Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Stanford Daily: The Sphinx Organization: Bringing Diversity to the Classical Music World

Photo by Jocelyn Woods and Mariam Sulakian.

The Stanford Daily
By on July 14, 2020

I remember my first rehearsal with a semi-professional orchestra. I arrived early at the church we were meeting at and set up my chair. The hall slowly filled as I set up my music stand and bent down to open my case. By the time the conductor arrived, everyone else had taken their seats. Being new and very nervous, I didn’t know what to make of this group of musicians. Only one thing stood out to me — they were all white, every last one of them, except for me.

This is an all-too-familiar picture for classical musicians of color worldwide. Chamber groups and orchestras, both amateur and professional, tend to be dominated by white musicians, according to the League of American Orchestras. It is often difficult to find a truly representative classical music group, one that includes members of the Black and Latinx communities, and this is something that the Sphinx Organization is aiming to change.

“The mission is to transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts, and we do so through programs that span ages and demographic categories,” Sphinx president and artistic director Afa S. Dworkin said.

The organization offers programs that reach around ten thousand participants and serve them throughout their classical music careers, from early education to professional training and leadership development. In each of these fields, the programs provide opportunities that many of the students would not have been exposed to otherwise.

For many people of color, it may be difficult to enter the world of classical music due to a lack of exposure. The organization partners with schools in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, to provide classical music education to young people from diverse backgrounds. They provide the students with lessons and materials, including instruments and sheet music, free of charge.

As students grow older and look for professional opportunities, they may begin to feel discouraged by the lack of diversity — the lack of people like them in major orchestras and chamber groups. The Sphinx organization offers programs including orchestral groups and the Sphinx Performance Academy, which provide a unique opportunity for pre-college and college-age students to play in a setting that is both professional and culturally diverse.

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