Aaron Dworkin  

Breaking the Sound Barrier: The Sphinx Organization and Classical Music

Aaron Dworkin
February 11, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

The latest Sphinx Organization newsletter contained a link to a video of Aaron Dworkin, President and Founder, delivering a speech at the Chautauqua Foundation this past August. I watched the speech and was so moved by Aaron's personal story and by his poems that I asked him to let us publish a shortened version of the speech here at Polyphonic.

To watch the entire speech, go to the FORA.TV website.

- Ann Drinan
I would like to thank everyone at Chautauqua for inviting me to be here with you today representing the Sphinx Organization, of which I am the Founder & President and which I am proud to say has had the opportunity to partner with the Chautauqua Music Festival for over five years!

Ashley Montagu was one of the great humanists and intellectuals of our time. His research and writings helped launch or contribute to significant social movements, including the emancipation of the disabled through his book The Elephant Man, and the women’s movement through his book The Natural Superiority of Women.

He also had a huge impact on the issues of race and how it was considered in the scientific world when he published Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, which fought the growing popularity at the turn of the century of the idea of scientific racism. However, despite these great contributions to the elevation of the human race, the reason I mention such a man today is that he is quoted with words that touch a chord with me and my own life experiences.
The deepest defeat suffered by human beings is constituted by the difference between what one was capable of becoming and what one has in fact become.
When I hear those words, I think to myself, what shall I consider of those whose accomplishments not only meet expectations but exceed what anyone might have thought them capable of?

As I share with you my story and the work of the Sphinx Organization, I ask you to consider the accomplishments of so many musicians, many of whose achievements have gone unrecognized for far too long. I will also share a poem or two that I have written that reflects the topic or period in my life that I am discussing, as I feel that the artistic word can often share more with less than mere prose. I hope you will indulge me.

I have a rather unusual history, which I think would have made it quite difficult for anyone to even remotely try to determine what I might be capable of becoming. Certainly by any statistical norms, being born a bi-racial baby on September 11, 2019 to an un-wed white mother in a small village outside of Monticello NY, and being immediately given up for adoption, did not set the stage for the highest expectations in terms of my future capabilities. So, what could have taken place that brought me to be here on this stage before you this morning? Well, without going into too many details of my background, I do want to give you a snapshot of how I came to be standing here today as it defines the work that I do everyday.

I was born to an African-American father who was a Jehovah’s Witness and a white Irish-Catholic mother in 1970, when interracial marriage was still illegal in several states. Given society and other pressures at the time, my mother was forced to give me up for adoption. I was then adopted at the age of two weeks by a white Jewish family in New York City. By the age of 13, curiosity had taken hold and I began what was to become an almost two decade-long journey in search of my birth parents. For those of you who may not know, current laws make it next to impossible for an adoptee to locate their birth parents.

So it is all the more surprising then when, after all my fruitless efforts, I was reunited with them about five years ago at the age of 31 through the website adoption.com. Not only were my parents together but I was to find that they had eventually married and that I had a full sister. We have since had the most amazing relationship, and my sister now attends my alma mater, the University of Michigan. People sometimes ask me why I care so much about diversity and why I have dedicated my life to pursuits that further that end. I have the easiest response to that question: “I am a black, white, Jewish, Irish Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness who plays the violin. I am the definition of diversity. I don’t have a choice but to do what I do.”

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