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Home » Articles » SphinxConnect: An Epicenter for Artists and Leaders in Diversity


SphinxConnect: An Epicenter for Artists and Leaders in Diversity

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After 20 years of solid growth, SphinxConnect has become the quintessential gathering for black and Latinx musicians. It brings together talented artists, businesses, national funding agencies, and academics to share philosophical and practical strategies that connect talented artist-practitioners of symphonic music. The 22nd annual Sphinx Competition, held prior to SphinxConnect, offers young black and Latinx classical musicians a chance to compete under the guidance of an internationally renowned panel of judges and to perform with established professional musicians in a competition setting.

Over the years, the cooperative effort of these individuals and organizations has generated significant results that will lead to lasting solutions to questions surrounding diversity and inclusion in American orchestras. Most notably, American orchestras have now invested financially in their diversity.

The 2019 Sphinx Symphony Orchestra performing under the direction of Maestro Michael Morgan, performing at SphinxConnect in the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, Detroit, Michigan.

Key to the success of this professional growth is the chance to coordinate high level performance opportunities. Historically, several institutions have emerged as pillars to provide exceptional performance opportunities for musicians of color.

The Sphinx Symphony Orchestra is one of many ensembles that has served this purpose. Historically, organizations like Baltimore Colored Symphony Orchestra founded in 1930 under Music Director William Llewellyn Wilson; the Chicago Sinfonietta founded in 1987 by Maestro Paul Freeman; and the Symphony of the New World of New York (not to be confused with the New World Symphony in Florida) founded in 1965 by Lucille Dixon, Elaine Jones, Harry Smyles, Joe Wilder, Wilmer Wise, and Kermit Moore, under the direction of Maestros Dean Dixon, Everett Lee, and Benjamin Steinberg. This orchestra, of which I was a member from 1972-1975, served as the predecessor to today’s Sphinx Orchestra, which showcases extraordinary talents. The Sphinx Orchestra is currently led by Maestro Michael Morgan, music director of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra and the Gateways Music Festival.

Diversity in Orchestras

I have been involved in orchestra diversity for many years now. I took my first deep dive into the professional world as a player in 1971. I was first immersed in this world of orchestral diversity when I was selected to participate in the Music Assistance Fund (MAF) program, which selected 15 minority players from around the US to be mentored, rehearse, and perform with the New York Philharmonic in 1973. I had previously performed in Washington, DC, as an extra player with the National Symphony Orchestra and as principal timpanist of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and Baltimore Opera Orchestra. The MAF experience, under New York Phil Administrator Dr. Leon Thompson, served as my launching pad to the world of diversity in American orchestras. That experience left me following the ups and downs for 46 years.

I know that diversity can be achieved with the right focus as illustrated by the exceptional work of Aaron and Afa Dworkin and the Sphinx administrative team. “Transforming lives through the power of diversity” has been the organization’s focus for more than 20 years. For those who need a vision, you need not look any farther than the accompanying photo.

The AFM’s Investment

As noted by Sphinx administrators, the AFM has a long history of supporting the organization. More than half of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra comprises AFM members who work under collective bargaining agreements across the US. This year, the AFM was represented by Symphonic Services Director Rochelle Skolnick, Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) President John Michael Smith, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Chair Meredith Snow, ICSOM Delegate Brad Mansell, ROPA Board Member Maya Stone, and me.

Like many professional minority driven projects across the US that offer professional performing opportunities to musicians of color, SphinxConnect is an AFM investment that continues to yield positive results.

The AFM Diversity Committee wants to hear about your experiences. We encourage you to tell us your union diversity stories to possibly share them and inspire others. By joining forces and resources, we can all achieve our shared goal of artistic excellence and recognition. Write to me at apollard@afm.org or to AFM Diversity Committee Chair Lovie Smith-Wright at lsw@afmhouston.com.







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