The Crusader Newspaper Group

CMPI seeking applicants to address lack of minorities in orchestras

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ

Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative (CMPI) is a mentorship program that was launched last fall for talented student musicians from traditionally under-represented backgrounds. The Initiative is inviting dedicated music students to audition for its second cohort of ‘Fellows’ starting in the 2020-21 academic year. CMPI offers its Fellows a comprehensive training curriculum that includes weekly private lessons, monthly mentorship from professional musicians, panel feedback, masterclasses, family seminars and workshops, complimentary concert tickets, financial support, and more. Online applications for the 2020-21 cohort are due July 3. This process will be followed by virtual information sessions, pre-screening audition video submissions and final audition video submissions throughout July.  For application guidelines and to sign up, visit [].

Acknowledging that African American and Latinx musicians hold less than 3 percent of the positions in major American orchestras (League of American Orchestras), the mission of CMPI is to identify and develop gifted and motivated orchestral students from under-represented backgrounds for acceptance into top-tier conservatory, college or university classical music programs in preparation for careers as professional musicians. The inaugural class of CMPI Fellows, which just completed its first year of study, ranges from 6th grade through 12th grade and reflects the diversity of the city of Chicago (44 percent African American, 40 percent Latinx, 10 percent Southeast Asian and 6 percent South Asian).

Adrienne Thompson merit music
Adrienne Thompson

“With the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we assure young musicians that their dreams are within reach. We help them create a supportive community with other students and mentors. We teach them to network with professional musicians of color that have preceded them on this path,” said Adrienne Thompson, CMPI Director. “As our seniors begin the next phase of their training, we look forward to seeing how they will change the demographic makeup of classical music and have a positive impact on the world.”

She added: “We are looking for talented African American student musicians who play an orchestral instrument to apply and become a part of our program. One of our African American students is a brilliant cellist who lives on the South Side and will be attending Rice University on a scholarship to study music in the fall. We cannot wait to welcome others to join us and be part of the change.”

The Crusader reached out to Thompson for further insight into the value of this program. “This program is not just a group of organizations doing charitable work; it is righting an injustice. When a student gets to a certain level, talent is no longer the limit. Success is determined by talent plus the amount of work a student puts in and whether or not they are exposed to certain resources. Students from upper income communities and white communities have had the tools and access to resources needed to be successful in classical music,” Thompson said. “Our job is to make sure such access is equally distributed to students from under-represented communities as well. We help talented students of color become competitive in the field by giving them access to the highest quality training, facilities, information, and feedback, as well as necessary financial resources, that they would not have otherwise.”

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A YOUNG LADY plays the violin as part of her involvement in CMPI.

CMPI is a support group that helps students stay on track for long enough to pursue music as a career. Thompson explained the challenges. “Training a classical musician takes 10 years, or 10,000 practice hours, as some may say. There are so many ‘exit ramps’—opportunities for distraction or financial roadblocks—on the road to success. Too often, students from under-represented backgrounds take these exit ramps due to the lack of support. Our job is to remove the barriers and keep the students on the ‘highway’ instead of taking exits, by matching them with the right teacher who holds higher expectations of the student and provides constant feedback, all helping them stick to the amount of work necessary in becoming competitive in the industry.”

Another goal of the program is to provide an oasis that helps the students focus on themselves musically and shield out other ‘noise’ coming from microaggressions. CMPI eliminates a discriminative music education environment for the student fellows so they can focus on the art and give them strength and confidence to stand up for injustice.

As orchestras locally and globally look to bring diverse musicians to the forefront, this initiative, and the support that it provides for youth, is crucial. “The classical music world is a white space. We are working to help young musicians of color navigate through this space and level the playing field for them in orchestras. Currently there are 50 fellows in our program, who all play an orchestral instrument and have the goal of becoming a professional musician.

Upon their graduation we will be creating a critical mass of student musicians of color going to conservatories and professional music schools, which will be affecting the statistics of future makeup of American orchestras,” Thompson added.

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And as orchestras become more diverse, audience members will benefit from seeing members who mirror society overall—and not just a particular segment. “Classical music should not be a privilege to only certain demographics, and orchestras need to engage a broader segment of the population, which is crucial in enabling our orchestras to survive. We need a change of faces in orchestras in order to help expand access to everyone so they can develop an appreciation and understanding of classical music,” Thompson concluded.

All seven high school senior fellows in the program have earned spots in highly competitive professional music schools including Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia), DePaul University (Chicago), Northern Illinois University (DeKalb, 2 fellows admitted), Peabody Institute of John Hopkins University (Baltimore),  Rice University (Houston) and University of Texas (Austin); notably, the students’ musical and academic achievements earned them a total of some $3.8 million in financial aid scholarships.

The Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative (CMPI) is a multi-organization collaborative effort established in 2018 with an extraordinary $3.5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Participating organizations include Merit School of Music, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras, Chicago High School for the Arts, Chicago Sinfonietta, Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, DePaul University School of Music and Ravinia Festival.

Learn more about CMPI at [].

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