In 2010, the Kalamazoo Gazette interviewed violinist Aaron Dworkin.  Mr. Dworkin; a member of the National Arts Policy Committee under President Obama's administration, said "American orchestras need to embrace musicians of different ethnic and racial backgrounds if they wish to remain relevant."  When asked why he focuses on diversity issues, Mr. Dworkin was quoted as saying, "I'm a white, Catholic, Jewish, Jehovah's Witness who plays violin.  I have to be involved in diversity issues."  His birth mother was white.  His birth father was black.

 

My father, Andrew Cieslarski, was twelve years old when he began to play the violin professionally by standing in a department store window to attract passers-by.  He was a white, Catholic, Polish son of immigrant parents.  Later, in the days leading up to World War II, he earned the distinction of being the only white musician in an "all black" orchestra, as was the designation for Afrcian American orchestras back in the day.

 

To his own detriment in the aftermath of the war, Dad dealt with what would now be termed PTSD by playing his violin at all hours of the night.  This so disturbed my grandfather; who'd first placed the violin in Dad's hands but now wondered what the neighbors would think, that he banished his son from the house.  Dad resorted to living underneath the front porch of the family home that still stands at the corner of 31st and Throop Streets in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood.  My grandmother's insistence at the onset of winter finally ended the exile that permitted my father to continue to play his violin at all hours of the night and brought peace to his father.

 

Born to a violinist, my musical instruction began at the age of nine when Dad purchased a Wurlitzer Lyric piano for $200.00.  My classical instruction endured ten years, after school every Friday at the Mary McDowell Settlement House in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood, under the instruction of one Eleanor Price.  Mrs. Price knew no boundaries.  My piano recitals happend on Sundays in Hyde Park, on Chicago's far southeast side, where I was the only white student in an "all black" community of piano students under the direction of Mr. Sharp.

 

Fifty-five years later, I still own that piano - and the everlasting embrace of musicians of different ethnic and racial backgrounds who touched my life and most certainly remain relevant.

0 Kudos
Comments
Contributor

 

My true story of a family history that has transcended race for generations.