“Shaping Musical Identity “


Media & Studio Arts Symposium

Inventing Oneself Through Art and Technology

Shaping Musical Identity (Through Research, Performance, and Service)

February 20, 2020 | 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Dr. Leah N. Claiborne & Dr. Carlos Simon

Description: As I entered the Doctoral of Musical Arts degree at the University of Michigan, I began to question and ponder what significant impact my work would make in the world of classical piano music. I began an exploration of self-discovery and identity which helped create a path and platform for my own musical voice in this field.

The 21st century musician must be an artist, a pedagogue, a scholar, and an activist in order for their music to thrive, take shape, and make a beneficial impact in their communities. By championing the piano music of Black composers, I found my voice. 

Through performance, research, and social outreach, I began to invent my own platform which not only helped with my own self-identity, but helped others in the art community to recognize the important impact of Black Americans in the classical music field- a voice that has too long been left out of the canon. 

Presenter Bios:

Dr. Leah Claiborne, D.M.A. promotes diversity in the arts by championing instrumental music by Black composers in her performances, research, and teaching. She was the first pianist at the University of Michigan to be awarded the Rackham Predoc fellowship which is the most prestigious fellowship awarded by the graduate school. This fellowship allowed her to further research, compile, and edit piano music by Black composers. In 2019, Leah was a prize winner in the ProMusicis International Music competition. This competition awarded her the Father Merlett Award for her high quality musical performance and commitment to social outreach.

In 2018 she curated a sold out concert at the University of Michigan Museum of Art which featured instrumental and vocal music by Black American composers. In the same year, she recorded selections from Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s 24 Negro Melodies for piano solo and piano trio. In 2016 she was a top prize winner in the National Association of Negro Musicians National Piano Competition. In the same year she was awarded the University of Michigan Martin Luther King Spirit Award for her creation of a free piano program for local students where the focus of study is on the impact of Black classical piano composers.

Leah has performed across the United States as well as Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic. Most recently, she performed at Hiroshima University in Japan with the Asia America New Music Ensemble.

Dr. Claiborne received her undergraduate degree from the Manhattan School of Music where she received the Josephine Whitmore graduation award. This award was given to a graduating senior “whose personal qualities enriches the spirit of the school and community at large.” She received her Masters of Music and Doctorate of Musical Arts degree at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Claiborne currently teaches at the University of the District of Columbia where she serves as coordinator of keyboard studies and teaches the History of African American Music.

Dr. Carlos Simon is an award winning American composer. Simon’s latest album, MY ANCESTOR’S GIFT, was released on the Navona Records label in April 2018. Described as an “overall driving force” (Review Graveyard) and featured on Apple Music’s “Albums to Watch”, MY ANCESTOR’S GIFT incorporates spoken word and historic recordings to craft a multifaceted program of musical works that are inspired as much by the past as they are by the present. 

As a part of the Sundance Institute, Simon was named as a Sundance Composer Fellow in 2018, which was held at the historic Skywalker Ranch. His string quartet, Elegy, honoring the lives of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner was recently performed at the Kennedy Center for the Mason Bates JFK Jukebox Series. With support from the US Embassy in Tokyo and the US/Japan Foundation, Simon traveled with the Asia/America New Music Institute (AANMI) on a two-week tour of Japan in 2018 performing concerts in some of the most sacred temples and concert spaces in Japan including Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan. 

Simon earned his doctorate degree at the University of Michigan, where he studied with Michael Daugherty and Evan Chambers. He has also received degrees from Georgia State University and Morehouse College. Additionally, he studied in Baden, Austria at the Hollywood Music Workshop with Conrad Pope and at New York University’s Film Scoring Summer Workshop.