Jason Ikeem Rodgers changes the equation of classical music


He doesn’t. He likes to add a certain amount of loot that reflects where he’s coming from and where he wants to go. He could conduct an orchestra in Air Jordans and Versace tones. Do with it. This is who he is.

And he wants others to follow him. African Americans make up only 1.8 percent of American orchestras. “I wanted to change that,” he says. After the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement, he had a real fervor to do something. “If I could change things, even just a little, in the tradition of predominantly white classical music based in Europe, I would try to do it. “

This is what he did with the creation of Orchestra Noir in 2016. He has now participated in programs such as “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and he has been on the Oprah Winfrey network. He has also worked with Cardi B, 2 Chainz, Migos and Jermaine Dupri.

He and the organization have also been strong advocates of music education. Orchestra Noir does its best to inspire the next generation of minority musicians through various educational concerts, including annual side-by-side concerts with music students from Clayton County. These concerts, “Clayton Nights”, help raise funds for scholarships for college students. It’s clear Rodgers enjoys what he does without losing the love for what spurred it all on in the first place: his discovery of classical music.

Even before Beethoven entered his impressionable ears and warmed his heart, music was central to Rodgers’ young life. Most of his family, growing up, included the choir of the church he attended in Philadelphia. His mother and 11 aunts and uncles all played an instrument. They all learned to play these instruments from his grandmother and grandfather. Her grandmother taught her mother to play the piano and her mother taught her the basics.


Jason Ikeem Rodgers, founder and musical director of Orchestra Noir, the African-American orchestra in Atlanta.

Credit: Max Eremine

Credit: Max Eremine

It was at college that he wanted to learn classical piano. He wanted to play, like Schroeder in those old “Peanuts” comics, Beethoven and all the other great composers. “I begged my college teacher,” he says. “I actually showed up every day after school. I even jumped on the hood of her car, wanting her to give me private piano lessons. Seeing his passion and the potential for bumps on his car, she started teaching him every day. “She was a godsend and is still my mentor to this day.” Her college teacher is now 72 years old. “She will be dutifully with me backstage at the upcoming Vibe ’90s concert as stage director of Orchestra Noir.”

It was a musically diverse education for Rodgers, of course. From listening to “O Come to the Altar” from the church pews to “Shimmy Shimmy Ya ‘” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard outside the local burger restaurant, Rodgers’ ideas for bridging the gap between musical genres began to formulate. While earning his BA, MA (both from the School of the Arts at the University of North Carolina), and a Professional Studies Diploma (from the Cleveland Institute of Music) in classical piano performance and conducting. orchestra, it merged its urban life with the traditions of church music and Western classical music. “I expose people who would normally only listen to classic hip-hop and R&B and people who would normally only listen to classic hip-hop and R&B,” he says. “I want to build a bridge between the two cultures.

He builds it one concert at a time. “I think the classical music establishment is ready to listen to people like me now,” he says. “We have been through so much conflict, turmoil and monumental events like the Black Lives Matter movement, the death of George Floyd and the pandemic,” he says. “The establishment is trying to find a way to integrate and understand the universality and connection of all people – especially the African American experience in America.”

It makes Rodgers happy, hopeful. And the future is so bright that he has to wear Versace sunglasses.

ArtsATL logo

ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

Working closely with the American Press Institute, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is embarking on an experiment to identify, nurture and expand a network of press partnerships in Metro Atlanta and the state.

Our new partner, ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a non-profit organization that plays a vital role in educating and informing the public about the arts and culture of the Atlanta metro area. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

Over the next few weeks we will be featuring other partners and would love to hear from you.

You can contact Editor-in-Chief Mark A. Waligore by email at [email protected].

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