Knocking at the Door

Article excerpt

On the genesis of the Young Eight

musicians often threaten to go out "knocking on doors" to get an audience to show up for their classical concert or string recital.

Quinton I. Morris, founder of the three-year-old string octet the Young Eight, did more than just threaten: to promote the ensemble's debut performance at the North Carolina School of the Arts in June of 2002, Morris actually went out knocking on doors.

The Young Eight is the only professional African-American classical octet in the world. The group has already established a sterling reputation, and appears destined for exciting things.

The players have quickly become known for their technical mastery, exquisite blending, and rich, exuberant warmth of sound. Assembled from various universities and conservatories across the country, the group includes violinists Morris, Mariana Green-Hill, Kenneth Jarvis (who also dances), and John H. Littlejohn, violists Christopher Jenkins and Dawn Michelle Smith, and cellists Ryan Murphy and Tahirah Whittington.

All are under 30-some very much so.

Last summer the ensemble was the string octet in residence at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, and at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lakes, Michigan, while preparing for a 2005-2006 tour of black colleges across America.

"I was in New York a couple years ago, taking some auditions while working on my bachelor's degree," says Morris, explaining how the group started. "I was talking to my friend Tahirah Whittington and we were discussing how there was such a small pool of black string players, and how the only time we ever saw each other was during a gig or something special like the Sphynx Competition [the Detroit-based event that helps promote minorities in orchestras]. Tahirah said that if I ever formed some sort of group, she'd absolutely want to join, and then we started fantasizing, talking about who-all we'd include in the group.

"I started naming people, Tahira started naming people, and before long we had eight names."

On the plane trip back to North Carolina, Morris couldn't stop thinking about the make-believe octet. "It just nagged at me and I couldn't sleep on the plane," he says. "I just kept thinking about that vision of having this group, and by the time I got back home, I said, 'That's it! I'm going to start a group. I have the vision. I have the business sense. Somehow, I'm going to make this happen/

"And that's what I did. …