I spent last week away from the air waves and on the stage. The annual Artosphere Festival in Fayetteville, AR was lots of fun, as it's been for me the past 5 years, but this year it felt a little different, still.
Since moving to Minnesota I've been fully dedicated to racial/gender equity in classical music. In my opinion, there's no reason to not have something by a woman or POC on any program, and unfortunately the festival stuck to the tradition of programs filled with music by dead (or really old) white men. During the rehearsal process for the first concert, I kept thinking to myself, "Damn, I'm glad I left this performance world officially". The music is great, don't get me wrong, but again, why NOT program something that showcases classical music's diversity? This, coupled with being the only black person in the orchestra for concert 1 left me with the feeling that I'm in the wrong space - I felt like I wasn't speaking to my experiences, or to anyone with a similar experience.
During the applause following the first concert, the maestro asked the winds to stand, and I could clearly see a black guy near the front row doing everything he could to grab my attention. When I finally looked down, he was raising his fist in full black power, and I returned the gesture. The following morning, I was walking down the street and was stopped by a black woman who was also at the concert, and she thanked me for my presence there. I can't even tell you how excited I was by those two exchanges. It felt like my being there actually mattered. It felt like I was doing a part of the work I feel is so important, even though I was doing it by way of old, dead, white composers.
Me and my friend Aaron ended up meeting the black guy I exchanged a black power first with at a local food truck a few days later. His name is Dennis, and he talked about how he enjoys seeing classical music to diversify his experiences. Seeing me on stage added to his experience, and him seeing me validated the work I continue to do. There are days when classical music definitely feels like "white people music" to me, but even if I'm able to impact the life of just one POC in live performances I feel like I've done my job. I'm still glad that I left the stage officially, though - there are countless more POCs for me to reach over the airwaves. When orchestras start programming more equitably the performance bug may bite again, but for now I'm happy with where I am.
Thoughts of black power, equity, and liberation actually inspired my newest tattoo - this makes 11 tattoos for me so far! What do you think?