"I would love to be that role model who doesn’t exist for me."
- Kenneth Torron P.
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to have a life filled with music. This love of music started with me insisting on watching Baby Mozart and Little Einstein on constant repeat. Four-year-old Torron’s Christmas list consisted of one thing - a violin. Once I got this prize, my violin literally became my best friend, and we were inseparable.
My complete mesmerization with the instrument led me to be quite fascinated with the mechanics that went into building violins. So, for a while I wanted to be a luthier and build perfect string instruments. Later I dreamt of sharing my love of music with others by performing. I especially believed that high-level musicians and orchestral performance should be accessible to audiences that were traditionally unexposed to classical music.
As long as I can recall I spent much of my early years researching, listening, and obsessing over the sounds some great musicians could draw from a simple piece of string. For a while, I never would have believed I could make a sound remotely close to what I was listening to. However, as time went on and my private lessons intensified, I began to believe that I might be able to find a glimmer of that sound in myself.
Now, fast-forward a few years comprised of practicing violin, switching to the viola, summer programs at the Interlochen International Music Festival, and finally getting into the Juilliard Music Advancement Program and Pre-College Division. This is where one crystallizing experience helped shape my future.
It was last November that I had the privilege of performing in the Juilliard Pre-College Centennial Gala. During this performance, we got to play Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with Emmanuel Ax, one of the world’s greatest pianists, in Alice Tully Hall. I had to pinch myself a few times, realizing that it really can’t get much better than this. Being able to participate in this concert was a once in a lifetime experience.
Knowing all the important sets of eyes watching and experiencing such a high level of performance, all the fragments of my earliest dreams appeared to be coming true before my eyes. From that moment forward, this memory has always represented the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Through times of arduous work or lack of motivation, I could always focus on this incredible concert and find the needed fuel to push forward in my creative and artistic pursuits.
I know now, with unwavering certainty, that I am going to be a classical musician! I still wonder whether my future is in an orchestra like the New York Philharmonic, a chamber group or as a soloist. But there is no doubt in my mind that classical music is my calling. There is no other way for me to be happy.
Beyond my personal and career fulfillment though, I believe there is a far greater calling for me. I have been accepted to The Juilliard School and I expect my next four years will be a training ground to prepare me for what I see as my destiny.
It was odd enough growing up in “Suburbia” interested in classical music, but as an African-American I felt especially out of place. I realize though that the feeling of being “alone” went far beyond just my childhood experience.
When I attend performances of professional orchestras, or watch videos, I am astounded and disheartened at the woeful lack of minority representation in this field. It troubles me that when I look at great orchestras, I rarely, if ever, see a fitting role model. Fewer than 3% of musicians in professional classical orchestras are Black. It is a disgrace.
"As an African-American classical musician, I would very much like to find ways to bring classical music to minorities and traditionally underserved communities."
- Kenneth Torron P.
I believe that simply by achieving my career goal I can make a difference. I would love to be that role model who doesn’t exist for me. Unfortunately though, that is not enough because it is rare for minorities to even have the interest, much less the opportunity to see a symphony orchestra.
In this regard, I am passionate about addressing an issue of huge importance to me personally, and certainly, I believe a serious social issue. As an African-American classical musician, I would very much like to find ways to bring classical music to minorities and traditionally underserved communities.
As school budgets seem to continually shrink (our district has lost nearly 25 million dollars over a five year period), the arts are often the first targets of spending cuts. In many minority communities, music and dance and all the arts are already an afterthought despite so much evidence of their value. Somehow this has to change!
My greatest challenge is to find ways to transform that mindset. To create a world where young children of color think being a classical musician is as cool as playing shortstop for the Yankees. I know it is far-fetched, but every dream, every calling has to start somewhere. Mine is just starting and I can’t begin to express how exciting it is.
I don’t often spend too much time considering “destiny.” However, becoming an agent of change, helping to expand the awareness and appreciation for some of the greatest music of all times has always been a compelling purpose for me. I cannot think of anything more crucial and integral in my life.
I look forward to attending Juilliard. To use it as a learning laboratory, a safe haven where I can gain the tools I need to begin this quest. Even more, I hope the foundation of a Conservatory education fosters growth throughout my life and that I can find the strength to become an advocate and leader fulfilling this aspiration.
- Kenneth Torron P.