Spotlight Non-profit: Opening the doors to top-tier American orchestras for Latino and Black student musicians

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Among the nation’s classical musical orchestras, blacks and Latinos only constitute 5% of the musicians. A man by the name of Aaron P. Dworkin vowed to change those dismal statistics.

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With a vision to make classical music reflect the nation’s cultural diversity and have it play a role in the everyday lives of young people, Dworkin founded, in 1996, the Sphinx Organization.

Its’ mission is:

To increase the participation of Blacks & Latinos in music schools as professional musicians and as classical music audiences.

To administer youth development initiatives in underserved communities through music education.

To promote the creation, performance, and preservation of works by Black & Latino composers.

Since Sphinx was founded, there has been a 50% increase in the number of black musicians in top‐tier American orchestras. Also, over the past 11 years, the Sphinx Organization has awarded more than $1 million in prizes and scholarships, not to mention, opened the doors for thousands of musical students of color, who otherwise would not have achieved their dreams, of belonging to a top-tier orchestra.

The Sphinx Organization sponsors a number of programs to help the budding classical musician. Programs range from music assistance and instrument funds to professional development programs that help the young artists prepare for a career in classical music to various in-school music programs and a recital series where semi-finalists of the Sphinx competition perform in Border bookstores around the country.

In fact, it’s the Sphinx competition that is the heart and soul of this musical non-profit.

The Sphinx Competition is held every year in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan. The competition is open to all Junior High, High School, and College age Black and Latino string players residing in the U.S.

The Sphinx Competition offers young Black and Latino classical string players 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. Its primary goals are to encourage, develop and recognize classical music talent in the Black and Latino communities.

The Sphinx Organization also assembles one of the most unique symphonies in the country as well — an all-Black and Latino orchestra comprised of top professionals from around the country.

The ensemble fills a multi-purpose role: its members serve as mentors to the young musicians both on stage and through providing master classes and lectures, and promote works by Black and Latino composers during the Sphinx Finals Concert.

While the Sphinx Organization is geared to older students, a companion website, Sphinx Kids!, was created to start teaching music history, orchestra placement and instrument appreciation to younger children.

The Sphinx Organization gets money from grants, foundations, the selling of CDs and DVDs of their musical competitions and music ensembles comprised of Sphinx “laureates” from the competitions.

Yet, the need to supply on a national scale the kind of training, mentoring and access to instruments and music that is necessary for these students to turn into world-class classical musicians is great. So, the Sphinx Organization created an online donor page where just even $5 can mean a lot.

(Editor’s note: Today, Feb. 5, 2010, at noon EST, the Sphinx Organization holds its 12th annual competition. It will be streamed live from their homepage.)

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