student musicians with Dr. Quinton Morris

Annual Solo String Festival Showcases Talented South King County Student Musicians

by Brittany Parker

Dr. Quinton Morris’ music students are not immune to the challenges of a global pandemic. The high school freshmen in his classes have never walked the halls of their new schools. Scholars are all adjusting to the constant contort of living life through screens.

Not to mention the baggage some families are facing due to the health and economic implications of a pandemic handled with less tact than Mr. Magoo.

Despite the challenges, 41 of Dr. Morris’ violin and viola students took the stage of Benaroya Hall on April 9th for a weekend of musical competition as part of Key to Change’s Solo String Festival.

Musicians from seven school districts performed for three renowned judges and a virtual audience.

Key to Change, a nonprofit founded and directed by Dr. Morris — who is an international violinist, educator, and Renton native — serves racially and economically diverse students in South King County through music education and mentorship. Dr. Morris operates two violin and viola studios serving middle and high school students who may not otherwise have access to classical music instruction.

The Annual Solo String Festival also included the 2021 Spring Salon Fundraiser held on April 11th. The philanthropic segment included a 30-minute live virtual program featuring a message from Dr. Morris, student and family stories, additional performances, and the announcement of this year’s Solo String Festival winners. With this benefit, Key to Change aimed to raise $75,000 which would ensure they can continue to provide world-class music instruction to underserved youth and students of color.

Amariah Strand began studying at Key to Change in the 6th grade after Dr. Morris visited her school. Her mother, Linda was elated to learn Dr. Morris is also a Person of Color. “He’s been the best addition to our village for Amariah — he can pull things out of her most people cannot. She’s become more accountable, not only in violin but in everything,” Linda said.

Before Strand began her performance, emcee Shaunyce Omar asked her about her pieces. Strand explained she connected with a selection by celebrated cellist and composer Caleb Vaughn-Jones — who happens to be Black — and wanted to honor her melanin.

The warm moment between Strand and Omar in celebration of self-love and diversity is almost unheard of in the world of classical music. According to the League of American Orchestras, classical music professionals in major symphony orchestras around the country are almost all white. This reality includes distinguished conservatories like The Juilliard School, The Curtis Institute, and the New England Conservatory.

African Americans make up only 1.8% of orchestras nationwide while Hispanics make up only 2.5%, according to an industry-wide study. The lack of representation makes it no surprise orchestras don’t reflect the diversity of the cities they serve.

The current state of professional classical music highlights the importance of Dr. Morris’ commitment to young South King County musicians. Students studying through Key to Change have a unique opportunity not only to learn, but also to see themselves and their future through Dr. Morris and the diverse group of guest artists who visit and meet the next generation of classical musicians.

Malik Ali, a 9th grader, has a deep appreciation for the organization that feels like a family. “Dr. Morris holds us to high expectations and I want to meet them because he’s an amazing teacher. The focus isn’t all about what mistakes we make. It’s about the progress we make and that’s what keeps us going. When I’m in his class I feel valued.”

Before this year’s Solo String Festival, Ali and Strand had never been to Benaroya Hall, the epicenter of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The rising musicians joined the illustrious list of performers who have performed at the venue thanks to support from the Seattle Symphony’s Community Stages grant.

Students of Dr. Morris competed in junior or senior divisions, the former for middle school students and the latter for high schoolers. They won prizes ranging from scholarships to music equipment and live radio performances.

Henry Williams, an 8th grader at Pacific Middle School, took home the junior division grand prize for his rendition of the first movement of the Spring Four Seasons. Williams received a $500 college scholarship and will perform on Classical King FM 98.1.

Senior division winner Thea Weinbeck, a 12th-grader at Mount Rainier High School, impressed judges with the first movement of the Bruch Violin Concerto. Weinbeck won a $1000 college scholarship and will also perform on Classical King FM 98.1.

As for Dr. Morris’ fundraising goal of $75,000, they crushed it, bringing in nearly $100,000 to help secure scholarships and Key to Change’s future. The 2021 Solo String Festival was sponsored by Classical King FM 98.1, Seattle Symphony, US Bank, 4Culture, Charlotte Martin Foundation, Integrus Architecture, Raynier Institute & Foundation, Bassetti Architects, Greene Gasaway Architects, and a laundry list of supporters.

If you would like to support Key to Change or watch the winner ceremony, visit their website.

Brittany Parker is a South King County resident, and Founder of A Green Legacy, an organization empowering underrepresented cannabis entrepreneurs through programming, resources and community. She’s a mom and former Seattle Public School teacher who enjoys writing about entrepreneurship, the intersections of cannabis and parenting, social justice, marginalized people making a difference and PNW happenings. You can find her on IG and Twitter @naturalbrii & @agreenlegacy.

📸 A screenshot of the Key to Change Solo String Festival; image by Brittany Parker.

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