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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

In-Tune with Bringing Diversity to the Classical Music World: Ezinma’s Strings By Heart

Meredith Ezinma Ramsay known affectionately as “Classical Bae” recalled her natural gravitation towards the violin as a four-year-old preschooler. 

   “I went to a Montessori school in Nebraska, and they had a small violin program,” she recalled.    

   “I asked my parents about a violin. I told them I wanted to play, and they rented a violin for me. A violin is one of the hardest instruments to play, but I naturally took to it. I worked really hard at it and I just kept going. Had it not been for that program, I don’t know if I would be where I am today.”

   Today, Ramsay, who goes by the name Ezinma, is an acclaimed violinist. Her seamless fusion of hip-hop and classical music has made her a viral sensation, and she has worked with Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Joshua Bell, and other famous performers. She also helped score the blockbuster movie “Black Panther” and also wrote the score for the 2018 documentary “The Times of Bill Cunningham.” 

   Ezinma recently launched her non-profit foundation Strings By Heart to help create the next generation of musicians of color, and to bring more diversity, access and inclusion to the classical music world through music education. The foundation’s mission is to connect children from underserved communities to classical music in order to help them develop the disciplinary, collaborative, and leadership skills needed to pursue and fulfill their dreams. 

   Strings By Heart offers music education, individual and group lessons, an instrument, a modest clothing budget for performances, and more. Shar Music is the exclusive supplier of instruments to Strings By Heart. The  501(c)(3) recently kicked-off with a tour of public elementary and middle schools in Harlem, New York, providing students with an opportunity to try out instruments and apply for the program. 

   The tour also included a performance by Ezinma, and also encouraged students to engage in listening activities and to develop rapport with other students. Strings By Heart notes that according to Strad Magazine, a UK-based monthly classical music magazine about string instruments, Black and Latino musicians are historically underrepresented in classical orchestras, making up less than four percent of orchestra members.

   “I started this nonprofit because I think so much of creating musicians is just having access to instruments and other resources,” said Ezinma. “I might not be a violinist had it not been for that program at my preschool in Nebraska. So much of it is just exposure. If you never have that chance, then it’s never going to happen.”

   The classical recording artist, violinist, educator, philanthropist, and private instructor has participated in orchestras, string quartets and music festivals. She has also been featured in the New York Times, People, Essence, Elle, Strings Magazine, and by BBC News.  

   “I remember the isolation I felt as the only Black person in the orchestra, at times discouraged by my teachers from pursuing my dreams,” said the Lincoln, Nebraska, native, and NYC’s New School Mannes School of Music graduate. “Yet the statistics are clear that music education plays a vital role in helping children and young adults get on the path to achieve their goals, improve self-esteem and more. Children from every background and community deserve the chance to experience the joy of classical music and feel that they belong in that world. And what better genre than hip-hop to segue young minds into classical music’s vast potential?”

   The 31-year-old explained how she merged classical and Hip-Hop music. 

   “I was practicing some Bach and started sampling some things,” she said. “At the time, I was living in Harlem and going to school. Classical music and Hip Hop felt so refreshing and rich. For the first time in my life, I felt I had created this expression of who I am as an artist. This experimentation led me to embrace my musical complexity.”

   Ezinma resides in Los Angeles, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Film Scoring.

   “I believe I’m here for a very specific purpose,” she said. “I want my light to shine brightest in any way I can. I’m very grateful and so appreciative for all that has happened in my life. I see myself forever a student and forever here to learn. The greatest thing for me is the first time a kid hears themselves making a sound on an instrument. There’s this sort of wonder. Some are terrified, others are shocked, and many kids want to play even more. It’s interesting to see the natural response.”

   She added, “It just goes to show how important education is in developing children, and it’s a shame that when budgets get tough, the first thing to go is music. But it shouldn’t be, because music improves test scores, the chances of college admission and all sorts of things. So I really want to be a part of making music as accessible as for as many children as possible.”

   For more information about Strings by Heart, visit https://ezinma.com/stringsbyheart.

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