I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jaman Dunn, the new Assistant Conductor, Community Engagement at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Jaman was in Rochester to participate in the Gateways Music Festival as a guest conductor. Gateways aims to connect and support professional classical musicians of African descent, and enlightens and inspires communities through the power of performance.
A Chicago native, Jaman had always been interested in music. He started playing violin at age 8, continued to play throughout high school, and got his undergraduate degree in vocal performance at Ohio State University. Jaman got his master’s degree in conducting from the Boston Conservatory, with an interest in exploring the choral-orchestral genre of classical music.
A lot of Jaman’s responsibilities at the BPO lie in community engagement through music. Whether it’s conducting education concerts for students of the Buffalo public school system or going out into the community and working with students and young musicians directly, Jaman both represents the BPO’s mission as the city’s cultural ambassador and advocates for the accessibility of music as a whole.
“People ask me, ‘what is the best and biggest thing you can do to advocate for persons of color in classical music?’ and I tell them that the first thing is visibility.”
Most people have role models, people who align with their interests and offer inspiration for great achievement. Jaman recognizes that as a person of color, it’s hard to find those role models that look like you within the world of classical music. Now that Jaman is in that position to be that role model, he’s working hard on breaking down barriers between conductor-performer and audience member.
“Many people of various generations believe classical music to be this elitist thing that is behind a glass. I am interested in breaking down that glass to allow people to realize we are just as human as they; we are just as people as they are, and we have more in common than we don’t.”
2019 was Jaman’s first Gateway’s Festival. In the past, Jaman had seen Gateways as something he wasn’t quite ready to participate in but something to aspire to.
“Every second that I’ve spent here has been so wonderful, it’s so eye opening to see so many people working for the same common goal. It’s wonderful to see people that represent me on an ethnic level in the field of classical music – that cannot be overstated.”
Gateways is all about community, whether it’s between the musicians and staff performing or audience members attending concerts (of which almost all are free). Events like Gateways work so well because of the motivations behind the tremendous amount of work that goes into organizing and performing.
“You all wanted to be here. You all know why you’re here. You all enjoy being here and you enjoy being with each other. And once that is achieved, the actual music making is almost easy.”
In closing, I asked Jaman what advice he’d give to a student with that same spark of interest for classical music just as he had, and this is what he had to say:
Jaman is well on his way to establishing himself as a leader in the field of music and community engagement. It’s abundantly clear he has a tremendous amount of passion for uplifting the communities he works in and serving as a role model for those wanting to do the same. I am extremely excited to see what new heights Jaman takes the BPO and their community outreach program to this upcoming season.
“Never compromise yourself for what you think people are looking for. No one is looking for anything but your authentic self. And if you stay true to that throughout your entire life - your entire career – the people that need to notice you will, and the people that don’t will just miss out.”
Listen to the uncut interview here: