Published: June 28, 2024 By
SPA ensemble
SPA participants reap the benefits of the College of Music's Musicians’ Wellness Program.SPA participants reap the benefits of the College of Music’s Musicians’ Wellness Program.

Last summer, the College of Music and Sphinx Performance Academy (SPA) kicked off a new partnership to welcome 22 talented string students—ages 11-17—to our campus for an intensive scholarship program emphasizing cultural diversity. 

SPA CahillAssociate Professor of Double Bass Susan Cahill coaches an SPA participant.

This month, June 20-30, it’s déjâ vu as auditioned youths engage in lessons, master classes and performances with their instructors and guest teachers—all under the auspices of the Sphinx Organization and thanks to a DEI Impact Grant from the CU Boulder Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

SPA RequiroAssociate Professor of Cello David Requiro (left) with other SPA participants.

That’s a lot to plan and implement. Yet for Alex Gonzalez—returning SPA faculty member and College of Music assistant professor of violin—it’s all a joy. “It’s wonderful to see how the SPA gives the kids space to grow, presenting them options as they pursue music,” he says.

In between, Gonzalez explains, the students do more than improve their skills on violin, viola, cello and bass: “For example, Jim Brody, who runs the College of Music’s wellness program, instructed them in healthy playing habits. It’s so important for them to learn how to prevent injury and avoid poor practice positions.” Gonzalez also notes a master class by violinist Andrea Segar who’ll join the College of Music faculty as assistant professor of violin this fall. 

Success stories are many. Among the 22 students who’ve flown in from around the country, a few are returning from last summer’s inaugural SPA on our campus; and, according to Gonzalez, three students from the first cohort have applied for admission to CU Boulder and were accepted—including SPA alum Ryannah Blackman who will join Gonzalez’s violin studio as a freshman performance major this fall. “She told me, ‘The SPA made me want to settle here,’” he says. 

A member of the Sphinx Virtuosi where he’s concertmaster, touring extensively with the group across the country and abroad, Gonzalez understands first-hand that the road to success in music isn’t without its challenges. But programs like the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization, established in 1997 to focus on “increasing representation of Black and Latinx artists in classical music,” have done much to ease and advance that journey.

Intense teaching and motivation are valuable, of course, but the SPA provides something else, Gonzales discovered: “There’s a sense of community here, friendships have developed,” he says. “These kids are sharing their love of music, of being together. I think it lifts them up. 

“They’ve worked hard but they got Sundays off, so they went on field trips. They went to the Pearl Street Mall and they took hikes. They got to see Boulder.” 

See you next year, SPA!

SPA faculty and students will perform free, public concerts in Grusin Music Hall tonight and this weekend.

Photos: Kathryn Bistodeau, Sphinx Organization

SPA ensemble