Cellist J. Ryan Murphy has always been fascinated by classical orchestral music. At an early age he knew he wanted to become a musician in an orchestra but he wasn’t sure how to go about it.
“I knew as a senior in high school that I liked orchestral classical music. I grew up in Saint Louis and both of my parents are musicians so I grew up around classical music,” explained Murphy, 30, who currently resides in Carrick.
|NEW FELLOW—Ryan Murphy, front right, with other Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra members was named one of only two Black Fellows.
Enter the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Training Program for African-American Musicians.
Started in the 2007-2008 season, the pre-professional program was jointly created by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the National Repertory Orchestra to help prepare a young African-American musician for a career in a professional orchestra.
“We were looking at our diversity program at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and we were trying to find ways to make it better,” said Suzanne Perrino, senior vice-president of educational and strategic implementation at the PSO. “We did a survey of the symphony and found that six of the seven continents (were) represented in our orchestra but with African-Americans, our percentages were lower. We only had two African-Americans out of almost 100 musicians.”
During its first year, six musicians auditioned for the fellowship, which only ran for one season. During the 2010 auditions, 75 talented Black musicians tried out for the prestigious position, which has since been expanded to a two-year program.
Musicians interested in auditioning from the fellowship must be of African-American dissent, and be able to play a standard orchestral instrument including cello, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, bass trombone, percussion and violin.
“This year we have seen the quality of the candidates increase. It’s getting harder and harder to choose just one,” said Marcie Solomon, the PSO’s operations general manager.
The chosen fellow must also participate in community development activities, which include performing at nursing homes and elementary schools in the Pittsburgh and surrounding areas.
Murphy beat out five finalists to snag the fellowship for the 2011-2013 seasons.
“The program has exceeded my expectations. I was really excited when I heard that I was chosen for this. I felt that it was a step in the right direction and that it would put me on the path to becoming part of an orchestra,” Murphy said.
That’s exactly how 2009-2011 fellowship winner bass trombone player, Christopher Davis felt when he won.
“I learned how to play in an orchestra and how to fit in and play in the section. The program helped me to play at a higher level all the time. My standard of playing has gone up,” said Davis, 30, who resides in Chicago.
Davis earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern University. He has performed around the country with the Minnesota Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Chicago Symphony and the Detroit Symphony to name a few.
“The PSO program is very beneficial because it taught me how to become a better colleague. Programs like this are opening doors for African-American musicians, for whatever reason-whether it be demographics or what, there are not that many African-Americans in to classical music. I don’t think there is a premium for classical music in our culture right now. But for the few people that love it and want to pursue it, this program does help,” Davis said.
Throughout the PSO’s Orchestra Training Program for African-American Musicians, the fellow is immersed in the working environment of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra by studying with PSO members to train and prepare for professional auditions and performance opportunities. The chosen fellow must be a member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Federation of Musicians.
“Being mentored by the people in the symphony, I have become a better cellist. I’ve learned to think about music more internally and I’ve learned how to tie together all of the small details,” said Murphy who graduated from the Cleveland School of Music with a Bachelor of Music degree and Juilliard School of Music with his master’s in music.
Murphy is a member of the National Philharmonic and the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra and a regular substitute for the Virginia Symphony. Murphy has been a soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra, Detroit Symphony and as assistant principal cello in the World Orchestra for Peace in Japan in 2005.
(For more information on participating in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Training Program for African-American Musicians, visit www.pittsburghsymphony.org.)