Mission: To Seek and Share Inspiration

CSO Multicultural Awareness Council:

Meghan Berneking


A Journey of Classical Roots and Beyond


On March 20,2015 the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra celebrated a very special anniversary. That date will marked the CSO’s fifth annual performance of “Classical Roots” at Music Hall. While the concert brought back all of its most popular elements (including an array of musical genres and a 150-member Community Mass Choir alongside the might of the full CSO), it also marks the continuation of a journey that transcends the concert experience.

“Classical Roots is a very inspiring experience each and every year; I must say that I am truly in awe as I watch so many talented, creative, dedicated and excited individuals collaborate to bring together an incredible, uplifting performance and meaningful program that moves audiences to tears,” said Edgar Smith, CSO Board Member and President of WorldPac Paper, the Presenting Sponsor for Classical Roots. “Everyone involved brings what inspires them to the table, and then we get the amazing opportunity to bring and reflect that inspiration back to the community. I am most honored to be a part of this dynamic experience and process. It proves that community collaboration with the arts is good for the soul and for business. This annual concert has had positive impact every year!”

Classical Roots was the brainchild of the Multicultural Awareness Council (MAC), the CSO’s diverse group of volunteers focused on fostering an increased awareness of the CSO’s concerts and music education programs throughout Greater Cincinnati. It started with the CSO performing a handful of concerts with area partner churches. The concerts were wildly successful, and the desire for churchgoers and fans to be exposed to classical music grew, especially within the African-American community. As more churches requested to have the CSO perform, it made sense to bring the program to Music Hall to accommodate a larger crowd. In the four performances at Music Hall to date, 33% of total attendees have been new to the CSO (a number which has decreased slightly as first year attendees return for future performances). The huge success of Classical Roots demonstrates the heart of MAC’s pursuit.

“The mission of MAC is to help bring diverse, multicultural audiences to Music Hall, and to grow awareness about the CSO in the community,” said Monica Hampton, the current co-chair of the MAC committee along with Quiera Levy-Smith.

Throughout the season, MAC provides multiple opportunities for students and adults to become more involved with the CSO. With the Open Door Concert series, MAC identifies CSO and Pops concerts that feature culturally diverse guest artists and composers and uses the opportunity to celebrate the richness of talent that allows the Orchestra to profoundly engage audiences and community. Another important program of MAC is the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra (CSYO) Nouveau Chamber Players, which gives high school African-American string players an opportunity to perform in small chamber ensembles, offering a springboard for careers in music. The Nouveau Chamber Players frequently perform in the foyer prior to CSO subscription concerts, and they also perform two recitals a year (the next recital is 4 p.m. Feb. 22 at Allen Temple A.M.E. Church in Bond Hill). “The Nouveau Chamber Players is one of the most important ways that the CSO inspires and trains the next generation of musicians,” said Kathy Jorgensen-Finley, the CSO’s Director of Community Engagement and Diversity. “Nouveau students receive the kind of instruction that helps them succeed in all aspects of their lives, not just music.”

Many Nouveau Players are the recipients of the Norman E. Johns Chair award, established by MAC and made annually to minority students of the CSYO. The first recipient of this award was Kazem Abdullah, who went on to establish a career as an esteemed international conductor and made his CSO subscription debut in the fall of 2014. Following his performance with the Orchestra, Mr. Abdullah joined in a reception with current award recipients, giving encouraging testament to what careers may be in store for the talented student musicians present. “It was a very warm reception to have Mr. Abdullah there with them and let them see the possibilities of where music can take them,” said Ms. Hampton.

Nouveau Players also often receive the Benjamin Carlson-Berne Memorial Scholarship, the mission of which is to provide the highest quality private music lessons (by members of the CSO or musicians of similar caliber) for underserved youth in the Cincinnati community. The annual benefit concert for the scholarship takes place Feb. 8 (for more information and tickets, call the CSO Box Office).

MAC’s multi-faceted approach, the pinnacle of which is Classical Roots, supports the CSO in integrating its own mission, vision and values into its programming on stage at Music Hall as well as activities throughout Greater Cincinnati. “The CSO is Cincinnati’s own Orchestra, and in order to be a cultural ambassador for the city, we as an organization must embrace all the diversity Cincinnati has to offer,” said Ms. Jorgensen-Finley. “MAC helps us achieve that.”