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Aaron Dworkin listens as UMKC's Bobby Watson performs. Photo Credit: John Carmody, UMKC Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications.
Aaron Dworkin listens as UMKC's Bobby Watson performs. Photo Credit: John Carmody, UMKC Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications.

Musical Bridges event celebrates Aaron Dworkin

“Why am I the only one here who looks like me?”

As a child, Aaron Dworkin asked himself that question many times. It popped up when he looked at the racial makeup of his fellow musicians, and again, moments later, when he would look into the audience.

Years later, the biracial musician still asks that question.

But things are beginning to change. Not by chance, but because of powerful initiatives like Dworkin’s Sphinx Organization, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Musical Bridges program. Both organizations focus on youth development and increasing diversity in music.

“This issue of inclusion and equality in the arts, and the work of Sphinx and Musical Bridges, matters,” Dworkin said.

Dworkin was preaching to the choir. His audience, a mix of aspiring musicians, music teachers and benefactors, filled UMKC’s Pierson Auditorium for the Musical Bridges Benefit luncheon. The annual event raises funds for the program, which provides free weekly private music lessons to underserved populations in Kansas City. The goal of Musical Bridges is to prepare students for higher education, regardless of their area of study.

That mission hit home for Dworkin. His own Sphinx Organization has made significant headway in making the classical music industry more inclusive and diverse. His work has gained national acclaim. Dworkin was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2005, and was later appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Arts.

He served as the keynote speaker for the Musical Bridges Benefit luncheon, where he was named the 2014 Francis Family Foundation Musical Bridges Fellow.

The efforts of programs like the Sphinx Organization and Musical Bridges give talented students the opportunity to be successful adults.

“This is one of those programs that proves that UMKC is Kansas City’s university. Our engagement in the community makes a difference,” Chancellor Leo Morton said.

When he took the stage, Conservatory of Music and Dance Dean Peter Witte highlighted the results of the program. Students who have been through the Musical Bridges program are now studying everything from music to medicine in schools like the University of Missouri, the University of Kansas, and of course, UMKC.

“Musical Bridges makes a difference,” Witte said. “One student at a time.”


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