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Blanke, John
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Dworkin, Aaron Paul
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Melissa White, 2001 1st  place Jr. Division Laureate of the Sphinx Competition, performs as guest artist with the Sphinx Symphony, led by guest conductor Kay George Roberts






























Aaron Dworkin & Afa Sadykhly on electric violin
Ethnovibe Records
































Ebony Rhythm
Aaron Dworkin, electric violin
Ethnovibe Records

Home -> Musicians -> Dworkin, Aaron Paul

Aaron Paul Dworkin  (b. 1970)

African American Violinist

Sphinx Organization Founder & MacArthur Fellow


Table of Contents

  1 Birth
  2 Violinist
  3 Good for the Mind
  4 Sphinx Organization
  5 SphinxKids.org

  6 Sphinx Orchestra
  7 Governors Award
  8 MacArthur Fellow
  9 Philanthropy


Aaron P. Dworkin


Aaron P. Dworkin, Founder and President, Sphinx Organization
(Photo: Kevin Kennedy)


Symphony of the Sphinx
Sphinx Symphony Orchestra
Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson
Leslie B. Dunner, Conductor
Visionary 103

First Movement


Trevor Ochieng, 2004 1st place
Jr. Division Laureate of the Sphinx Competition with Aaron Dworkin


1 Birth
Dworkin was born on September 11, 1970 in Monticello, New York and moved to New York City two weeks later.  "As a biracial kid growing up as a black man in America, adopted when I was two weeks old by white parents, I am, at my spiritual, emotional, intellectual and biological core, the embodiment of diversity.  As a musician and a writer, I have experienced the power that the arts possess to bridge racial and cultural divides and touch a mosaic of people from differing backgrounds and communities."  Excerpt from Aaron P. Dworkin's Web site, www.Ethnovibe.com

Dick Gordon interviewed Aaron Dworkin in detail on the American Public Media radio program The Story Feb. 16, 2007.  The 50-minute segment includes excerpts of classical works of William Grant Still, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn:


2 Violinist
Aaron began playing the violin at age five.  When he was 10, the family moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania, which had only one Black family.  Racism made life difficult for him there.  He graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, and received his Bachelors of Music and Masters of Music in Violin Performance from the University of Michigan.  He plays both acoustic and electric violin, and has recorded two CDs, Ebony Rhythm  and Bar-Talk.  Both are on the Ethnovibe label.

3 Good for the Mind
The Ann Arbor News published a feature article on Dworkin, Sept. 20, 2005, in which he said classical music can be good for the mind and the emotions:

"So many times they feel frustrated. You can act out an expression on an instrument and through music in a way that ends up being beautiful. Anger and frustration on an instrument can be beautiful," Dworkin said.


4 Sphinx Organization
When he studied violin performance at the University of Michigan, Aaron Dworkin was often the only African American in a class or even in a concert audience.  Only 1.5% of orchestra members in the U.S. are people of color, the Ann Arbor News article says.  In 1996 Dworkin founded The Sphinx Organization, a national non-profit group which holds an annual competition for Black and Latino string players.  Its Web site, www.sphinxmusic.org, explains the group's mission:

Aaron founded Sphinx to help change this situation, to overcome the cultural stereotype of classical music, and to address the isolation and limited access that young Blacks and Latinos face in the classical music world.

The Ann Arbor News discussed Dworkin's accomplishments with Stephen Shipps, a former professor of his at the University of Michigan.  In the article on Sept. 20, 2005 the paper wrote:

Shipps said Dworkin inspires people, especially young people. "He's changing the face of classical music," Shipps said.


5 SphinxKids.org
The Sphinx Organization operates an interactive Website for young people, www.SphinxKids.org  It includes the following explanation of the resource:          

Sphinx Kids is an extension of the Sphinx Organization's Classical Connections program, which brings classical music into underserved schools nationwide. The creation of the site was sponsored by an SBC Excelerator Grant. Sphinx Kids contains interactive games and videos from the Sphinx Classical Connections CD-Rom as well as from the New York Philharmonic's KidZone website. Special thanks go to the New York Philharmonic and their Educational Department for sharing their technology!

6 Sphinx Orchestra

The Sphinx Organization has major corporate sponsors, as well as the support of universities and numerous American symphony orchestras.  Its annual competition concerts are held in Ann Arbor and Detroit, in junior and senior divisions.  The 2002 Finals Concert is available on a CD, Visionary Records 103 (2002), http://www.videmus.org/sphinx.html  Among the works is Symphony of the Sphinx  (19:03) by the African American composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.  The 2001 Finals Concert has been released on Visionary Records VIS 102 (2001).  The Sphinx Chamber Orchestra gave a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, writes Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times, Oct. 27, 2006:

The concert at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday evening offered typical fare: a string chamber orchestra playing works by Mozart, Villa-Lobos and others. But the audience, far from the typical classical music crowd, was overwhelmingly black and Latino, and most were children. Onstage as well, all the players were young black and Latino musicians. It was a sight you rarely encounter at Carnegie Hall.
In addition, Sphinx runs a successful competition for string players, also supported by JPMorgan Chase. Every member of the 20-piece Sphinx Chamber Orchestra that performed on this occasion, as well as each impressive soloist, was a past or current prizewinner.


7 Governors Award
Violinist Aaron P. Dworkin is Founder & President of The Sphinx Organization.  He and the group have been awarded one of eight 2005 National Governors Awards, for Distinguished Service to State Government, in the category of Artistic Production.  Each year Sphinx programs introduce 20,000 Black and Latino students in 100 urban schools to classical music and the classical music profession.


8 MacArthur Fellow
The MacArthur Fellows Program Award Announcement for Aaron P. Dworkin, from the MacArthur Foundation Web site, www.macfound.org

Aaron Dworkin
Music Educator
Founder and President
The Sphinx Organization
Detroit, Michigan
Age: 35

Aaron Dworkin is a talented violinist, charismatic arts educator, and the Founder and President of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization. He and his organization have expanded access for increased numbers of minorities to careers in classical music around the country. Through his efforts, he has transformed the lives of many African-American and Latino musicians and changed the landscape of classical music in America. As minorities currently comprise only 1.5 percent of professional symphony players in the United States, Sphinx set a course to attract young men and women to classical music, countering their perception that such careers face insurmountable barriers and providing them with rigorous training, affordable instruments, and performance opportunities. The results have been to turn out fresh new talent second to none and to fill a void recognized by all. Determined to reverse the isolation of whole populations of young musicians from the beauty, value, and meaning of classical music, Dworkin began by organizing an annual national competition for minority string players. His programs grew rapidly to encompass an orchestra entirely composed of African-American and Latino musicians; a summer training program for underprivileged string players; music education outreach programs in Detroit public schools; an instrument fund for players unable to afford them; and a scholarship fund for deserving musicians who otherwise could not go on for advanced training. Through his programs and nurturing support, Dworkin assures access and enriches symphonies across the country.

Aaron Dworkin received a B.M. (1997) and an M.M. (1998) from the University of Michigan. In 1996, Dworkin founded The Sphinx Organization, for which he now serves as president. A frequent speaker on youth and minority involvement and career development in classical music, he also serves as an advisor for several education and music organizations, including the University Musical Society and the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation.  [End of MacArthur Foundation announcement]

9 Philanthropy
Second Fiddle to None: Detroit leader encourages black and Hispanic youths to become top-notch classical musicians is the title of an article by
Nicole Lewis in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Oct. 27, 2005.  Here is an excerpt:  


Sphinx seeks to increase the pool of professional black and Latino string players by providing training, scholarships, high-quality instruments, and opportunities to perform as soloists with the country's top orchestras. In addition, the group aims to expand minority audiences for classical music through music-education programs in schools, as well as to introduce more works by black and Latino composers to audiences in general.

Mr. Dworkin says he chose to focus on blacks and Hispanics because those two groups combined represent less than 4 percent of professional orchestra members, even though they make up 25 percent of America's population. The group's name stands for several things, including the high level of excellence achieved by civilization and the ancient origin of many minority groups, he says.


This page was last updated on March 5, 2022

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