Roderick Cox meets with Walker|West RCMI Fellows 

Roderick Cox meets with Walker|West RCMI Fellows

Even during these unusual times where face masks, social distancing, and remote lessons are the new norm, German-based American conductor,  Roderick Cox and Walker|West RCMI fellows still find ways to connect.

On March 24, Maestro Cox and students from our string program participated in a  meet-up on Zoom. The meet-up was an opportunity for the students to chat with the world-renowned conductor about a wide range of topics centered around music education and performance.

This is the second time the former associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra has met with the students. Two years ago Walker|West established a partnership with the Roderick Cox Music Initiative (RCMI) to encourage BIPOC students underrepresented in classical music to consider the path of orchestral training.  Students selected for the program are provided with an array of support that helps smooth the path and mitigate the cost of lessons, instruments, music camps, and other enrichment opportunities.  The RCMI fellows (Walker|West has six currently) and potential future fellows shared with Roderick Cox the pieces they are working on and asked questions about living in different countries and preparing for performances. During the conversation, Roderick shared that he was back in the states for several months preparing Rossini’s opera, “The Barber of Seville” with the San Francisco Opera Company. The performances will take place at a drive-in instead of the opera house.

As Roderick said, “This is something I’ve never done before, but I’m looking forward to the experience”  He explained that the production had to be changed due to COVID. Even the cast, who were supposed to be international, had to be re-cast with American singers to limit COVID risks to the performers.  The opera which is typically sung in the original Italian will be performed in English. This led to a discussion about learning multiple languages when you are young.  The students shared some of the languages they are learning in school and seemed to share Roderick’s appreciation for knowing multiple languages, even if it is hard to do… at any age!

The conversation moved on from there. When asked by a student what the hardest music he’s had to learn, Roderick offered the Dr. Atomic Symphony, by the American composer, John Adams.  The symphony, which is a comment on the development and deployment of the atomic bomb, is hard to describe musically. At one point he shared his screen to play a portion of the “Panic” from the symphony. The students were in agreement…. the music sounded really hard.

Programming such a difficult piece has to be balanced with more familiar, less challenging works to keep the orchestra musicians from revolting. As Roderick explained, “You don’t want the musicians hating you before you even start working with them.”  The students learned a lot about what it takes to be a conductor and musician in classical music. They also learned that even professional musicians can have memory-slips during performances and that things could go awry, but just as we say when preparing for recitals, you keep going on, and often the audience doesn’t know you made a mistake. Roderick Cox, who has performed throughout the USA and in other countries reminded these students that it’s important to practice and to prepare well for your performances, whether they are in the world’s greatest concert halls or in a  Walker|West recital. The hard work of preparing will make a difference in how you perform, but we are all still human, and things happen.

Music can be humbling.

At the end of the meet-up, Roderick offered his continued support to the students and their goals. “I and your teachers want you to be able to dream big and we are here to help you meet those dreams.”

The Roderick Cox Scholarship is used to mitigate the barriers that so often prevent students of color from considering careers as composers, conductors and / or musicians of professional orchestras. The initiative launched in 2019 to create scholarships for Black, Latinx and Native American / Indigenous students who may want to become composers, conductors and/or musicians of professional orchestras.

Read more: roderickcox.com/giving-back

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