By Callie Lawson-Freeman | OBSERVER Correspondent
The Colour of Music Festival will make its West Coast debut in Sacramento, Nov. 10-13.
Since 2013, the event has brought classically trained Black musicians together to showcase the often overlooked talent and impact of prodigious composers and performers of African descent.
In recognition of the festival’s Sacramento appearance, violinist Anyango Yarbo-Davenport will present a free preview at the Crocker Art Museum on Saturday, Oct. 30. Those interested in attending the free evening of music should RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A prolific performer, conductor, and teacher, Yarbo-Davenport is Assistant Professor of Violin and Coordinator of Violin and Chamber Music at the Pontifical Javeriana University in Bogota, Colombia. She is also an artistic director, soloist, and co-program curator of the Colour of Music Festival Virtuosi, an all-female chamber of Black musicians.
Yarbo-Davenport talked to The OBSERVER about her life in “service to music,” why Black representation is so important in classical music, and what she loves most about The Colour of Music Festival.
The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: You have an incredible background; born in Germany and raised by two prolific musicians (American soprano, Africa Yarbo-Davenport and the late Austrian conductor Hans Peter Jillich). How has music shaped and impacted your life?
A: Music is my life, to make it simple. I have always known I wanted to be a musician since I was 2 years old. I used to watch the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and there are many pictures of me in diapers trying to conduct along with a wooden stick. Basically from as soon as I could stand, I wanted to be involved in music.
It has not only led my life, but it has shaped my life. My life is in service to the music. So I feel very fortunate to be able to live and express myself as a musician as well as a performer.
Q: You are a Black woman presenting, teaching, and performing music all over the world. Can you talk about the importance of representation for artists of color in classical music?
A: I grew up in Munich and my mother was luckily my role model. She was one of very few classical musicians of color, the only Black woman in the entire music scene that I was exposed to — and I saw her always being the leader, always being the soloist, always being the director of her performances and her career.
So, for me, being the only Black girl in ballet class wasn’t intimidating. Representation matters because if you don’t see yourself on stage, you may believe that you don’t belong there, and that is incorrect. Classical music is for everybody. I think the Colour of Music Festival is essential in taking this message throughout the country and internationally.
Q: You made your debut as a soloist and conductor for the Colour for Music Festival Virtuosi in 2017. How did you get involved in the festival?
A: I received a Facebook message from Lee Pringle, the founder and director of the Colour Music Festival, during the summer saying they were interested in considering me for collaboration. From our first conversation, I admired Lee Pringle’s tenacity and dedication to the cause.
Raising a minority organization from the ground up, which comes with its intrinsic obstacles starting from funding to recognition, it was clear to me that this was a unique opportunity to contribute and do for other little girls and boys what my mom has done all her life for myself: representing them well. It is an incredible opportunity to be a part of such a legacy, such a larger than life statement, and also to be able to give back to future communities.
Q: You already give back as a teacher, and while you are incredibly accomplished, so are many of your students. (Yarbo-Davenport’s students have won top prizes in international competitions, hold orchestra positions in the U.S., South America and Europe, and have been accepted into the top universities worldwide.) To what do you credit your success as a teacher and mentor?
A: Well first of all, thank you so much for your kind words. My students make me very proud to be their teacher every day. I’ve had teachers who were not good teachers, in the sense that they were excellent instrumentalists but did not have the most ideal pedagogy. Learning under them was very tough growing up.
At a very young age, I decided that I wanted to teach and convey why I love what I do so much, but also do better than some of my teachers did with me. I think what drives me as a teacher is to make sure to guide the student in a respectful, dignified manner, nurture the student, and also help them to withstand the pressures of the industry. Not just on a technical level with the instrument, but also on a psychological level. I think that makes a big difference for the kids.
Q: Your current research focuses on musician health. How do you keep yourself in peak form during your busy performance season?
A: I think it’s so important as musicians that we take care of ourselves not just physically, but also mentally. So a lot of mental self care, mental cleaning, preparing your plan to be on stage mentally as well as physically has to be very diligently done.
Physically speaking, I love a good weightlifting routine, I love going for a run. I love going for hikes, and I also enjoy some pilates and yoga. Meditating has also been one of my newfound interests during the pandemic. So I like a big variety of activities that use all the muscles of my body because I always believe if you don’t use a muscle it’ll probably hurt.
Q: What do you hope Colour of Music festival attendees take away from their experience?
A: I hope you take away an afternoon or evening of fun, having had a great time, having heard fabulous music, having met new performers, having met new people, connecting through music and enriching your day. And I hope to connect with you.
Please come by and say “hi” after the performance. We really look forward to seeing you in person.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Those interested in attending the free evening of music at the Crocker Art Museum should RSVP at email@example.com. Attire is “uptown dressy casual” and complimentary cocktails and refreshments will be provided.