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 (Minneapolis – Saint Paul area), and beyond. Through a meteoric rise filled with formidable and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Roderick has cemented his place in the rarified and tradition-steeped world of orchestral conducting. Roderick was the Minnesota Orchestras’ Associate and Assistant Conductor from 2015 – 2108 and is the winner of the prestigious 2018 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, given to outstanding young U.S. conductors. Roderick completed his work with the Minnesota Orchestra in 2018 and is currently based in Berlin, Germany.
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 (co-produced by filmmaker Diane Moore and 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 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 most recent position as Associate Conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis. Through Roderick’s own eyes and commentary, viewers will also gain insight into the creative process applied by any conductor as he or she approaches their work from rehearsal to performance.
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 mother, a talented singer and soloist with the church choir, influenced her son’s love of music at an early age. With no money for music lessons, Roderick taught himself to play the piano at age 5 and the drums at age 9. Roderick was winning talent shows throughout his youth and continued his music education through college and graduate school. 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 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 sough 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 lags woefully behind.
His first big achievement 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. In 2015, he joined the Minnesota Orchestra, and as their Associate Conductor, he made his acclaimed debut conducting with the Orchestra in January of 2017. Roderick also conducted a performance sponsored by Google and the Colour of Music Festival for the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. Roderick has been the guest conductor with numerous orchestras the past few years, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, and the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, and has relocated to Berlin, Germany after he completed his work with the Minnesota Orchestra. Roderick Cox recently won the country’s most prestigious award for young conductors, the 2018 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Prize.
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 by promoting diversity and inclusion in arts organizations. He is passionate about sharing his joy of music 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 lags behind in addressing the lack of diversity in orchestras, management and audiences, and Roderick Cox’s story speaks directly to the issues.
Through Roderick’s story we shine a light on the challenges facing minority musicians and ask what the classical music community is doing to open doors to all interested musicians and create more diversity.. His unique personal and musical journey illustrates the power of music to propel forward the life of a musician, in spite of all the challenges. Roderick’s prodigious talent, passion for music and his single-minded focus provides a strong message for both young and adult audiences. Roderick’s recent work with the Minnesota Orchestra 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 Conducting Life with filmmaker Diane Moore, along with the distribution and promotion of 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, 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 the Spring of 2019.