DALLAS — The notes that fly from 19-year-old Xavier Wilson's cello are colored with emotion, though he knows the color of skin is what many people notice.
"You rarely see a person of color play this instrument,” he with a smile. “So, there are definitely looks."
As a black kid who was raised by a single mother struggling financially in Lancaster, Xavier freely admits there's no way he would have played the cello without the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Young Strings Program.
Young Strings was founded in 1992 in Dallas with Dwight Shambley, a bass player. At the time, he was one of only two black musicians in a classical symphony orchestra.
"Out of the whole country, there weren’t many others to look to as role models," Shambley said.
So, Shambley began the Young Strings program to increase the multicultural diversity of orchestras.
"Have African Americans and Hispanics played music?” Shambley said. “Yes. Have they done this sort of music? In general, no. I just wanted to open that up."
To level the playing field, Young Strings provides instruments and private lessons for free. At first, the program was limited to disadvantaged African Americans, but now Latino youngsters may also qualify.
Young Strings offers three levels of instruction and currently serves about 200 students each year.
St. Philip's School and Community Center is one of several that participates.
"There's been a void in the classical music with regard to the participation of minority students,” said principal Gwendolyn Barjon. "And so Young Strings has brought this to our campus, our community, and opened doors for many of our students who would probably not otherwise have such an exposure."
"I like playing instruments and hearing music,” said Alayna Dennis, a violin player in the third grade.
From elementary through high school, youngsters get the opportunity to show their skills during a recital on the big stage at the Meyerson Symphony Center. It's an incredible opportunity that kids love.
Xavier says when he went hungry as a teenager, the cello filled his soul.
Now, it's providing a college scholarship and perhaps, one day, a living as a professional musician. He's already teaching lessons to youngsters.
"I became the first in my family to go to college because of this,” he said gratefully. “If it wasn't for Young Strings, I don't know what I’d be doing now. Honestly, I don't. And, it's just a great program."
Xavier hopes to give back to other kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to learn and love playing classical music.
He, and the DSO members who make the Young Strings program possible, hope that with their efforts the orchestra itself one day will be as colorful as the music.
The program receives funding through various sources. If you'd like to help Young Strings, either through a donation of funds, time or instruments, please contact Carolyn Jabr, DSO Young Strings Manager at email@example.com or 214.871.4083.