black girls black musicians classical music fine arts inclusion misogyny music orchestra performing arts
For the Black Girls Who Play Strings7/11/2014
We celebrate Black hip hop artists, jazz players, R&B singers and Pop artists, but what about our classically trained Black string play...
My involvement in the classical world spanned from the seventh grade to my first year of college. The years of training were filled with recitals, private instruction, long rehearsals and – not surprisingly – an overwhelming lack of enthusiasm from the rest of the school in both middle and high school. It wasn’t just the students who were uninterested, many of the parents, teachers, and administrators were unable to mask their disinterest. Part of this lack of enthusiasm, I always felt, was due to my suspicions that nobody was interested in seeing young black girls play Mozart.
If anyone tried to deny our skill, we would point to the fact that our high school’s music major was an incredibly demanding program: music theory and harmony courses, piano classes, and music history were used to sculpt us into the best classical musicians in the Detroit area. Many of us were hand-selected by the conductor himself, and we frequently played at venues such as the Fox Theater, Orchestra Hall, and other prestigious venues. We were hard-working and dedicated to our craft, and, despite our notoriety throughout the area, our spotlight was dim compared to the male-dominated marching band performances.
Our concerts were called "boring" and a myriad of other adjectives that were never used to describe the performances of the rest of the fine arts department. The seats in the school auditorium stood empty in contrast to the completely filled auditorium when the band performed. Often - no matter how skilled a person or a group of people is - the support of young women seems to be the last priority. The preference of the more masculine marching band held misogynistic undertones and left me feeling as though the options for young black girls was only limited to traditionally accepted forms of self expression (such as dance or singing), and we weren't fully welcome in the music community.
Sensing the lack of community support, our conductor took us to the annual Sphinx Competition in Ann Arbor, so that we could see and be inspired by the performances of other black string players - many of them black girls. His methods worked, and for a few weeks we coasted on the fact that somewhere in the world black string players were appreciated and their talents praised. Even with a majority black female program, the misogynoir experienced by those on the inside created a sense of exclusion and isolation.
We prioritize the masculine over the perceived feminine and it has devastating effects. The underlying misogyny decreases support and the representation of black women in the classical world that exists often goes ignored. The spotlight for the young black women who play the strings is often diverted to the men in the same program or other musicians who fit into the overwhelming preference for masculinity. Black female classical musicians do not receive the same support as their male counterparts. It is time for us to embrace and encourage our girls who venture into the classical world, and to not dismiss their hard work as trivial.
Let's not extinguish the spotlight on the black girls who play the strings. Let's uplift them and tell them that they are talented, appreciated, and just as worthy of praise as their more "popular" counterparts.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Kinsey Clarke is a senior at Michigan State University. She enjoys aerial silks and solo trapeze in her spare time. You can follow her personal Twitter account here: (@tiny_kinsey)