The University Record, February 18, 1998

U hosts competition for minority musicians

Graduate music student Aaron Dworkin (right), shown with his mentor Stephen Shipps, has created the Sphinx Competition to encourage Black and Latino children to develop an interest in string instruments. Twelve young musicians will participate in semi-finals on Feb. 27. Photo by Rebecca A. Doyle


By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

A musician's heritage can add new interpretations to classical music, says Aaron Dworkin, a U-M graduate student in violin performance and founder of the Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latino string players.

His own experiences of being the only Black violinist with various youth ensembles and in national music camps spurred Dworkin to develop this competition, which will host performances by semi-finalists at 5 p.m. Feb. 27 in Rackham Auditorium.

"Classical music is generally not a large part of the Black and Latino culture," Dworkin says. "There is not a strong presence of the music genre to work from." He hopes his Sphinx Competition will encourage Black and Latino families to help their children develop an interest in string instruments.

With arts programs being cut in the inner city schools where most minority children are enrolled, Dworkin feels that the study of music at young ages will aid in developing discipline, goal setting, and math and analytical skills. He wants the Sphinx experience to foster a friendly, competitive environment that promotes shared experiences and networking for young minority musicians and helps break down racial barriers. "I also want the public to know the quality of the pool of talent that's already out there," Dworkin says.

Twelve semi-finalists, ages 13-19, will be here for the competition. Seven are violinists, two are violists, two are bass players and one plays the cello. Of those, three finalists will appear with the Ann Arbor Symphony under guest conductor Michael Morgan at 4 p.m. March 1 in Hill Auditorium.

The first prize of $10,000, to be announced at the March 1 concert, also includes a performance opportunity with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.

Judges for the competition include cellist David Baker of Indiana University, Dominique Delerma of Lawrence University, Richard Fields of Cincinnati University and Stephen Shipps of the U-M.

A practitioner of what he preaches, Dworkin continues to explore the versatility of the violin, especially the electric violin, through his integration of hip-hop and R & B rhythms into classical music. By combining rhythms from a minority heritage with traditional European classical music, Dworkin hopes to bring people of varied backgrounds and cultures to a point of greater understanding and tolerance.

Serving not only as its founder and executive director, Dworkin also has been the principal fund-raiser for the competition. Contributors to the nearly $110,000 budget for the project include James Wolfensohn, Masco, the Ford Foundation, the Ann Arbor Community Foundation and President's New Century Fund at the U-M.

Admission to the semi-final performances Feb. 27 is free. No tickets are required. The symphony performance March 1 also is free, but tickets are required and can be obtained by calling 763-7014.