News / Arts & Entertainment

Conductor Courts Diverse Audiences

Michael Morgan giving a lecture and master class to students at the Conservatory of Vocal and Instrumental Arts, a music charter school in Oakland, California. (J. Mar/VOA).
Michael Morgan giving a lecture and master class to students at the Conservatory of Vocal and Instrumental Arts, a music charter school in Oakland, California. (J. Mar/VOA).
As one of the few openly gay, African-American conductors in the United States Michael Morgan is a rarity in the world of classical music. 

He has been music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony in California for 22 years and has worked with some of the great conductors of the 20th century, including Leonard Bernstein, Gunther Schuller and George Solti.  

However, it is Morgan's mission is to bring classical music to everyone, especially to diverse audiences who have traditionally been under-represented in the concert hall.
 
Morgan believes introducing music to young students is key to attracting more people of color to classical music. He knows firsthand. By the time he reached third grade, knowing he wanted to be a conductor, Morgan started taking piano lessons. His parents nurtured his interest.
Classical Music Conductor Courts Diverse Audiences
Classical Music Conductor Courts Diverse Audiencesi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X


"My father was very active in the schools when my sister and I were in public schools in Washington D.C.," Morgan says. "Both of my parents were seeing to it that those schools were as good as those schools could be, including getting a lot of music education through the schools. And if you go to a lot of symphony orchestras, I think most of the people in them started in a public school somewhere."

However, at many public schools today, budget cuts have reduced or eliminated music programs. But it remains a high priority for Morgan.

Under his leadership, the Oakland East Bay Symphony allocates one-third of its budget to music education and brings orchestral music to thousands of children in local schools. When he's not conducting, Morgan devotes much of his spare time visiting schools and talking to students.
Michael Morgan conducts the Oakland East Bay Symphony in California. (Pat Johnson)Michael Morgan conducts the Oakland East Bay Symphony in California. (Pat Johnson)
x
Michael Morgan conducts the Oakland East Bay Symphony in California. (Pat Johnson)
Michael Morgan conducts the Oakland East Bay Symphony in California. (Pat Johnson)

"I love dealing with middle school, high school, and even elementary school musicians whenever I can," he says. "It's just something I have always liked to do. I find it so rewarding to watch the kids learn, watch their faces when they get something right. I just consider it part of my job and do it whenever I can."

Morgan is also working to attract diverse audiences to Oakland's concerts.  

To that end, he has expanded the orchestra’s repertoire and collaborated with musicians outside the classical realm, including from the world of jazz, rock, Afro-Cuban and even electronica.

"My idea has always been to play the unusual music next to the standard repertory that orchestras play all the time, not just because of the contrasts and the comparisons you can make between the new and the old, the familiar and the unfamiliar, but also because the audiences for the different kinds of musics will be brought together into the same room to watch concerts. So it's very conscious community building."

Filipino jazz pianist Victor Noriega recently made his Oakland symphony debut, after Morgan commissioned him to compose his first symphonic work for the orchestra. It's part of Morgan's effort to connect with diverse communities. He has programmed concerts featuring musicians and original works from Iran, China, Armenia and the Philippines.

"It's very important to me that we use the Oakland East Bay Symphony to pull this diverse fractious community together, because to me, that's a major public good that a symphony orchestra can do beyond Beethoven, Brahms, and the other people we play all the time."

Morgan's efforts at inclusion and community building are starting to make a difference. Audiences for the Oakland East Bay Symphony are now more ethnically diverse than those in many other cities. Next season, Morgan is planning programs highlighting musicians from India and the Middle East.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”