and its founder,
give a boost to tale
minority string p
few years ago, Aaron Dworkin, founder
and executive director of the Sphinx
Organization, published a collection of
poems tided They Said I Wasn't Really
Black (Ethnovibe; 1999).
It's a provocative title, but Dworkin, born to an
Irish-American mother and a black father, adopted
as an infant by a New York City couple and raised
Jewish, has been provocative his whole life — even
if the provocation was unintentional.
"I was a violinist at 5 years old," he says.
"Growing up, I was usually the only black violinist
in the orchestra."
After studying with Vladimir Graffman in New
York, Dworkin says he was "on a downhill spiral"
after his parents — both behavioral scientists —
moved to a small town in Pennsylvania without a
substantial black population or the cultural envi-
ronment he was used to in New York.
But the story had a happy ending for Dworkin, who
finished high school at Michigan's Interlochen Arts
Academy and earned bachelor's and master's degrees
from the University of Michigan School of Music.
Dworkin, 33, began the Sphinx Organization eight
years ago for young people like himself— black and
Latino string players who tend to feel alone and con-
fiised about their roles in the world of classical music.
Along the way, he wants to change the environment
and expectations for minority musicians.
The American Symphony Orchestral League
(ASOL) estimates that about 1.4 percent of the mem-
bers of its , approximately 200 ensembles are black; a
similar number are Hispanic.
Dworkin has set out to change these statistics.
Every year, the Sphinx Organization runs the single
nationwide classical music competition open only to
minority string players. This year, the competition
takes place Feb. 19-22.
Judging for this year's Sphinx Competition takes place
at a series of three events in Ann Arbor and Detroit, all
open to the public. (See sidebar for more information.)
Applicants, who range from junior high through
college age, compete for cash awards, scholarships and
opportunities to perform as soloists with major
orchestras and in recitals at Border's bookstores. They
also participate in master classes and receive loans of
The- final concert of the 2004 competition, set for
2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, at Detroit's Orchestra Hall,
features the three Senior Division finalists and the
Junior Division winner accompanied by the 60-mem-
ber Sphinx Symphony Orchestra. Each year, Detroit
Public Television records the Sphinx Finals Concert
for future broadcast. In addition, the concert is syndi-
cated to PBS stations nationwide.
"There are black people who say, 'Western
European music — that's foo-foo stuff,"' Dworkin
says. "Then they hear one of our kids, and they say,
`Whoa — wait a minute.'"
Several years ago, Dworkin gained some notoriety in
musical circles by criticizing the practice of blind audi-
tions — auditioning an anonymous performer behind
CLASSICS on page 37