Black Classical Origins10th Anniversary Gala


The concept for Black Classical Origins began 13 years ago when Richard King accepted a challenge from Dallas Dort, who was then chairman of the Flint Institute of Music, to think of more effective ways for the Flint Symphony Orchestra to reach out to Flint’s black middle class residents. Lennetta Coney soon joined the steering committee for what was then called, “The Black Classical Music Family Festival.” Although the name has changed, the goal has remained the same. “We wanted to be certain that it was inviting to get the African American community to pay attention to what we were doing,” Lennetta explains. “It’s a two-way process,” Richard adds. “We’re getting the community interested in the Symphony, but we need to recognize the fact that a lot of minority composers have also contributed to classical music. That’s why we call it Black Classical Origins.”

Richard began seeking out black fraternities, sororities and service organizations, like the Flint chapter of The Links. The fraternities include Alpha Psi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Phi Psi, and Sigma Pi Psi, and the sororities include Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, and Zeta Psi Beta. These participating organizations, in addition to the sponsors, are meant to be highlighted as role models for the Flint area. The FIM was also a big help. “[FIM President] Paul Torre was absolutely supportive from day one,” Richard says. “All the resources he could spare, he made available.”

It took two years to discuss, strategize and debate how to implement their ideas for active involvement with the black community. “We were concentrating on getting people to attend the Symphony, and it morphed from there,” says Lennetta.

It began as Black History Week, with Sylvia Pittman’s plays performed in conjunction with a family dinner event. “It was all about getting people used to coming to our facility,” says Richard. One year, they held an open house that allowed students to interact with different instruments – a sort of musical “petting zoo.”

After the two-year planning period, they were able to host their first gala event. “We wanted to make this more into a fundraiser, so we started the gala to raise money for scholarship,” Richard says. Scholarships offered are based on need as well as merit for those pursuing drama, dance and music. So far, they have awarded 46 merit scholarships (selected through an audition process) and 34 tuition assistance awards ranging from $75 to $500. Black Classical Origins chooses African American contenders from those who auditioned through the Flint School of Performing Arts. “We expanded on what they were already doing,” Richard explains. Throughout the ten years, over $29,000 has been raised for scholarships.

The overall mission of Black Classical Origins is to embrace world class diversity – honoring and celebrating differences between cultures and to commemorate the role that black classical composers and musicians have historically played in composing, performing and shaping classical music. The local mission is to promote FIM as a place where all community members – especially African Americans – feel welcome, stemming from the reaction to a lack of African American community members attending Cultural Center events. “I would go to these events and I would look around, and I wouldn’t see anyone who looked like me,” Lennetta shares. “And I thought: it’s a travesty to have all of this richness here and not have my community exposed to it.”

Guest artists have come to produce workshops for high school students, as well as perform with the FSO. “I strongly believe that there is an appreciation with the general audience on what African Americans have contributed to classical music,” Lennetta says. And from her observations so far, Lennetta has realized an overwhelming realization: “There was an acceptance of that music. It’s a cross-cultural awareness thing, and that’s why what we’re doing is so unique.”

The Black Classical Origins Committee is currently working on deciding if they want to emphasize classical music composers who are black, or feature black guest artists. “Up until this year, we have emphasized seeing people perform in different settings,” Richard says. “This year, we have a Cuban artist who is performing an original black composer’s work. If that’s not diversity, I don’t know what is!” Lennetta adds with a laugh.

This year’s gala will consist of dinner, a program and reception, and a concert featuring the violinist, Ilmar Gavilán. The gala will be held on February 20, 2016 at the FIM, starting at 5:30pm.
If you’re interested in sponsoring or donating to the event, contact Cathy Prevett at 810.237.3122.

Discover Your Own Majestic Origins…

On February 20, the Flint Symphony Orchestra and Conductor Enrique Diemecke will welcome guest violinist, Ilmar Gavilán. A native of Havana, Cuba, Gavilán has performed all over the world, has taught at Juilliard School’s Music Advancement Program, and is a Grammy-winning recording artist. Alongside his accomplished classical music career, Jazz and Afro-Cuban music has found a shining place in his musical life. The works he will perform with the FSO include “Mountain, Monument & Song” by William Grant Still, Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, and Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7. The concert is sponsored by First Merit Bank and Mr. Gavilán is sponsored by Genesys/Hurley Cancer Institute.
“This year, we have a Cuban artist who is performing an original black composer’s work. If that’s not diversity, I don’t know what is!” Lennetta Coney


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