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September 2013
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Playing Music Isn’t Enough

Jessie Montgomery of the Catalyst Quartet

Jessie Montgomery of the Catalyst Quartet

Impromptu recorded LIVE on Monday



Whether it’s fighting for equal treatment, equal opportunity, or just trying to understand someone else, people struggle with diversity in our society. Classical musicians are accustomed to diversity (they don’t necessarily even speak the same language as some of the people they play with), but they’ve all experienced one type of prejudice: prevailing stereotypes toward classical music can leave a player feeling pretty bruised. How many ad execs, for example, reach for classical music when they want to characterize something stuffy? Or, how often do people’s eyes glaze over when a player says, “I’m a classical musician.” It’s a specialized world that isn’t widely understood.

With all these issues swirling around them, the Sphinx Organization took an activist’s role, and started staging string competitions in Detroit for black and Latino youths, from middle school through college. Every day they work to give voice to minorities, while involving new communities in classical music. The Sphinx Organization has gone on to support a number of different projects, including professional performing ensembles: the Sphinx Virtuosi tour the country, as does the Catalyst Quartet. Both groups are composed of alumni who’ve gone pro. They play everywhere from Macon, GA to Carnegie Hall. The Sphinx ensembles succeed in the classical establishment while taking their message beyond there, to communities that are often overlooked. With every concert, whether it’s in Harlem or in Danville, KY, the players experience the transformative power of music. Yes, audiences have to face up to some differences in the way people look, or dress, or speak; or maybe the music is not what they’re used to, but once they play, none of these things matter—and that’s the point.

The Catalyst Quartet will go live on WFMT, for an Impromptu at 3:00 PM.




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