Harmony in Diversity

began to study the violin at age 5, inspired by my adoptive mother, who was an amateur violinist.

The sounds of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo deeply touched me as a young person: I felt an instant connection to the instrument and a strong affinity to play. Thus began my lifelong journey in music, which my solace during difficult times and my inspiration for years to come.

At two weeks old, I was adopted by a Jewish family from New York. I was fortunate to have had the exposure and access to classical music as a young person. Throughout my life, I searched for my birth parents, as I yearned to understand my roots, where I came from, while still working to define my role in the world.

When I was 30, I was reunited with my birth family and learned that my parents eventually married and had my sister. I have since enjoyed a wonderful relationship with them and also learned that affinity toward music was also reflective of my father’s early years playing the drums in a variety of local bands.

As a Black, White, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, Irish Catholic man, I found a deeper meaning behind my commitment to diversity. Nationally, Blacks and Latinos comprise 4.2 percent of American orchestras, combined. As a young person in musical circumstance, I have always been aware of the lack of diversity around me.

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When I was a student, pursuing my Bachelor’s in Violin Performance at the University of Michigan, I began to think of ways to address this lack of representation by launching a program which would focus on identifying young musicians of color and providing them with educational and professional development opportunities.

Thus was born the Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latino string players, which is now an internationally acclaimed program, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

The above statistic, while dramatically unbalanced in relation to the population representation of these two minority groups, has grown since the inception of Sphinx. This effort was launched in order to increase the participation of Blacks and Latinos in classical music, a medium often devoid of diversity and inclusiveness.

Historical and societal barriers have precluded people of color from feeling welcome in this field. Today, the Sphinx Organization strives to change that fact through unprecedented educational, exposure and professional development opportunities afforded to the young people of color in music.

The Sphinx Competition will bring 19 of the country’s top young Black and Latino string players to Southeast Michigan, beginning Wednesday, Feb. 8. Over the past 15 years, Sphinx artists have made more than 250 solo appearances with orchestras around the country, engaged 100,000 young people in schools and community centers nationwide, and reached 5 million in broadcast audiences.

Selected from a national pool of applicants, the 19 semi-finalists will compete for more than $25,000 in prizes, performance opportunities with major orchestras across the country and full- tuition scholarships to leading music institutions. This year's semi-finalists range in age from 12 to 25, and hail from 12 states.

The nationally broadcast Finals Concert will be held Sunday, Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. at Orchestra Hall, located at 3711 Woodward Ave., in Detroit. For the first time in Sphinx’s history, the live audience will be able to text their Audience Choice nominations at the concert. The winner will receive live recognition and a cash award in addition to other prizes.

This celebration is the ultimate opportunity for young people to experience the amazing performances by their peers from around the country, and to gain inspiration from classical music. Each year, I continue to derive immense joy and a sense of pride when I meet our young artists, who will truly shape the future of classical music an art form relevant to our community.

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