Amid achievements, challenges remain for African-American classical musicians

Posted on: August 16, 2013

On Wednesday (8/14) at NPR, Celeste Headlee interviews violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins and cellist Kenneth Law, members of the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra, on “the rich heritage of African-Americans in classical music.… [It] is all too often overlooked, or sometimes simply unknown. The Gateways Music Festival hopes to change that…. Today, [it] celebrates its 20th anniversary in Rochester, New York.… The tradition of classical music for African-Americans goes back hundreds of years. And yet, as a black musician in a professional orchestra, that can be a lonely position to be.… ‘There are any number of issues that come into play,’ says Law.… ‘The challenge is to find ways of making that classical music more accessible to the younger generation.’… ‘What may be missing [is] African-American role models in music,’ says Hall-Tompkins.… ‘I had people in South Carolina who took an interest in me, who let me know what the cultural conversation was, what the culturally relevant musical experiences were for a young person and helped introduce me to those.’ … ‘That whole idea of classical music as being an integral part of your life is enough,’ says Law…. ‘You can express yourself exactly the same way in classical music that you can in other forms of music.’ ”

Posted August 16, 2013

Pictured: Ritz Chamber Players, whose mission is to support chamber music through performances and educational outreach featuring preeminent African-American musicians and composers.