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One pianist shares her thoughts about inclusion in classical music

Michelle Cann
Steven Mareazi Willis
Michelle Cann

Award-winning pianist Michelle Cann has performed as a soloist with numerous ensembles, including orchestras in Cleveland and Philadelphia. She's also on the faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music.

In the past few years, Cann has been including the little-known music of Florence Price on many of her programs. In 1933, Price became the first African American woman to have her music performed by a major U.S. orchestra.

Cann is scheduled to perform with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra on Friday, May 12. The orchestra will present a concert featuring music by Black female composers.

Connecticut Public Radio spoke with Michelle Cann in 2022 as part of the series “Classical Music: Moving Toward Inclusion.”

We are revisiting highlights from her conversation that originally aired on Jan. 24, 2022.

On racial inequity in classical music

As a Black woman myself, and I think about young Black children, I totally get the idea of limitation as opposed to inclusiveness if you look out in front of you and you don’t see anyone that looks like you involved. And [that’s] all the way down the board, as a conductor, as an instrumentalist, as a composer.

On more inclusivity in classical music

I think that one of the most important ways that I’ve been able to bring others into classical music is by showing that I care about them. It’s taking that extra step to go and meet people in communities around you; showing them what you love, being passionate about what you do. Because I don’t think there’s anything more convincing than a kind of one-on-one or personal experience that inspires you. I think that that connection is what really matters.

On discovering the music of Florence Price

In 2016, I was asked to perform her Piano Concerto in One Movement. This was a composer I had never heard of. My initial reaction was: If she’s so great, why have I never heard of her? I thought the music would be a little subpar. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I opened up the score and I was reading through it for the very first time, I was absolutely floored …

But in some ways I was a little nervous about how the audience would receive it. I wanted everyone to have the same excitement that I had when I first read it through. So I remember when the piece ended with the orchestra. It stopped and again no one knows this piece, so there’s that moment of: Is the piece over? So there was this moment where you didn’t hear anything, then it was the loudest applause I think I have ever experienced up to that point, quite literally! And there was a standing ovation immediately.

This story has been updated. This interview originally aired Jan. 24, 2022.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.

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