Grammy award-winning composer and recording artist Omar Akram once said, “It’s important to understand that diplomacy does not always have to be political. When you keep an open mind and an open heart to the many cultures of the world, you can turn your musical instrument into an instrument of peace.”
Roderick Cox, the young associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, agrees. To that end, he and the Minnesota Orchestra are collaborating with students from the MacPhail Northside Youth Orchestra and a number of local African American choirs to put on a concert called “Send Me Hope: A Community United Through Music” at Minnesota Orchestra Hall on October 7.
In this collaborative concert, local artists and choirs, including the Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Choir, Minnesota State Baptist Convention Church Choir, Shiloh Temple International Ministries Church Choir, and the Shiloh Temple Drummer Boys, will perform together for a special evening of entertainment.
The aim of the concert is to deliver a “heartfelt message of unity, healing and inspiration” at a time when many communities are dealing with a sense of heightened racial injustice, division and unrest.
This sort of community outreach isn’t new to Cox — it is, in fact, a part of his mission. Says Cox, “The Minnesota Orchestra has been very much centered on not only how we can serve our community, specifically in Minneapolis, but even abroad as we tour. We’re always doing outreach.”
Cox and his orchestra teamed up with Shiloh Temple International Ministries last December for a concert entitled “Spirit of the Season” that was a wild success. He recalls, “It was a snowy day and I was afraid people wouldn’t show up, but the audience was packed to hear this historic collaboration.
“We thought, let’s expand this — let’s invite other churches and come to Orchestra Hall.” There will be a combined choir of a hundred-plus people, says Cox.
Featured in the program will be the work of historic African British composer Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as well as the talent of cellist and Schubert Club Prize winner Nygel Witherspoon and local singing sensation and former American Idol contestant Paris Bennett.
Cox, a Georgia native, received a master of music degree in conducting from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He explains that his appreciation for classical music “evolved throughout my life in a natural way, which is different from other conductors who may have grown up in a musical family or maybe saw an opera at the age of nine or 10 and knew they had to be a conductor.
“For me, I just enjoyed being in music, whether it was gospel or being in the band. I loved this idea of a group of people coming together working toward one common goal.”
Cox has been at the Minnesota Orchestra for over two years and is one of the few African American conductors in the world of classical music. The position affords him a more comprehensive view of society, which obviously also influences his approach to the work he does.
Though he firmly believes that culture can bring people together, he also says it is about how you package it and present it.
He adds, “As an orchestra, we should not only be there for a city when it’s time to celebrate, we should also be there for the city when it’s time to mourn and to look for inspiration.”
“Send My Hope” takes place at Minnesota Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, on Saturday, October 7 at 7 pm. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.minnesotaorchestra.org.
Nadine Matthews welcomes readers’ responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.