Diversity Program Strings Together MSO’s 84th Season

Mackenzie Sheridan

This year marks the 84th season for the Manchester Symphony Orchestra (MSO). Dr. Debra Lynn, conductor of the MSO, took up the role in the spring of 2021. “When I took over the MSO, my mission was to enforce diverse programming,” she said. A new organization called “The Diverse Programming Group” instills a composer diversity database system that helps her do just that.

The database tracks and gives feedback to symphony orchestras throughout the world so they can review what repertoire they are performing. The database encourages 15% of repertoire to consist of diverse composers, including women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups.

“Part of the problem is that we just don’t know about the different composers,” Lynn said. “We are used to hearing the classics: Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and I think it’s important for people to see non-White classical musicians up on stage.”

Last year’s repertoire diversity was 17%, and this season is set to hit an impressive 27%. Every year the MSO presents one major guest artist that identifies with a minority group. Last year, they had guest artist Derek Reeves, an African American violinist. This year’s guest artist will be Jon Silpayamanant, a Tai American composer and cellist. The MSO has also invited dancers of the Mikautadze Dance Theatre from Fort Wayne to perform with the symphony for a piece in the spring.

The first concert of the year will be “Legends.” All pieces are inspired by stories and represent a variety of time periods. The first selection, “Peter and the Wolf, “ is by Prokofiev and is based off the childhood fable with the same name. This piece will feature narrator Scott Strode, acting professor emeritus and former theater director at Manchester University.

The next selection, “King Arthur’s Suite,” applies to the diverse program, as the composer is Lynn herself. This suite features a piece entitled “Fairest Isle,” which is equivalent to “America the Beautiful” and pays homage to Britain.

The third selection is “Mother Goose Suite” and includes four movements representing different fairy tales including “Beauty and the Beast” and “Tom Thumb,” to name just two.

The fourth and final selection of the concert is entitled “Chokfí.” This piece is unique because it is the only selection in the concert to have only strings playing. The composer is another underrepresented artist, Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. He is a Chikasaw classical composer. The pieces name “Chokfí” means rabbit and is an important symbol for the Chikasaw tribe. The rabbit is a symbol of beauty and agility, and can be heard throughout the piece, with its hopping, gliding, and quick movements that bring a unique layout to the selection.

There will also be three unique instruments featured in the concert, including bassoon, celeste (or a bell piano) and harp.

Which is Lynn’s favorite piece? “Of course I love them all, otherwise I wouldn’t program them,” Lynn said, “but I believe the Mother Goose Suite is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written.”

You can hear all four pieces on Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. at Cordier Auditorium. Admission is free for students, faculty and staff, $20 for the public, and free for 18 and under.