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The I-Word That is Defining Many Classical Musicians

Being a minority artist in the classical music industry can be a unique experience.

I was reading this article recently and I begin to think…

How do minority classical musicians really feel about their career?

If you were to guess the word most classical musicians would use to summarize how they feel about their careers, what do you think it would be? I'm sure that everyone's experiences are different, so the possibilities are endless.

If I were to guess the predominant feeling that musicians have in the midst of their careers, here is a list of words I would use:

elated, proud, exuberant, blissful, euphoric, fulfilled

According to violinist Michelle May, her career as a minority artist could be summed up with this word:


Let's sit with that for just a minute because we're not talking about someone summarizing their job. We're talking about someone summarizing their passion.

We're talking about someone who spent their entire life from childhood training and studying to develop a unique skill set.

People in this field have spent the better part of their life on a quest to perfect a craft that is part of a centuries-old tradition.

These people have maintained the discipline to adhere to difficult regimens and practice schedules in pursuit of their greatest dreams, and when many of them achieve their ultimate goals, they feel invisible.

Invisible does not mean invincible

Isolation doesn't have to be all bad. According to author Susan Cain, “Solitude is a crucial and underrated ingredient for creativity. From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude."

But there is a difference between solitude and invisibility. I enjoy times of solitude. I've composed some of my best music during periods of solitude. But I believe my work would suffer tremendously if I felt invisible.

And so we have to wonder how this affects the musicians who feel this way. How much of a negative impact does this have on their work.

The bright future ahead

Michelle May is no longer feeling invisible. She now has what she describes as a satisfying career. She turned the tide by doing the following:

  • She founded chamber ensembles — Musique Noire and the Nina Strings

  • She founded the Sounds of Music House Concerts, presenting concerts in the Detroit area

  • She collaborates with a variety musicians prioritizing diversity and inclusion

Now what?

If you are a minority in classical music, you may be feeling invisible.

You may feel as though you are being seen as different than those around you.

You may be feeling misunderstood.

That's understandable.

The question is... why can't you do the same thing Michelle May has done? We have the ability to create, collaborate, and present in the same way that she has, or in our own unique way.

If everyone does their part, classical music can become more inclusive and perhaps revitalized in the process.

Are you a minority classical musician who has had similar experiences? Do you feel invisible? How do you deal with it?

Don't forget to let me know what you think...


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