DC Strings Workshop honors Black History Month, COVID-19 victims

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes DC Strings Workshop (Part 1)

It was founded five years ago as a nonprofit to highlight diversity in classical music.

On Saturday, D.C. Strings Workshop marks Black History Month in a virtual concert.

“The theme of the concert is Black History Month and also commemorating the loss [from COVID-19],” Founder and Artistic Director Andrew Lee told WTOP. “February is a month of love for a lot of people, but this has been a really challenging year.”

That includes Black Lives Matter protests last summer to the U.S. Capitol riot.

“It’s a real reckoning,” Lee said. “We’re seeing it everywhere, from corporate America to artistic institutions. We have to decide what kind of country we’re going to be. Are we a country where privilege and race is going to continue to divide us? … Or are we going to create new pathways of opportunities? Are we going to reckon with our past?”

Saturday’s show will feature “Across the Calm Waters” by Ahmed Alabaca.

“It’s a very cerebral piece to commemorate people who have passed,” Lee said. “COVID-19 has ravaged our lives. We see it in our programs with the number of kids talking about losing a loved one. There is a very palatable sense of the trauma we’re all collectively experiencing. This piece perfectly encapsulates that but with hope.”

The program also features “Adoration” by Black composer Florence Price.

“She came up in the 1930s and ’40s,” Lee said. “For many African Americans at the time, it was very hard having their work performed by white orchestras for white audiences, but she’s heralded as driving the conversation and interweaving various melodies that everyone has now come to appreciate.”

Music Director Dr. Juan Gallastegui leads a group of talented location musicians.

“A lot of our musicians are retired Army or Air Force band folks,” Lee said. “We have a number of educators in public, charter and private schools. Then we have some amateurs who love music, maybe they were music majors in college and they have other careers now, but they still perform music at a high level.”

What started in churches and schools on Capitol Hill soon expanded to Anacostia.

“Since COVID, we’ve had a lot of virtual programming,” Lee said. “We’ve found a way to practice, rehearse and perform outside safely. We’ve had a number of concerts outside in amphitheaters, on the water in Alexandria with a mix of music, whether it’s classical, jazz, even go-go concerts. We believe in an eclectic palette of music.”

It’s all part of a “mighty mission” to diversify music opportunities in the nation’s capital.

“We’re an orchestra of musicians that believes in bringing music to all parts of our city, particularly underserved areas through our various ensemble, orchestra and music education programs,” Lee said. “Many kids in D.C. do not have the opportunity to study an instrument or they’re not able to afford private lessons or the cost of an instrument, so we really stand in the gap for those kids.”

Free tickets are available, but the suggested donation price is $20.

Learn more about the concert on the D.C. Strings website.

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes DC Strings Workshop (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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