The students from Cicely Tyson School of Performing Arts will be performing three of my pieces as soloists with the West Shore Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, Nov. 18th – playing alongside their teacher, orchestra soloist Robbin Gordon-Cartier (Get more show info here)

Earlier this week, we connected virtually from my studio to their classroom – to talk about the experience they’re about to have stepping onto stage for the first time as soloists with a symphony orchestra.

Before you leave this page, please scroll to the bottom and leave a comment for these students, to congratulate them on their first performance this weekend and to support their courage in committing themselves to this project.

“You bring youth, you bring racial diversity, you play the harp –  and you’re playing the music of a living female composer.

The minute you step on that stage you’re creating a whole spectrum of diversity.”

Below is a paraphrase from this video where we talk about the diversity these students are bringing to the symphony stage and concert hall.

Robbin started:

“One of the reasons we’ve been invited there is because this is an area lacking diversity of all types, not just racial diversity – but age diversity as well!” 

I followed up: 

“Yes! Orchestra audiences are literally dying. They’re getting old.


One of the reasons they’re dying is because people like you and me are not represented on the stage. Meaning I’m a woman composer. I’m rarely represented on an orchestra stage.  You are young and you are racially diverse. And you play the harp!


So when you get up there and you play my music, you are representing diversity on many levels.  Diversity of a woman composer, of an unusual instrument that people are not used to seeing played in this way. Of youth – and then also what Robbin said about color.


And the fact that you are both on stage and you are in the audience — that you are in both places is so powerful. 

You are bringing all those aspects of diversity.  And then there’s the unique, individual diversity that each of you brings differently, which has to do with how you are in the world and how you’re engaging with your instrument.

“Remember: The Music is not the notes.” 

(Deborah Henson-Conant)

Read more about the performance here :

See some of the videos and images the student have created to prepare for this performance.

Day 1 – DHC Challenge – We Begin!:
Day 2 – DHC Challenge – More About Robbin:
Day 3 – DHC Challenge – The Golden Ticket:
Day 4 – Cartier’s Harp Unit starts the Celebration:

I’m proud to announce that this Sunday, the students you see in the video above are taking their first steps onto the symphony stage to perform as soloists with the West Shore Symphony in Pennsylvania along with their teacher, soloist and educator, Robbin Gordon-Cartier.

Why am I so proud? Because I wrote the music they’ll be playing, and because their performance marks a new phase of my vision, when the music I wrote for my own performances with orchestra is empowering a new generation in a whole new way.

My instrumental music is already being played more and more by symphony soloists. You can already see it in YouTube video and concert halls — Gordon-Cartier and the students you see above are taking it to a new level of inclusion.

They’re turning these concertos I created into ‘ensemble-concertos’ – a musical wellspring of diversity, inclusion and community.

What will concert-goers see?

Well, a ‘concerto’ is a piece of music for orchestra that’s got an unusual element.  Unlike a ‘symphony’ – a Beethoven symphony for example – a concerto is played by an orchestra PLUS a soloist.  If you’ve ever seen me play with orchestra, or if you saw my PBS music special “Invention & Alchemy” you have an idea what that’s like.

But they’re taking this concept further!

Because Robbin is a combination educator and soloist –  she’s taken 3 of the pieces I  perform solo with orchestra – “Baroque Flamenco,” “The Nightingale” and “Califypso” – and she’s expanded the soloist’s part so her students are sharing the stage as soloists with her.

How’s that as the field-trip of a lifetime: onto the stage with a symphony orchestra.

What’s so powerful about what they’re doing is that the music has become more than music – it’s become an educational experience, an opportunity to develop self-expression and a focal point for creating community.

All semester Robbin’s students have been studying my music, playing it with the ‘orchestra karaoke files’ I sent them, working on it in class, practicing it at home — and now they’re about to walk onto stage with a real orchestra, forever changing the audience’s vision of what a harpist looks like, what a harp can do, what a concerto is and how much they’ll be inspired and moved by these young performers and their teacher, and impassioned professional harpist.

Over 30 students will be traveling to the concert – some will be on stage, some will support their colleagues from the audience, some will be videographers and interviewers. Each one of them has an essential role in this project they call the “DHC Challenge.”

At the center of this is their teacher and concert soloist Robbin Gordon-Cartier. It would be exciting enough for the students to simply watch their teacher perform as a soloist with orchestra — but instead, she’s created the opportunity for them to experience playing in front of an orchestra, with her support and the support of each other. 

And the best part of all this? This is just the first step. Not an ‘end goal’ – but a ‘beginning goal.’ The performance is on Sunday — and next Tuesday we’ll meet in the virtual classroom again. We’ll talk about what they experienced … and we’ll use that to start preparing for the next concert – next spring, when the whole school will perform this music together.

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