Anthony Parker, more commonly known as Wordsmith, is collaborating with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as its new artistic partner. Although he has worked with the BSO on special projects before, such as the reinterpretation of “Ode to Joy” for the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, this partnership will bring new programs and a fresh perspective to Baltimore’s classical music community.
Wordsmith has been an active member of his Baltimore community since beginning his career as a hip-hop artist and rapper. He has worked in partnership with doTERRA and Helping Hands to bring music to the community through his nonprofit organization, Rise with a Purpose Inc. Through his nonprofit experience of bringing music programs into Baltimore schools in lower-income and predominantly Black communities, Wordsmith’s partnership with the BSO has allowed him to spearhead similar programs to foster more inclusion of Black voices in transforming and contributing to the classical music scene.
Wordsmith describes the inaccessibility of classical music in Black communities due to the lack of opportunities, he says, for Black and other minority influences on the genre. When the BSO asked Wordsmith to work on its first project to reinterpret “Carnival of the Animals,” he described the importance of this stepping-stone to bridge the gap between classical music and BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) communities.
“I was very humbled by it,” Wordsmith says. “That first opportunity with the BSO has shaped me and shown me that there are a lot of people within the classical community that do want to see change, that do want to see classical music evolve.”
Tonya McBride Robles, the BSO’s vice president and chief operating officer, has seen how offering Wordsmith a position as artistic partner has been changing the classical music atmosphere through his re-interpretive work. Additionally, his involvement supports programs that enhance minority groups and their involvement with the classical music community.
“It was nearly unheard of to collaborate in projects such as rewriting the text of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ as a call for unity, justice and empowerment,” says Robles. “But the BSO’s work with Wordsmith has always been innovative, and his creativity has pushed the organization to approach works with a new perspective.”
Looking forward, Wordsmith is working on diversity-driven projects such as a Frederick Douglass project entitled “The Soldier’s Tale”—which Wordsmith himself will be reinterpreting from the point of view of a Black soldier in Vietnam during the civil rights movement—and planning a Black composers conference in January. He hopes that these efforts will encourage change throughout the classical music community and signal to both Black and non-Black people of color that the BSO is genuinely invested in making the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall an inclusive space that values growth, change and influence from other perspectives.
“When you think about classical music, you think of the white community. Part of what I want to do is make it more inviting for not only the Black community but also all people,” explains Wordsmith. “The way you do that is by not just sliding people into titles and so forth but by being accountable and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to do programs. We’re going to put people in place that look like you.’”
The BSO has committed to finding and implementing new ways to bring greater diversity to every level of the organization, from administrative positions to the audience the organization wants to reach, explains Robles. “In launching BSO Sessions, our digital concert series, we are actively transforming the symphony orchestra concert experience and amplifying the voices and stories of more BIPOC and women composers, including living composers, in the process.”
The BSO is continually working to bring its audience new programs in collaboration with influential guest artists, composers and musicians when in-person performances become an option in the 2022-2023 season. Until then, the BSO encourages its patrons to continue to engage with the orchestra through ongoing performances and programs offered online.