Black Violin

There are stereotypes to go with every activity or hobby you could think of. When you think of musicians, though, there are a variety of thoughts that might run through your mind- nerdy, good at math, maybe graceful or elegant if you’ve been to a violin solo concert. Some people enter their respective field in order to break barriers though, or at the least break cultural norms. Two of these people include Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste.

Doing something that’s relatively rare for classically trained musicians, Sylvester and Baptiste both go by stage names (Kev Marcus and Wil B respectively). The argument could be made, though, that many things that this violin duo have done are “relatively rare” for classically trained musicians. The duo make either remixes of classical music, or music that requires technical skill while still sounding modern. Their in-person concerts are known for getting people onto their feet and moving, rather than the traditional norm of people sitting in a concert hall and listening quietly.

Sylvester, opening up during an interview with PBS Newshour, stated that a large part of the reason that he even plays violin today was because his mother forced him to do so, in order to keep him away from some undesirable company in his childhood neighborhood. After gaining a full ride scholarship to Florida International University through music, Sylvester was the “only black guy in [his] orchestra for a couple of years” (CPR). His college professor, on the first day of class, handed him a tape where the violin sounded “like fire” (NPR), something that stuck with Sylvester, and later Baptiste, through college. That tape, which was in actuality an album by Stuff Smith titled “Black Violin”, would also serve as the inspiration for the duo’s name and musical careers.

Personally, I am more used to the traditional idea of classical music and concerts- black dresses or slacks, white dress shirts and black ties- you get the picture. I have trained classically in violin for thirteen years now, which, at its most simple, means that I have studied to be able to play the violin as it has been played for centuries before me, as well as written for by “classical” composers, such as Bach, Mozart, etc..

This being said, I have, for a while now, looked down on remixes of classical music, and on new styles of playing, possibly because I’ve had traditional methods so ingrained within my playing style. All this to say, when I review this piece of music, I’m looking at both the music side which requires me to listen, and the actual technical skill it takes to play the piece.

For the purpose of this review, I watched the video and listened to the music from a Black Violin release, “Impossible is Possible”. It launched in 2019, but I had not watched the music video before writing this review. However, I wanted to get others to review both the music and the technical skills as well. In order to try and make this review more well-rounded, appealing both to those with technical knowledge of violin and to those who have none, I sent the video to Samuel Albarran, sophomore, who also plays violin, and Clare Nadores, also a sophomore, who does not play violin.

Samuel Albarran:

Impossible is possible by Black Violin is extremely well done in both a musical and a cinematic stand point. On the musical side, specifically the violin part, while not overly complicated, the part was played with a great amount of skill. The choice of when to put more emphasis on the violin also tied into fitting points in the music video, creating a stronger connection between the music video and the music.

Clare Nadores:

Black Violin’s Impossible is Possible’s music video is such an empowering work, inspiring me to challenge and defy what is “possible”. I get a sense of perseverance from the video as we see the boy progress throughout his lifetime with hard work. The violin contributes a melodic flow to the song, and this could even represent the emotional yet harmonious progression of life and growth among inevitable time (the steady rhythm of the drum), like the boy’s own life. The lyrics are filled with motivational affirmations and encourage determination to exceed limits. The music video is very fitting for BHM because it rallies those who are being/have been oppressed throughout history, especially the black community, to challenge the social stigmas that befall them; in our places of work, community, and even our own schools. “Impossible is Possible” is a challenge in itself, daring the listener to resist others’ prejudiced words and liberate oneself from the standards of society.

My Review:

This piece was beautifully written, filmed, and produced. From a violin standpoint, I agree with Samuel Albarran that it was not challenging, but the technique which was employed, such as vibrato and the amount of the bow (the wooden stick with which a violin is played) used, is impressive. Violin aside, I fell in love with the cinematography throughout the video. The video, which follows the story of a boy who enjoys running, was inspirational (even as someone not really into running). I believe that especially during Black History Month, this is a beautiful video to watch, as it is a strong example of perseverance and a wonderful success story, which highlights black creators.

Charlotte at 13, in front of the Kennedy Center while Black Violin was performing there.


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