In the spirit of the season, you will probably attend concerts of your favorite holiday music, perhaps Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” or Handel’s “Messiah.” As a classical music lover, you will undoubtedly look into the pit or at the stage to marvel at the accomplished musicians whose years of dedication make your concert-going experience unforgettable. You may take the brief cacophonous moments before the concert begins to let your mind wander and to contemplate the future of classical music. Will your children and grandchildren have the same opportunities to enjoy this beautiful live music that you adore? You can help to ensure that they will.
For the past five years, the Rachel Barton Pine (RBP) Foundation has been actively working to expand the awareness of and appreciation for classical music. Currently, we have four programs which support music education and young artists. I’d like to share some stories about these programs and young musicians with you.
Our curriculum project, Music by Black Composers (MBC), is moving towards completion of its first phase, Volumes 1-5 for Violin. Through extensive research, we have collected more than 300 works for stringed instruments by composers of African descent from around the world. One interesting discovery was Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780). Born on a slave ship and orphaned shortly after his birth, he overcame his difficult beginning to become the first Black musician in Britain to publish his compositions—three collections of Minuets and other dances, and one book of songs.
The primary goal of MBC is to encourage and inspire African-American string students to begin or progress in their musical education by teaching them that classical music is part of their culture and heritage. A few weeks ago, a group of predominantly African-American children from the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute performed a selection of Sancho’s works, along with music by Florence Price, Frank Johnson, and the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. All of these beautiful pieces were being performed by children for the first time in decades if not centuries. The audience was moved to tears by these talented violinists, ranging in age from 4-15. One child summed up his feelings best when he said, “It was really cool to play a piece by a Black composer! I didn’t even know any existed.”
The RBP Foundation’s Instrument Loan Program allows gifted young artists to benefit from the use of high-quality stringed instruments that otherwise would not be available to them. The program currently supports eight recipients, including 14-year-old Icelandic violinist Hulda Jónsdóttir. Enormously talented and dedicated, Hulda was already soloing with orchestras in her country, but was performing on a violin that was clearly unsuitable for her level of playing. Sadly, she could not afford a more appropriate instrument. However, thanks to a generous donation this past fall, the RBP Foundation was able to present her with the loan of an Italian violin and a French bow. Hulda is now able to express herself without limitations as demonstrated by the growth in her artistry—she is currently the youngest student ever accepted to the Iceland Academy of the Arts.
The RBP Foundation’s Grants for Education and Career provides financial assistance to young musicians by supplementing various costs not usually covered by traditional music scholarships. This summer, we received an application from a 9-year-old violin prodigy who was accepted to study at a prestigious music festival on the east coast. The festival offered her a scholarship for tuition, and although her family was able to provide for travel expenses, they could not afford the cost of room and board. With a grant from the RBP Foundation, this gifted young artist was able to attend the summer music festival for the full four weeks. She blossomed in the intensive environment of practicing, rehearsing with chamber groups, performing, and bonding with peers.
Our newest initiative is Global HeartStrings. This program benefits aspiring classical musicians in developing countries who cannot obtain such basic supplies as rosin, strings, reeds, and sheet music. The RBP Foundation is currently gathering materials to send to Haiti, Kenya, and Ghana, and has already sent three boxes of supplies to Nigeria. Here is an excerpt from a letter from Ogunyemi Titus Oladimeji, a Nigerian violist: “Thanks for those wonderful materials. It was very amazing to see those gifts. Thanks so much for the love you have towards developing young musicians in the underdeveloped world. You have already put a big smile on the faces of so many classical instrumentalists here in Nigeria.” We look forward to continuing to get to know these enthusiastic musicians who demonstrate classical music’s ability to speak to and unite people from diverse cultures.
The future of classical music depends on supporting talented students and young professional musicians during the early, formative years of their development. With your help, these young artists will inspire the next generations as they provide the world with many years of beautiful music. Your gift is truly the gift of a lifetime.