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André Solomon on music, identity, & change in the arts

I met André Solomon last year through virtual workshops held by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, where André worked as Program Manager. Since then I've followed his social media and become a fan of his work in music and the arts.

André Solomon PC Kitoko Chargois
Photo by Kitoko Chargois

André Solomon received a Bachelor of Arts in Flute from Syracuse University and a Masters of Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University concentrating on Community Engagement. With both degrees, he works to enforce social justice for the arts; a belief that the arts are not frivolous but a necessary component of human development.

Being a person of color in the Arts world, both as an artist and arts manager, he desires to provide opportunities for people of global majority to visualize representation; therefore, ownership to actualize their dreams.

He currently works for Creative Generation as the Community Knowledge Manager amplifying the work of young creatives by producing new and honoring existing forms of knowledge and ways of knowing, while dismantling systemic barriers to sharing and learning; and expanding definitions of and pathways to leadership, through unique learning communities.

The work focuses on the application of justice and liberatory approaches and harnesses a deep expertise in democratizing knowledge, documenting promising practices, and developing meaningful learning experiences to skillfully translate complex topics into knowledge products to enable field-building.

As a musician, he has kept a daily practice regime, maintained a social media presence, enrolled in lessons, participated in music ensembles (like Carnegie Mellon University’s Chamber and Flute Ensembles and City Flutes), and shared resources that pertain to the music community. Being classically trained and a dabbler in jazz, the music community in Pittsburgh has allowed him to explore his versatility as he has stepped into contemporary pieces from the late 20th and 21st century.

TA: For musicians, there are so many ways to build a career. How does your current balance of music & arts admin compare to what you originally envisioned?

AS: When I switched majors from Math Education to Music my sophomore year of undergrad, the decision was strictly rooted in passion because all I wanted was to play the flute. Before the change, I was depressed because Math Education, though an extremely important profession, was not providing fulfillment or happiness.

André Solomon PC City Flute
Photo by City Flute

Following my acceptance into the music program, I was not convinced to engage music education nor confident of my skills to pursue a performance career, so I focused on growth and permitted flexibility until my last year at Syracuse, where I decided to center Arts Management. Here, my intentions were to support and make change within the Arts sector while having the resources to pursue my instrument without the fear of financial stress creating a rift between the very thing that I believe gives me purpose. Therefore, I vowed to balance my time as both arts manager and flutist.

Fast forward to today, I have maintained both but recognize arts management receives greater attention. However, I blame my confidence and the ambiguous phase of understanding: what exactly do I want to do? Do I want to teach, perform solo or in a group, or start a performing organization?

As I departed the Pittsburgh Arts Council and solely work at Creative Generation, I have been awarded the energy to dedicate more meaningful time with my instrument and music altogether. For example, I will complete a Personal & Professional Development Plan by the end of summer to keep me accountable.

My lack of expectation (surprising because I am a control-freak) and ongoing willingness to ride the wave has allowed an open mind to what my career becomes.

I am right where I need to be.

TA: I admire how you’ve developed your own voice as a flutist – you’re at ease in lots of different styles. How’d you start branching out?

AS: I will thank two people for the gift of versatility: Previous flute teacher and friend, Valerie Walton, who always incorporated her sense of Jazz and improv into the mix, and fellow Syracuse alum, friend and flutist, Laura Norton, whose journey in the contemporary space I have the pleasure of observing. These two, alongside a desire to stay relevant, have welcomed stepping beyond my classical upbringing. Like my family instilled in me, it is always worth trying and going beyond your comfort zone.

André Solomon PC Sarah Schreck
Photo by Sarah Schreck

TA: As a flutist using Instagram, I find it tough to post clips that reflect who I am as a musician, but also have a decent chance of being seen. What’s your approach to being a musician on this platform? Your IG is pretty much “hip flutist goals.”

AS: Though I mention the constant self-judgment of my flute skills, which I am working on overcoming, the joy motivates me to share. However, I must acknowledge that I am a chronic sharer, and those who know me would confirm. I basically embody those parents that post their children often because they love them sooooo much. For me, my flute is my baby and I want to show it off.

But in all seriousness, as I welcomed the progress over perfection mindset, sharing content only when creativity struck, and transparency, my posts started to reflect who I am. I think of the photos where I am rolling my eyes in the back of my head or the videos where I make weird noises, I post them because all of those moments make up who I am.

TA: You recently posted a Tiny Desk collaboration video of you playing over Audrey Nuna’s song “Molars.” It’s so good! How’d you get into making these videos? Do you improvise the flute part?

André Solomon PC Kitoko Chargois
Photo by Kitoko Chargois

AS: Thank you for the warmth!

I have long-admired Tiny Desk (secretly wanting NPR Music to hire me or let me perform) because they showcase a range of musicians, from mainstream to international, that have interesting stories to tell. As I strive to be more racially representative with my musiking, the majority of my Tiny Desk posts are BIPOC artists.

As for the process:

  • Review recently released Tiny Desks that have BIPOC representation, interesting visuals and manageable key signatures (not trying to jam on C# major, even though I could…)

  • Once the video and song are chosen, I find a minute worth of content (max time on Acapella app) with the song to record.

  • Once the song is recorded on Acapella, I will either write down my composition and notes (i.e. start and end time, bpm, etc.), like I did with “Molars”, or mess around to get a decent groove. Both processes are done by ear where I see what sounds good with the original content

  • Record myself on Acapella, which includes:

  • Plugging in the bpm

  • Understanding the delay cause with bluetooth earphones (can make it tricky when you have to play on the backend of the beat)

  • Now comes the editing, which includes:

  • The sound (dynamics, reverb, intonation, EQ, etc.) – here I measure with both my earphones and external speakers on the phone to ensure that people can hear well in various mediums

  • Visual filters

  • Post

TA: Thanks for sharing! For performers whose early careers intersected with COVID, it’s hard to get back out there. What’s your approach to finding ways to make music outside the practice room?

AS: A hard question to answer because I have not mastered it. However, I am fortunate to be enrolled with in-person lessons, participating in a flute choir and consistently jamming with a trumpet friend (Kevin Varga), but the majority of my work is done in the practice room and I want to change that. My dream is to be a part of a chamber ensemble that has two components: focused on passion and dedication over money and plays music beyond the status quo.

André Solomon PC Kitoko Chargois
Photo by Kitoko Chargois

Yet, the road to obtainment is about intention, research, networks and your interactions. I never would have started lessons in Pittsburgh if I did not have the intention of continuing my learning and doing the research to find the perfect instructor, or being offered a benefit concert gig this past February if my friend Nico had not recommended me to the organization.

Basically ask yourself the question, What do I want?, and create attainable goals to get it. That is what I am doing right now.

TA: Another challenge has been keeping up practice. What has this been like for you?

AS: Thankfully, I am a creature of habit so my rigid weekday practice regimen helped with momentum. The hardest part was not having Carnegie Mellon’s practice rooms to use anymore (sigh) because I hated the idea of practicing in my apartment with the fear of causing noise complaints. Luckily, similar to my childhood, my neighbors were very understanding and supportive.

As I mentioned before, the flute is a lifeline for me. I often joke, but I mean it, that without music life would not be worth living. When COVID-19 struck the thoughts, “I could die,” were on my mind. Therefore, to keep me alive and sane, keeping up with flute lessons and practicing helped to feel the joy even during a dark time, and has done so before on other occasions in life.

TA: You've cultivated a unique image as a flutist. What’s the journey behind this?

AS: I never saw myself within classical music, whether the music I was studying or the leaders in the field, nobody looked like me. Even throughout my educational and current work career, I tend to be one of few in the room. With all that said, it motivated my kooky self to be prompted without apologizes. Just like my personal identity that has dynamic intersection (biracial and queer), I wanted my flutist identity to voice that alike. I can play a concerto in a tux but also can improv on rap.

Truly, being mixed and queer, has trained me to reject singularity and allow for a fusion of thought to swarm my choices in life. Just like I constantly think, “How can I use my math, education, arts management, and flutist backgrounds towards my success?”

TA: Continuing along that thread, would you say that your experiences as a minority shaped who you are as a musician? If so, how?

André Solomon PC Syracuse University
Photo by Syracuse University

AS: YES! Being a person of the global majority amongst a sea of White my entire life has had positive and negative influences on who I am as a musician and person. Being the only one creates a level of awareness and expectation that provides motivation and anxiety.

For example, as the only Black person in my studio (or anywhere generally) I felt I had to show up 150% prepared because mistakes could translate to that Black kid messing up or modeling afterthoughts for what they assumed other Black musicians were capable of. Of course, this was not their intention but when you cannot escape the magnifying glass, being their only representation of a Black flutist, you can feel the weight of the racial world on your shoulders.

This is why I am often anti-risk or require immense preparation to avoid looking foolish in a world that already thinks I might be. Yet, this has motivated me to represent BIPOC voices and explore the depth of music that is not always shared in our Western Classical Cannon.

TA: Looking ahead, what kinds of shows, collaborations, or projects are you most excited about creating? Anything in the works?

André Solomon PC Kitoko Chargois
Photo by Kitoko Chargois

AS: At the moment I am working on Poison Mushroom by Dai Fujikura as a summer project to continue my navigation in the 21st century and learn more about the Hiroshima bombing from my Japanese family.

With the recent racial injustices, it is evident that this moment of history was taught mostly devoid of the Japanese perspective, so this is a perfect opportunity to gather authenticity and closeness.

Additionally, I am working on pieces for National Flute Association’s conference in Chicago, IL this August with Pittsburgh’s flute choir, City Flutes.

As for future prospects:

  • Last year I mounted a work-in-progress recital called “Enough,” and pondering how I can use this year’s learned pieces to host another one.

  • As mentioned, would love to join/start a chamber group that focuses on passion and dedication over money and plays music beyond the status quo.

Here’s hoping to a good rest of 2022 and start of 2023!

Check out André's music on Instagram!

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