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Diversity still an issue for classical music

Violin
Posted at 12:12 AM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 00:12:21-05

DENVER, Colo. — Classical music has looked the same to many people throughout history.

“You know, being raised as a Chicano we were taught to be strong and be determined and not to wait for things to happen. So I’ve always tried to push forward and make things happen," said Eric Trujillo.

Trujillo comes from a rich background.

“Part of my family is, a majority is indigenous and from Mexico, Native American and my Trujillo surname, of course, is the Spanish conquistadors,” he said.

He brings his experience with him every day when he goes to work at his shop Mi Vida Strings as a luthier or someone who makes and repairs string instruments. But he doesn’t share the same experiences as a lot of people in his industry.

“I know a few across the country, more now than when people first started asking me. I know about Manuel Delgado in Tennessee and his family in Los Angeles and Ralph Alcala and Manny Alverez in New York,” said Trujillo.

Just a handful of names he can remember. Eric is one of a few Chicano luthiers around the country. It’s part of a bigger issue in classical music.

According to a study by the League of American Orchestras, Hispanic and Latino musicians make up only 2.5% of musicians. Black musicians make up just under 2 percent (1.8%). White musicians make up nearly 87% and Asian and Pacific Islanders represent just over 9%.

“I can count kind of on one hand the Latino violinists I know,” said Ana Luna Uribe, a freelance violinist and friend of Eric.

She says it can be isolating being a Latina musician.

“I feel like I don’t always have people to share kind of struggles with or even identify to. So that a little difficult because sometimes I feel like I’m living from a different perspective,” she said.

“In my time in the Colorado Symphony there have been four people, four Black gentlemen, including myself that have been a part of the orchestra and I’m the last one standing at this point,” said Basil Vendryes, a music professor at the University of Denver and the principal violist with the Colorado Symphony.

He says diversity has definitely been a struggle in classical music but he does see some progress.

“There are not as many people of color, or students of color at the Lamont School as we would like. There are more than there have been,” said Vendryes.

The hope is to inspire even more kids from communities of color to pick up an instrument and play.

“I think representation is just kids being able to see themselves reflected in who is mentoring them and teaching them and facilitating their experience with music,” said Uribe.

Note by note, chord by chord, musicians like Ana, Basil and Eric want to build a diverse orchestra of musicians in this world.

“I’ve lived long enough with people judging me by the color of my skin, or how I look or if I have an accent,” said Trujillo, “Music is a universal language. Musicians from all over the world can come into a room and not speak the same language at all, but we can all play music together and have a really binding experience that transcends language, color.”