The MSO's only Black musician hopes to show kids they can foster a love for classical music
There’s brief stillness in the moment before Brandyn Lewis starts playing the double bass. He sits on a stool in his Plateau apartment, eyes focused on the bow in his right hand. His fingers are solid on the strings, confident in the piece he has practiced hundreds of times before. He takes a deep breath and the opening notes of Serge Koussevitzy’s concerto for double bass reverberates around the tiny space.
Lewis is an interim member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the organization’s only Black musician.
“There are times where I do look around and I am the only Black person there,” he said. “At the end of the day, it shouldn’t really matter what the colour of our skin is, we’re all here to play music together.”
Lewis joined the MSO in 2016. The symphony holds blind auditions where musicians are separated from the judges by a curtain. It ensures the criteria is solely about the music. Lewis says often Black musicians don’t see themselves excelling in classical music, which could explain why fewer of them try out.
“There’s this idea that classical music is very Euro-centric and young Black musicians don’t really see themselves evolving in that,” he said.
He hopes to contribute to programs that show Black musicians there are places for them in the classical realm.
“There has to be some education programs that go into the communities and show kids the possibilities,” he said.
Lewis started playing the double bass at FACE high school in Montreal. He gravitated towards the low frequencies of the double bass.
“There’s a richness in the double bass that I didn’t get with the other instruments I tried. I tried clarinet, trumpet... I was terrible at trumpet,” he said.
It was seeing an orchestral performance as part of a field trip that cemented his love of the instrument and the power of the intertwined harmonies.
“I was just amazed. I was sitting there and just shocked at how all these different parts can come together,” he said.
Lewis hopes seeing at least one Black musician in the MSO can inspire others to foster a love of classical music.
“Honestly my hope, and my dream, is that kids will see me as a role model and say it’s possible,” he said.