Black Artists in the Classical Music World

Jul 14, 2020

Credit IRIS Orchestra

IRIS Orchestra Music Director Michael Stern is "passing the mic" to some artists of color in IRIS.

My name is Dara Hankins and I am a cellist in IRIS Orchestra and an alumna of the IRIS Artists Fellow Program.

I completed my bachelor’s degree at New England Conservatory in Boston and my Masters Degree at Manhattan School of Music in New York. My training background is in classical cello, but I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing artists such as Yo Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Branford Marsalis, Kirk Whalum, and others.

I want to share a recent experience that I had as an artist of color working in a majority culture. It was rather jarring and caught me off guard.

I arrived for my first rehearsal with a prestigious orchestra and I was stopped by a security guard who asked, “Can I help you?” I told him I was there for my first rehearsal and he seemed surprised. He said, “I have never seen you here before. In fact, I have only ever seen one other one.” It was an isolating experience. The message was, “You don’t belong here. You are out of place.” The notion that I could be participating in the orchestra was an alien concept to him. I was upset, but I had to sublimate those feelings and go to work. There was no one around that I felt comfortable processing this experience with. I have learned to contend with the reaction that it is shocking to see a black classical musician.

We can make a difference today! The mood is tense, intense, and charged, but it is pushing us to move forward with urgency.

Do we honestly question our own presumptions, biases, and prejudices, about race?

What longstanding practices need to be uprooted because they perpetuate a lack of diversity in society?

What is the role of the arts in bringing about a change in race relations to heal the nation?

These are challenging questions. I am hopeful about the future of the music industry and I am proud to be a part of the IRIS family which is making a difference.

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