We asked eight Black Suzuki alumni to share their thoughts on the role of music in their lives, how the Suzuki philosophy can guide us through these tumultuous times, and advice for students and teachers.

The musicians:

Khari Joyner

Khari Joyner, Concert Cellist, Chamber Musician, and Pedagogue

Tahirah Whittington

Tahirah Whittington, Cellist—Dear Evan Hansen National Tour; D-Composed; Ritz Chamber Players; Matt Jones Orchestra

Kev Marcus

Kev Marcus, Violinist, Black Violin

Rachel Jordan

Rachel Jordan, Violinist /Teacher/Producer

Regina Carter

Regina Carter, Violinist/Educator/Director, Geri Allen Jazz Camp

Image by Christopher Drukker

Katherine Dennis

Katherine Dennis, Violinist/Educator

Derek Reeves

Derek Reeves, Principal Viola, Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra

Brendon Elliott

Brendon Elliott, New World Symphony Fellow

What role has music played for you personally during these tumultuous times, over the past few months?

An extremely crucial role. I have been fortunate enough to still have music during these times through various virtual musical projects that I have created or have been a part. Music has the extreme power of bringing healing and joy during times like this. – KJ

It has fortunately been a mainstay of my work at home. Although live performances are not happening, I’m grateful that I can record and arrange music at home. – TW

It has grounded and comforted me. It has also provided a tool to help me to reach others. – DR

Music has been my saving grace during this pandemic. Although this is a crazy time, it has allowed me a moment to reflect on my life and focus on what’s important. – KM

Music has kept me really busy, teaching and producing this new record with my dad has been my main focus during COVID. I had so much to do with the CD to bring it to market and it’s doing well. I was also teaching my students who looked forward to the interaction. It’s helped to keep me and them going. – RJ

The lock down offered a rare opportunity for my husband, drummer Alvester Garnett, and me to spend time playing, composing, and recording together. Playing music serves as an outlet for us both to process and release our emotions in a healthy manner, our music therapy. – RC

It has been easy to lose my sense of self while quarantining and distancing myself socially. Music has served as a way to rediscover my sense of humanity and connect with others in a time where we are all increasingly isolated. – KD

What does the Suzuki quote “It is necessary to be concerned about the importance of educating a really beautiful human spirit” mean to you, especially during the past few months?

I think what it means for me, is constantly sharing both knowledge but also one’s gift to others, so that they can constantly be inspired, nurtured, and supported during times like these. Everyone has been feeling the effects of COVID-19, both on personal and indirect levels, and especially with our recent national protests of social unrest and much needed organized answer for a call to action- the value of education is most important now. The more that we as artists and teachers can keep sharing our knowledge and educating the youth, the more we be able to grow together as a human race but also come to understand how to make sense of everything going on right now.  – KJ

Instead of focusing on talent level, skin color, and social status, focus on cultivating the well-being and education of all people since we are here to inspire one another. – TW

Music is capable of edifying the spirit in ways that other disciplines fail. The shortcomings of the traditional STEM approach with regard to nurturing the human spirit have recently become glaringly apparent in this regard. – DR

Humanity is a trait that seems to be undereducated in our classrooms and music and art is a great way to tap into the human spirit. – KM

Education and curiosity about things around you is the key to being connected. The spirit is nourished by the things we explore and find. The quest is more important in the end. Some questions can be answered, but some are a lifetime of study. Music is one of those studies that is from “The Cradle to the Grave,” as my Dad says on most interviews. – RJ

Sometimes we put so much emphasis on being “correct” and strip the joy out of what it is we are sharing. Everyone should have the opportunity to take music lessons/classes but unfortunately, many are not able to participate due to the lack of means. Music and art help develop empathic abilities. – RC

I have never thought of education as a conduit for beauty, however, ignorance is certainly not beautiful and can be ugly. There are a lot of obstacles that may dilute the human spirit, but as many before have proven and are now proving, the obstacles can be overcome. Personally, these times have relatively easy for me thus far due to the privilege of being in the New World Symphony and the Pandemic Assistance. I hope to use this privilege to continue on my path and educate others in the future. – BE

If you could share one message with young musicians right now, what would it be?

To have hope, but also to believe in yourself. Trusting yourself is the first step, and once you trust and believe in yourself, you can set your mind to anything you wish to accomplish. – KJ

Believe in your unique creativity. Even during a time when there are so many uncertainties, you can creatively express yourself and share that creativity in your own way. – TW

Don’t be afraid to trust your own inner voice. – DR

Be different. Defy Stereotypes. Greatness lies in the cracks of impossibility. – KM

Young musicians need to remain positive and find their voice through their music. You can get there through contemplation and good practice. – RJ

Listen to music from every genre, there is so much beauty out here. Don’t let anyone tell you one music is better or more important than another, music and cultures are connected. And learn the art of improvisation, as it will help with situations outside of music: listening and actually hearing, being flexible, seeing multiple options in any given situation, and it’s fun. – RC

Make more noise! Your voice matters, on and off stage. – KD

Put your finances first. It will likely be even more difficult to find jobs as a musician in the near future. Focus on financial stability. Personally, I wish I had much less college debt than I currently do. – BE

If you could share one message with music educators right now, what would it be?

To never stop educating! Continue to lend a hand to others, teach others, and be willing to seek your own faults and flaws that can help you in turn grow to be a better musician and instructor. – KJ

Nurture your own creativity as well as your students’. Take time to develop yourself and your music-making so that you’ll have more than enough to share with your students, whether that is actual music or positive energy. – TW

Thank you. – DR

Try to get your students to find their own unique voice in their instrument. The one thing I wish the Suzuki method taught me was how to play music that I liked on my instrument. Aim to get your students to identify music that feels good to them and teach them how to find the key and learn how to play the song. Once they are able to pick up their instrument and play something that speaks to them, then the instrument will no longer be their parents’ or their teachers’ instrument, it will be their own. – KM

Educators/teachers and parents (our first teachers) change lives. We help students find their way in this world. I am always glad to hear from my students about how much my lessons have shaped their lives. – RJ

The role teachers serve has always been under appreciated and during these difficult times, their jobs are even more difficult. We are all trying to navigate these times and we don’t know what is going on in the homes of our students, so extra compassion and emotional check-ins are crucial. Improvisation and composing are great avenues for everyone to express their stories without divulging personal information. – RC

We are living in a time where people are polarized, hurting, and looking for a way forward. The beauty of music is that it offers an opportunity for social and emotional healing. We have a duty to our students and to ourselves to share this ability, to spread it, and use our own platforms to empower the next generation of music makers. – KD

I was a student that didn’t strive to do my best, often to the dismay of my teachers. I realize now that while you cannot force someone to learn anything, you can hope that one will eventually become receptive to what is being taught. I recently spend a lot of time playing violin and reliving moments of being taught something which I never put to practice. All that is to say, don’t let up on the less receptive students. – BE

What type of legacy do you aspire to leave as an artist and musician?

I want to leave behind my gifts of knowledge in helping others, but also one that unites people from around the world more than anything else. I want to be able to pass down my love for music and art, to inspire countless others and truly across any discipline and field. – KJ

I hope to inspire other musicians to create on their own terms and in environments where they feel fully supported. Hopefully those inviting spaces will become the norm and not the exception. Working toward that goal is one of the driving forces for what I do. – TW

I aspire to leave a legacy of educational materials, musical recordings and students that assimilate in a meaningful way, the substance of what I have learned as a human being, as a Black male, and as an artist. – DR

Black Violin’s intention is always to educate, entertain, and inspire everyone we interact with. We hope that young music students of color will see themselves in us and dare to do the impossible and strive for greatness. – KM

I am leaving my work. The projects I am currently working on with my dad, Kidd Jordan, an avant-garde jazz musician, and with my nonprofit, Music Alive Ensemble of New Orleans, a chamber music group promoting both collaborations with classical and jazz musicians. I am in ROCO River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, in Houston, TX, which encourages new works of classical composers. ROCO is on the cutting edge with chamber orchestra. You have to move things forward: your vision, your music, your work. I think you have to be on your mission and the legacy manifest itself. – RJ

I think this question is overzealous. I would rather be remembered as an individual who can stand apart from my occupation as musician with the same courage that I manage on stage. The common conception of the artist, is that they are far from reach, and that one only interacts with them through their art. I would rather be remembered as someone who engaged people beyond the realm of music and most certainly beyond classical music. – BE