Black Music Month doesn’t mean just amplifying rap, hip hop and R&B. There’s classical music, country jams and more.
To kick off the month, Black News Hour wanted to amplify local leaders making space for all Black music, like violist and music educator Ashleigh Gordon. She co-founded Castle of our Skins, a Boston-based group celebrating Black artistry through classical concert series, educational programming, and more. They’re also slated to perform at MassQ Ball, a large, cross-cultural celebration of the arts, at the Arnold Arboretum on Saturday, July 9.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
BG: What led you to your current work?
AG: I met Anthony R. Green as a fellow classmate at the New England Conservatory of Music where we were doing our master’s. We were and still are interested in music but had never encountered with any sort of seriousness in our studies of classical music by Black composers. That wasn’t a concept that existed for us as Black performers as well. We wanted to learn more about and support each other in classical music and performance. Through our own interest and wanting to find connections that had greater meaning for us, we had a concert. That concert led to 10 years [with Castle of our Skins].
BG: Did you see your community reflected in your field or was that something that you felt was always lacking?
AG: Growing up, I wasn’t cognizant of it. I grew up in Rochester, New York, in a white suburban area, attended a high school that had a very small number of people of color, let alone Black. But then I came to Boston and thought more deeply about representation and what hadn’t been presented to me. I also credit my work as an educator at the intensive community program, or ICP, of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras. I was working with mostly Haitian, Cape Verdean, and African American students and families whose children I didn’t even know would come up to me and say that my sheer presence meant a great deal. That was one of the first moments where being a Black woman violist registered as being powerful.
BG: What predecessors do you look to in your field?
AG: I think of Maud Cuney Hare, who also went to the New England Conservatory and was very much a local advocate for history sharing and preservation of culture. I think of the Chicago Renaissance with Margaret Bonds and Florence Price. Rae Linda Brown, Louise Toppin, who also has connections in Boston. She runs Videmus Inc., which was started here in Boston as a music recording and publishing company that still exists. It doesn’t fall lightly to me to think that there are so many Black women who have led this charge.
BG: What does Black Music Month mean to you?
AG: It’s a great opportunity to highlight the layers of [Black music]. When I first co-founded this organization, I received many questions and head scratches by wanting to focus on Blackness with classical music. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to do jazz, hip hop, R&B, or blues?’ And the answer was yes. There is under this umbrella term of “Black music” 500 years worth of expressivity within classical music. Black Music Month is a prime opportunity to showcase breadth, depth, and variety and to challenge whatever preconceived boxes someone may have when they think about our music.
BG: What’s good about the local arts scene?
AG: I think there is momentum within the Boston arts scene. I’m giving lots of credit and nods to people who have kept that momentum alive, and I’m trying to do the hard work of keeping that fire spinning. I think there is a growing sense of openness and connectivity.
BG: What’s a fun fact people might not know about you?
AG: I’m an amazing dancer in my head. I don’t know if anyone has ever seen me, but at least in my head, I’m amazing.