Howard Magazine - Page 32 - Soulful Serenade - Continued from Page 30

Howard Magazine
- Page 32
Soulful Serenade - Continued from Page 30

flexibility to play everything from classic repertoire to jazz, gospel, blues, where it’s off the page. And that’s not so easy to find. That includes vocals as well.”

 

Soulful Symphony, which has been in existence since 2000, creates many teachable moments for everyone from its 85 members to the audience.

 

McJunkins says the work culture of Soulful Symphony is unlike anything else she’s ever experienced—particularly backstage before performances.

 

“There were cultural similarities that I have never experienced,” she recalls. “For instance, getting ready for the show backstage, I met women [musicians] who could listen to Brahms, but we could listen to Beyonce without having to explain who she was. It felt very much like family.”

 

Although Atwater says that it was never his intention, the Soulful Symphony has become a refuge for musicians like McJunkins who longed for a greater sense of community that she missed in other music groups where there is a dearth of ethnic diversity.

 

“I wasn’t really introduced to that network [of string players of color] until Soulful. Before Soulful, I didn’t feel like I had a real community of sorts, which is crucial anywhere, but especially in New York,” McJunkins says.

 

Don Johns, who has played percussion for the symphony since 2005, loves the variety and freedom that Soulful Symphony provides him.

 

“I’m someone who plays in a variety of orchestras. [Soulful Symphony] is definitely empowering and more of a family atmosphere,” Johns, 35, says. “Soulful has more relevance and resonances with what I want to perform. They’re all phenomenal talents. It comes across with the performance.”

 

Even Soulful Symphony’s approach to attire differs drastically from more traditional symphonies, which Johns appreciates. He recalls a performance in 2007 entitled “Paint Factory” where the group homed in on hip-hop. That concert, symphony members wore jeans, dress shirts, blazers, sneakers or