The Roderick Cox Music Initiative is a two-pronged effort to celebrate and commemorate Roderick Cox’s impact on communities of color in the Twin Cities, as well as the Cities as whole. Through a meteoric rise filled with formidable and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Roderick, an African-American from Macon, Georgia, has cemented his place in the rarified and tradition-steeped world of classical conducting, including a 3-year run as Assistant and Associate Conductor for the Minnesota Orchestra.
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The initiative, underpinned by Roderick’s story of inspiration, seeks to create media content to inspire the next generation, as well as put meaningful opportunities in place for Twin Cities youth of color. As such, the initiative will culminate in the release of the 30-minute documentary (produced in partnership with Twin Cities PBS), entitled Conducting Life, featuring Roderick, as well as the granting of 30 music scholarships over 3 years to Twin Cities youth of color.
The 30-minute documentary, Conducting Life, follows Roderick Cox, a young African-American musician and aspiring conductor, as he tirelessly pursues the top position as the music director with a major orchestra. Along the way his courage, resilience, and faith in himself are tested as he faces intense competition for the few sought after positions. In this intimate portrait, Conducting Life will explore Roderick’s talent and passion for music, his struggles and successes, his dogged determination, and the transformative power of music that propels him forward despite incredible odds. In 2015, at age 28, Roderick took a giant step towards achieving his dream— he was appointed assistant conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis and in 2016 became the associate conductor.
Conducting Life tracks Roderick’s improbable journey from his early competitions and success at the prestigious Aspen Music Festival in 2013, up to his current position with the Minnesota Orchestra. Roderick is passionate about sharing his joy of music with the broader community, believing deeply that music has the ability to bridge cultural divides. He also believes that he leads by example, showing young people that in reaching high you can achieve what seems impossible.
Roderick Cox’s journey to the concert stage has been anything but typical. Born and raised in Macon Georgia, he grew up in a single parent household, His absentee father struggled with substance abuse and was in and out of prison. His mother, a talented singer and soloist with the church choir, worked two jobs to support the family. With no money for music lessons, Roderick taught himself to play the piano at age 5 and was soon winning talent shows. At age 9, he taught himself to play the drums, and eventually joined his high school marching band. In college he studied music and planned to follow the practical route of teaching, but midway through graduate school, a new fire awakened in him—a passion for conducting.
Despite his prodigious talents, Roderick faced unexpected challenges. Most of his peers grew up with the privilege and rigorous training of private music lessons, the professional grooming of youth orchestras and summer music camps, and teaching mentors who had nurtured their musical development since childhood. As he advanced towards the world of professional music, doubt began to push against his resolve. Did he really have what it takes to succeed?
It was after graduation, as Roderick sought to enter the rarified and tradition steeped world of classical conducting that he truly understood the obstacles that lay ahead. Positions for conductors in professional orchestras are even scarcer than seats for musicians. And in an era of growing diversity, the classical music community is woefully behind. If Roderick was lucky enough to be invited to audition, he would be facing the best of the best—students whose craft had been cultivated through advantages he could only dream about.
His first big break came in 2012, when he became the Assistant Conductor of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra. The following year he was invited to compete at the Aspen Music Festival where he won the prestigious Robert J. Harth Conducting Prize. That led to a conducting fellowship at the Aspen Music Festival and to national recognition. In 2014, Roderick was invited to join the ground-breaking Project Inclusion Conducting Fellowship with the Chicago Sinfonietta, a professional orchestra focused on promoting diversity and inclusion. And then, in 2015, came the audition and invitation to join the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.
But Roderick isn’t content with his own personal achievements. He is keenly aware that his story is part of the larger conversation about opening doors for minority artists and finding new ways to connect classical music to new audiences. In his current position Roderick conducts young peoples and community concerts, family programs, and helps bring music into the schools. He is passionate about sharing his joy of music with the broader community, believing deeply that music has the ability to bridge cultural divides. He also believes that he leads by example, showing young people that in reaching high you can achieve what seems impossible.
Why This Documentary
At this moment in our country’s history, as we reckon with the inequities of race, class and ethnicity, there are renewed efforts to confront injustice and foster inclusion. Classical music has lagged behind in addressing the lack of diversity in orchestras, management and audiences, and Roderick Cox’s story speaks directly to the issues facing minorities in the arts community.
Through Roderick’s story we shine a light on the obstacles facing minority musicians and ask what the classical music community is doing to open doors and create more diversity. The Minnesota Orchestra has a variety of initiatives to bring music into broader and underserved communities; Roderick’s work with the Minnesota Orchestra and his approach to bridge building, specifically through the recent “Send Me Hope” concert, focuses on how music can foster change by bringing together people of different cultures and backgrounds. For youth attending one of Roderick’s family or young people’s concerts, his presence on the podium is a transcendent moment. His journey and his achievements give hope to young musicians, inspiring them to pursue their dreams in the arts.
Twin Cities PBS has agreed to co-produce, distribute and promote the Conducting Life documentary across its family of broadcast and digital channels.
The Scholarship Program
Learning how to play an instrument is an expensive endeavor. The average new instrument can cost between $1,500-$5,000. This does not include the cost of music lessons and on-going instrument maintenance. For many kids of color who have an interest in music (including Roderick), the cost can be prohibitive. Providing scholarship funds eases the financial burden for qualifying families. The Otis Redding Foundation granted Roderick a scholarship for his first instrument, and now the Roderick Cox Music Initiative is aiming to pay it forward by granting scholarships to tomorrow’s leaders.
The initiative will fund approximately 30 scholarships over three years. The Initiative is currently in discussions with several Twin Cities non-profit music arts organizations who will grant and execute the music scholarships, with the first round of scholarships to be granted in February, 2019.