price that was written and illustrated by middle school students at Kaufman Music Center's Special Music School. Orli Shaham will read the book aloud, share the stunning illustrations, and present performances of Price’s music by SMS students. Selections include Ticklin' Toes , The Goblin and the Mosquito, and Adoration.

Florence B. Price

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887, Florence Price was a composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher. She composed orchestral music from symphonies to concertos, as well as chamber music, choral music, and even arrangements of spirituals. When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered her 1st Symphony on June 15, 1933, Ms. Price became the first African-American woman to have her composition performed by a major symphony orchestra!
The Florence Price Playdate episode premieres Sunday, August 2 at 11:00 am EDT on Kaufman Music Center's website . All Playdate episodes are archived for  on-demand  viewing.  Bach Yard  Playdates  is presented by   Kaufman Music Center This series is especially for children up to early elementary, but every member of the household – human or animal, stuffed, or not – will enjoy this fun and unique series.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Darryl Taylor retweets: @umichsmtd: These @NatOperaAssoc videos comprise an oral history of the groundbreaking careers of African-American artists

Darryl Taylor retweets: @umichsmtd: These @NatOperaAssoc videos comprise an oral history of the groundbreaking careers of African-American artists. Watch some incredible personal narratives about contributions made by African-American artists to the field of opera in our Legacy Project's Oral History initiative!

John Malveaux: Latonia Moore Recital – Los Angeles Opera At Home (July 30)

Latonia Moore

John Malveaux of writes:

Famed soprano Latonia Moore will make her virtual company debut with the LA Opera in a recital featuring music from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” Puccini’s “Edgar,” songs by Rachmaninoff, and music by American composer Wintter Watts. She will be accompanied by Roberto Berrocal.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Hear our President & Artistic Director Afa S. Dworkin's message and apply!

Sphinx Calls for Applications: DEI Grant Support

To propel our mission of transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts, the Sphinx Organization is now accepting grant applications for the Sphinx Venture Fund

Sphinx will invest up to $300,000 to catalyze initiatives designed to solve a challenge related to cultural diversity in the sphere of the performing arts, with an emphasis on classical music. A small number of proposals are selected each year with an average grant size of $50,000 – $100,000. Eligible Ventures will be executed in collaboration with or on behalf of an existing 501(c)(3) organization
Applications are due September 30, 2020.


Sphinx Organization

+++ ARTS ENGINES | Aaron Dworkin – With Arizona State University’s School of Arts Dean, Steven Tepper [EPISODE 5]

Social entrepreneur, author and artist, Aaron Dworkin has this week released the fourth episode of the new arts video series: ‘Arts Engines.’

Produced in partnership with the Detroit Public Television, Ovation TV, American Public Media and The Violin Channel, each episode highlights the perspectives of the thought leaders and game-changers who are creating significant impact in the field of the arts.

In this episode, Aaron sits down with Dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, Steven Tepper – as they discuss the inescapable need for the arts.

“If we don’t take seriously that people live in a symbolic world … and expression and narrative and story and song, poetry … that all of that is essential to how we navigate and understand? Then we’re always only going to have half the solution,” Steven Tepper has this week said.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Music Kitchen: Up this Wednesday for Midsummer Night Stream Virtual Festival

We had a great opening for Midsummer Night Stream earlier this week - Thank you to all who attended!  Join us next week on Wednesday for another shelter performance plus a special all composer panel, sharing their insights into their unique contributions to Forgotten Voices. Click below to register and receive the Zoom link for the event!

So, in a nutshell:

Midsummer Night Stream, Music Kitchen's first ever summer/virtual festival-
You can say you were there without even having to leave your living room!

Ok, but what is it?  
Curated, streamed video, a rare glimpse into our actual shelter concerts throughout 2019 plus *Meet the composers and artists Live* in panel discussion and Q&A during the event! The musical program over the entire festival features beloved pieces of traditional chamber music and several of the Forgotten Voices songs.

Which artists and composers do I get to meet?
All of the Forgotten Voices composers and artists who will be featured in the Carnegie Hall World Premiere - See the full schedule below!

Amazing!  I'm new to Zoom, how do I sign up?
Easy 1-2-3!
1. Just click the link below
2. Fill in your name and email address on the registration form and click enter
3. The next screen will show you the event link and you will also receive an email with the link - Click the link! (now make sure your audio and camera at the bottom of the screen are ON, ie without a slashthrough)

I'm a Zoom pro and ready to register!
Please click below:

As always, I hope you will include Music Kitchen and the Forgotten Voices project in your giving by clicking here and I look forward to seeing you on Wednesday!
Warmest Regards,

Music Kitchen New York City - Design by Jessica Hughes, Photo by Greg Routt

Midsummer Night Stream

+ Meet the Artists Live:

July 22

James Lee, composer
Angélica Negrón, composer
Allison Charney, soprano
Jesse Blumberg, baritone

Program: Brahms A minor Quartet, Negron "These Strings," 
and Lee "From My Heart"
Ensembles: Kelly Hall-Tompkins, Ling Ling Huang, and 
Hector Falcon, violins, Andrew Gonzalez and Margaret 
Dyer-Harris, violas, Alexis Gerlach, Peter Seidenberg and 
Grace Ho, cellos

July 29  - 
Courtney Bryan, composer
Paul Moravec, composer
Kevin Puts, composer
Jeff Scott, composer
Errollyn Wallen, composer

Program: Kodaly Duo 
selected movements
Ensemble: Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violin 
and Peter Seidenberg, cello

August 5
Steve Sandberg, composer
Carlos Simon, composer
Jesse Blumberg, baritone
Ling Ling Huang, violin
Andrew Gonzalez, viola
Alexis Gerlach, cello
Peter Seidenberg, cello

Program: Ravel String Quartet Selected 
Movements, Sandberg "Thank you," Simon 
"A Wonderful Hearing"
Ensembles: Kelly Hall-Tompkins and Ling 
Ling Huang, violins, Andrew Gonzalez, 
viola, Alexis Gerlach, and Peter 
Seidenberg, cellos, Adrienne Danrich, 
soprano, Jesse Blumberg, baritone

August 12
Jon Grier, composer
Beata Moon, composer
Kamala Sankaram, composer
Adrienne Danrich, soprano
Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violinist/
Logan Coale, double bass

Program: Dvorak Bass Quintet selected 
movements, Sankaram "Hooking In"
Ensemble: Kelly Hall-Tompkins and 
Ling Ling Huang, violins, Andrew 
Gonzalez, viola, Alexis Gerlach, cello, 
John-Paul Norpoth, double bass

August 19
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, composer
Mark Risinger, bass

Program: Mozart Quartet K. 590 
selected movements, Zwilich 
"Ubuntu" (*not from Forgotten 
Ensembles: Kelly Hall-Tompkins 
and Ling Ling Huang, violins, 
Yumi Oshima, viola, Peter 
Seidenberg, cello, Ellen Taaffe 
Zwilich, Djembe, Mark Reisinger, 
 bass , Richard Wilson, piano
subject to change

Forgotten Voices
Song Cycle Commissioned 
by Music Kitchen 
With Support from Carnegie Hall
Celebrating 30,000 
Homeless Shelter Clients,
100 Concerts
and The 15th Season
 ~ Featuring Comment 
Texts by Homeless 
Shelter Clients
Set By 15 Composers ~
Premiering One Song 
Each Month
for 15 Months in a 
Selected Shelter
Through May 2020

We welcome your checks at 
the following address:
Music Kitchen - Food for the 
Attn: Kelly Hall-Tompkins
P.O. Box 907
New York, NY 10040
Thank you for your support 
of Music Kitchen -Food for 
the Soul

Saturday, July 25, 2020 Porgy and Bess in the Time of BLM

Counter Punch

by David Yearsley

July 24, 2020

Last Friday night while protesters were being shoved into unmarked vans in Portland by federal paramilitaries, PBS broadcast George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in its Great Performances series. The opera was a strange choice for these times. The live recording had been made on February 1st, little over a month before the Covid crisis darkened American theatres.

I didn’t watch the PBS broadcast, but instead took in the opera a few days later thanks to Met: Live in HD streaming available through the university where I work.

Though Porgy and Bess has long been criticized for its treatment of race, the Met Live performance was introduced without any acknowledgement of that history. The host was Audra MacDonald, a black actor and singer with six Tony Awards to her name (is it also fair to note that among her many recordings are The Wonder of Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square). MacDonald’s script praised the work as “one of the greatest of American operas” and “the moving story of the citizens of Catfish Row.” MacDonald did at least say that this “close-knit community” was oppressed. Though the on-stage cast was black (except for the non-singing cops), the conductor (David Robertson) was white like his baton. The stage director (James Robinson) was also white, and, however vibrant, his production was unquestioning—stubbornly disengaged from the world that has overtaken this kind of entertainment since February.

I’d last seen a live performance of Porgy and Bess in 2008 in Berlin presented by the touring company Cape Town Opera. That production, so much sparer than the opulent Met presentation, was set not in a singing and dancing waterfront slum in Jim Crow Dixie, but in a South African township: that historical dissonance—and congruence—didn’t blunt the cultural appropriation and violence of the work, but instead brought them into sharp relief.

Having recently watched Hamilton on my living room screen, I couldn’t help but imagine what would happen if Porgy and Bess were given the reverse treatment: if the Founding Fathers can be black, what about an all-white cast for Porgy and Bess? Yes, the opera is a product of its time. Yes, some leading black figures, such as Langston Hughes, praised the work even in the 1930s. But whiteface Porgy would, I couldn’t help but feel, shine a brutally alienating spotlight on the fantasy.

I saw Porgy and Bess for the first on June 9th, 1995 in Los Angeles, three years after the riots after the exoneration of the policemen who brutally beat Rodney King. The O. J. Simpson trial was a few days from getting underway at the courthouse a brick’s throw from L. A. opera’s home at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Earlier that spring, the provocative American theatre director Peter Sellars had brought to the same stage Debussy’s Pélleas et Mélisande with the jealous, homicidal king Golaud sung by the great Willard White, a black man. Leaving no room for ambiguity, Sellars parked a white Bronco at the lip of the stage. No one thought that was product placement for the local Ford dealerships. Club-wielding, gun-brandishing LAPD cops periodically stampeded across the stage.

By contrast, the L. A. Porgy and Bess was lively (and long: performed without cuts), but Hope Clark, the first African-American ever to direct the show at a major venue, danced around the question of race and its portrayal by the work’s creators. When I attended that performance in 1995, I had been the music critic for America’s last real country newspaper, the Anderson Valley Advertiser for a few years, and filed a piece from L. A. on the production. Here, with all its faults, is that twenty-five-year-old review. Not much has changed.

Now Da’s Opry, Boss

Anderson Valley Advertiser, June 14th, 1995

I discovered George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, or at least a dozen of its most famous songs, through Miles Davis’ 1958 recording. With the nonchalant intensity some call “cool,” Miles shaped the melodies into their ideal forms, his improvisations provided the definitive commentary. Crucial to the recording’s perfection was Gil Evans, who led the big band and whose arrangements were equal to Miles’ genius. The Davis/Evans recording was Gershwin’s opera for me. As a result I heard Porgy and Bess as a sort of absolute music almost completely divorced from the song lyrics; I knew the words of the first two lines of “Summertime,” but I had no idea of the work’s plot. Until a few years ago I thought Porgy and Bess was a Broadway musical.

We arrived at Friday’s performance of Porgy and Bess at the Los Angeles Music Center an hour early to buy the cheap rush tickets, then sat out in the plaza and ate our picnic dinner surrounded by the spectacle of opera- and theater-goers arriving. In the center of the plaza is a fountain made up of more than a hundred inch thick geysers shooting up from ground level. The spouts are divided into four matrices about twenty-five feet square arranged in cruciform around a large statue. Each matrix sprays up for ten or twenty seconds then falters and goes dormant for an indeterminate length of time, never more than five seconds. After studying the rhythms of the geysers over the course of our dinner, I pleaded with Annette to let me try to dash across the fountain during an inactive phase: “Can you imagine the thrill of making it across without getting wet, and in front of all these people?” Temperamentally opposed to this kind of pre-teen grandstanding, neither was she eager to spend three hours of opera sitting next to a soaked someone should things go wrong.

The L.A. performance of Porgy and Bess—the production itself is in large part that of the Houston Grand Opera—comes at the end of a typical season of works by European masters. Gershwin’s opera offers audiences a distinctly American music drama that depicts Southern black life and features an all-black cast. General directors of opera companies can count on Gershwin’s “folk opera” to provide some cultural diversity to this most rarefied of musical mediums. And although still a small minority of the audience, there were far more black people at the L.A. Porgy and Bess than is usual at performances of operas from the European canon.

Taking my seat inside the Music Center I flipped through the program in search of the expected essay on the opera. After fighting through the pages of benefactor lists and advertisements for cars and luxury homes I realized that, unlike the other operas in this year’s series, Porgy and Bess had not even rated an essay. In its place were obnoxious articles on “California Cuisine” and the “Summer Bonanza: a look at what’s Hot and New in the Southern California Housing market.” There was no information in the program on the genesis of the opera, and nothing about the librettists (Heyward and Dorothy DuBose, Ira Gershwin) or the composer—not even their dates.

The imperatives of corporate advertising aside, I can understand why no essay was included. Any honest writer would have undoubtedly followed the injunction of Duke Ellington, who, on seeing the first production of the opera in 1935, wrote that “The times are here to debunk Gershwin’s lampblack Negroisms.” It goes without saying that debunking is not one of this opera producers’ favorite pastimes, especially when it concerns an American classic that draws full houses. Rather than confront the problems posed by Porgy and Bess, the L.A. production chose simply to ignore them.

Friday, July 24, 2020

NAACP to Host Virtual Town Hall Featuring Senator Mitt Romney

Washington D.C. (July 23, 2020) – NAACP will host a Virtual Town Hall featuring Senator Mitt Romney and NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson on Wednesday, July 29 at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT.

They will discuss the global public health crisis and social justice uprisings which have brought awareness to the ongoing disparities and systemic racism present throughout our nation. The conversation will be moderated by Journalist April Ryan and will provide an opportunity for audience questions
All can participate in the hour-long program via interactive toll-free conference call or watch the livestream on the NAACP’s website at To join via phone, dial (866) 757-0756 and to join the conversation on social media follow @NAACP.

Participants will have the opportunity to hear remarks from Senator Mitt Romney and Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP.
Media interested in covering this event can register by visiting, RSVP NOW. Please direct any media inquires to

WHAT: Virtual Town Hall
WHERE: Participant Dial-in: (866) 757 0756 /
WHEN: Wednesday, July 29 at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT.
Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP
Mitt Romney, Senator (R-UT)
April Ryan, Journalist


Founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the country, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is the largest and most pre-eminent civil rights organization in the nation. We have over 2,200 units and branches across the nation, along with well over 2M activists. Our mission is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.

NOTE: The Legal Defense Fund – also referred to as the NAACP-LDF was founded in 1940 as a part of the NAACP, but separated in 1957 to become a completely separate entity. It is recognized as the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and shares our commitment to equal rights.