According to the new documentary, “Breaking the Sound
Barrier,” only 1 to 3 percent of orchestral players
nationwide are Black or Hispanic. This shocking statistic prompted
University graduate Aaron Dworkin to create the Sphinx Organization
for African American and Latino Musicians, in order for them to
take the stage and change the norms.

Mira Levitan
A member of the Sphinx Orchestra. (Courtesy of Detroit Public Television)

The organization consists of a symphony orchestra comprised of
the top minority string players from across the United States and
the Sphinx Competition, which allows young Black or Hispanic
students to compete and play with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra.
The competition is held each year in Ann Arbor and Detroit and is
open to junior high through college-age musicians.

Now in its seventh year, Detroit Public Television has created a
documentary to capture the hard work and dedication behind the
breathtaking music of the Sphinx Organization.

As the documentary begins, a beautiful violin concerto, with a
lone violin singing out above the delicate melodies of the
accompanying symphony, immediately captures the imagination. Then,
an image illuminates the screen and the dream becomes even more
surreal as the magnificent music is shown to be issuing from a girl
in her teens. With the ringing of the climactic note though, it is
clear that the dream actually belongs to this girl, and that this
film is a documentation of her dream made real.

Featured in the documentary are several of the devoted young
performers including violinist Melissa White who won the
first-place laureate award in the Sphinx Competition at age 16. She
speaks of her life-long love of music even as a child, she was
driven to practice rather than play with friends. It is this kind
of hard work that the Sphinx Organization honors.

Also included are comments from Sphinx performers about their
experiences as minority players in predominantly white orchestras
around the nation. The first Black musician in the New York
Philharmonic, Sanford Allen, speaks of his love for classical music
and the great opportunities of the Sphinx Organization.

Set to air exclusively on Detroit Public Television, the Sphinx
Organization is also working to receive national airtime on PBS.
The documentary will be followed by the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra
concert from last February and is certainly a testament to the
amazing presentations of Detroit Public Television. In a time when
network TV is often a let-down, this alternative shines with
intriguing documentaries and original series to educate and
entertain audiences starving for quality programming.

While this film reminds us to dream and that anything is
possible, its real shining quality is the soundtrack. Backed with
classical music, all produced by the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra and
the competitors, the take-home message of the documentary sounds in
the pieces performed. The film and the competition itself exist to
give young Black and Hispanic string players the opportunity to
progress in their musical careers. After hearing the masterful
music emanating from this symphony, any questions of whether or not
these cultures love and can perform classical pieces are quelled.
They do and they can, and eventually, with the continued work of
the Sphinx Organization, the old stereotypes that orchestras are
only for white males will be dispelled.

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