Representation matters

Representation Matters

Bringing classical music into schools through a new, equitable lens

Travon Walker ’21E

Travon Walker ’21E

Last year, Travon Walker ’21E—an aspiring opera singer who is studying vocal performance and arts leadership at the Eastman School of Music—launched a University of Rochester crowdfunding project called “Representation Matters.” The project will introduce middle and high school students to classical music, specifically the music created by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) that many are unaware of.

“Our goal is to show BIPOC youth that they belong in this classical music space and that there is a place for them,” says Walker, who is also the recipient of the Lois Smith Rogers Scholarship and the Anne T. Cummins Voice Scholarship. “For young people, seeing others who look like them helps them feel included–it inspires them to imagine that they could make music like this, too.”

Walker says that it is important to present this music to white audiences, too—for them to listen, learn, and expand traditional perspectives around classical music. “Classical music is for everyone, and so is the music created by BIPOC composers,” he adds. “In order to elevate it, more people need to be aware of it, perform these works, and advocate and showcase these pieces and their composers.”

The project officially launches in early 2021. That’s when Walker and a group of 20 fellow Eastman students—both BIPOC and white—will bring this music to students in the Irondequoit, Penfield, and Webster school districts. That’s just the beginning, though. Walker plans to bring the program to Rochester City School District, which has a high population of BIPOC students, and he wants to expand it to even more suburban schools, which have more white students.

The program will work like this: students will take part in a multi-session Zoom experience that will kick-off with Walker introducing students to BIPOC composers and their music. Students will also receive a variety of short videos featuring members of Walker’s musical team performing various pieces. In a follow up session, the performers will share what it was like learning about their pieces and what it meant to them to perform them. In the final session, Walker will explore what the students learned and experienced through the music.

collage of student portraits

“Representation matters” project

When the world erupted last year with issues of civil unrest, social injustice, and racial divide, Walker felt compelled to bring this project—which he first developed in an arts leadership class—to life. “I wanted to do something to make life better for more people through music,” he says.

Walker has rallied a lot of support, too. At first, the Friends of Eastman Opera came on board and provided some seed funding. Then, Walker met with Eastman administrators and together they developed this into a crowdfunding project.

“In the first month, we raised more than half of our initial $5,000 goal,” Walker says. “Now we are continuing to fundraise so we can expand the program.” Walker will use crowdfunding resources to cover costs for music, recording equipment, and more, including salaries for the project team’s student musicians.

Watch and listen

Middle and high school students engaged in “Representation Matters” will be sent videos like these that feature Eastman students performing the works of BIPOC composers:

Soprano Jazmine Saunders ’22E performs “Canción de cuna para dormir un negrito” (“Lullaby for a little black boy”) from Cinco Canciones Negras by Xavier Montsalvatge. Saunders is a recipient of the Edna V. Bachman Memorial Fund, the William Warfield Endowed Scholarship, the John Maloy Scholarship, and the Robert J. and Signe Sebo Zale Scholarship.

Pianist Maeve Barry performs “Summerland” by William Grant-Still

“Aires Tropicales” (Movement one) by Paquito D’Rivera features Andrea Velasquez '21, flute; Brian Stewart ’22, oboe; Alyssa Estrella '23, clarinet; Brianna Garcon '22, French horn; and Christopher Witt '22, bassoon.

Each musician has benefitted from scholarship support. Velasquez is a recipient of the Joseph Mariano Scholarship for Flute and the Hamlin Family Scholarship. Stewart is a recipient of the Killmer Endowed Undergraduate Oboe Fund. Estralla is a recipient of the Edna A. McLaughlin Scholarship. Garcon is a recipient of the Nellie I. Meek Memorial Scholarship, Karen Noble Hanson Scholarship, and the Reynolds Endowed Scholarship. Witt is a recipient of the Dominic N. and Lila T. Celentano Endowed Scholarship and the Robert B. Mitchell Endowed Scholarship.

Spotify playlist

UR Alumni is pleased to present a playlist of some of the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) composers showcased in “Representation Matters,” a project developed by Travon Walker ’21E.

Why crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is an important way to connect University of Rochester students, faculty, and staff with alumni, patients, families, and community members who are interested in supporting their projects. Crowdfunding helps us finance innovation and support excellence throughout the University and our Medical Center. Learn more about Walker’s project here and more about all of the University’s crowdfunding projects here.

Watch Walker in Eastman Opera Theatre’s December 16 performance, “Our Voices, Immersive Composer Collaborations,” now available on demand, during which Walker sings part of “The Greatest Liberty,” featuring selected arias by Anthony Davis.

— Kristine Thompson, Updated March 2021