“The world of musicians is small,” says Larry Williams, a French horn performer and teacher. “The orchestra world is even smaller, and [for] those who play the French horn, [it] is even smaller. When it comes to Black French horn players, I know every one of us.”
Williams is half kidding but is very aware of his status — and his power. “I’m used to being the only person of color in an orchestra or sometimes one of two or three,” he says. “I came to the industry knowing that would be the case.”
Williams is involved in two projects to help change the orchestral landscape. He is the principal horn player for the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra (since 2009), where he also serves on its board of directors, and the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra (since 2004).
Black Pearl is “a shared experience of being Black and Latinx orchestra players,” Williams says. “Over the years we’ve networked and created opportunities for each other. It strives for diversity and inclusion in classical music.”
Williams appreciates other minority artists who came before him. “I understand if it wasn’t for some serious road pavers, I wouldn’t be allowed to play the French horn,” he adds. “I focus on how I can impact the next generation of horn players and create opportunities. I’ve figured out how to be authentic and be a change agent. I’m in a position now to try to open doors where I can.”
The Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, part of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization, also wants to boost diversity in orchestras. Williams explains that the orchestra is made up of top professionals around the country, all Black or Latinx, who perform one weekend a year to support the young Black and Latinx string soloists competing at the Sphinx Competition. The professionals also teach master classes, deliver lectures as well as promote pieces by Black and Latinx composers. “It’s a very rewarding experience,” he says.
This article originally appeared in the 2020N2 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here.