New York prodigy cellist captures the strength of the cello voice
Young, Gifted & Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
Our prodigy cellist has the world “on a string” writes Linda Ellerbe in the Nick News posting of February 4, 2011.
Her command of the cello and its’ illimitable repertoire has delighted audiences in over 50 cities since her first recital at the age of five to include just three years following at the age of 8, a stellar performance at the White House for President Obama in 2009.
She is young, gifted and Black.
Sujari Britt was only two year-old when she began to fiddle around on the piano.
But to the astonishment of her mother, Sujari was not only tinkering with the keys as cited in the June 21, 2013 writing of Pilot Africa, she was actually making music. Mother Janice asked her husband Sunfree Britt, a jazz musician, to give the gifted talented toddler actual lessons.
It was at this time that she was introduced and learned to perform classical music.
“I moved on to the guitar and violin when I was about three or four years old,” she reveals in a Sergio Mims May 18, 2012 Ebony interview.
“But when I heard cellist Yo Yo Ma play Camille Saint-Saens’ ‘The Swan’ from his orchestral work, ‘The Carnival of the Animals,’ I fell in love with it and from that moment, I wanted to play that instrument.
I wanted the cello. I actually begged my parents to please let me play the cello,” she says while then at the age of four.
To the interviewer’s question of why the cello “spoke to you more than any other instrument,” Sujari replies that, “the cello’s voice resembles my own strong voice and I wanted to communicate through it to share with anyone who will listen.” She adds that it is, “the strength of the voice of the cello.
You can really put emotion into the sound.” Recalling her first experience with this instrument in Ellerbe, “I picked up the cello and I played.
I actually didn’t make any scratch sounds. I actually played the strings, and I was like – ‘Wow, I can play it!’”
She held her first solo performance at the age of five and her still blossoming and piercingly emotive bowing techniques on the cello strings won her first place in the 2008 annual Association Music Teachers League, Inc. scholarship competition.
The now 13 year-old has been a four-time recipient of the Sidney E. Frank Foundation Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music (MSM) where she studies with noted musician Marion Feldman, recognized as one of today’s leading performers and pedagogues of cello and chamber music.
“Sometimes, I think that Sujari must have played the cello in another lifetime because she has such an innate understanding of the instrument as though she knew it before and is just reteaching her hands how to play it,” says Feldman as noted in Pilot Africa. She would add in Ellerbe that, “I think she is the most talented student I have ever seen in my teaching career.
And that’s a very long period of time.”
Sujari had the exceptional opportunity to participate at a White House hosted workshop and recital for student musicians in November 2009.
First Lady Michelle Obama was so impressed with the masterfully creative young musician that she invited her to perform for the President that evening with 27 year-old Alisa Weilerstein.
Orchestrating the first movement of Luigi Boccherini’s Sonata for Two Cellos in C Major, Sujari would then become one of the youngest to ever perform before a President in the White House.
In February 2011, as mentioned in her personal bio account, she was spotlighted in the NBC TheGrio’s “100 History Makers in the Making.”
Her story was subsequently highlighted as a news item on the Today Show and on NBC news stations across the country.
She was the feature artist in the May 20 28th Annual Children’s Concert for the Gary Historic and Cultural Society in Gary, Indiana and won a 2010- 2011 conservatory concert competition culminating in a solo performance with the Symphony Orchestra in November 2011.
Additional to a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award also in 2011, our gifted cellist further served as the featured guest performer for the Adrian Symphony Orchestra Casual Classic concert in May 2012.
In February 2013, Sujari was the Grand Prize winner of the New York Concerti Sinfonietta Shining Stars competition resulting in the offer of presentations of movements I and II of Elgar Cello Concerto in e minor with Sinfonietta at Carnegie Hall.
Our stellar talent was honored to perform at the United Nation’s for the 2013 annual World Humanitarian Day on August 19 and in October she shared her musical gifts as a featured artist for the Shakespeare Company’s 2013 annual gala honoring Elizabeth McGovern at the Harman Arts Center in Washington, D.C.
This past May 18, 2014, the award-winning cellist was invited to join the Stamford Young Artists Philharmonic orchestra for the final concert of its season on Sunday May 18, 2014 at the Palace Theater in Stamford, Connecticut.
Sujari additionally performs with her family members in JoSunJari, a string trio with her sister Joelle and her brother Sunnaj, both skilled violinist.
She manages to keep up with her studies through a rigorous home school academic program notes her bio and enjoys acting, running, music composition, sketching, fiction writing and painting.
And to lend a world history side note to instructor Feldman’s above observation that, “Sometimes, I think that Sujari must have played the cello in another lifetime because she has such an innate understanding of the instrument as though she knew it before and is just reteaching her hands how to play it,” her sentiments were historically not too far off target.
As cited by Dr. Booker Coleman in the film Hidden Colors 1, what is called “Classical Music” is actually an ancient African practice and is not indigenous to European culture.
This musical genre was introduced into Europe by way of the African Moors who occupied this region over the 781 years from 711 to 1492 A.D.
At this time, the original inhabitants of this area around what is today Spain, were going through the “Dark Ages,” void of any civilizing activity of note, let alone the creation of any musical instrumentation or classical orchestration.
Instruments such as what we would identify as the harp, banjo, flute, harpsichord and the like are African instruments and were present over 3,566 years ago during the 18th Dynasty in Egypt, of course which is an African civilization.
We find for example in the Tomb of Nakht in this dynastic period from 1552 to 1295 B.C.E., paintings of Egyptian women playing a flute, double stringed banjo and a harp.
Pictorial documentation as further shared in Dr. Ivan Van Sertima’s eight printing of the “Golden Age of the Moor” clearly evidence that it was the Moor who brought into Europe, as handed down from indigenous African traditions – the flute, stringed instruments sounded by pluck and by bow, recorded notation of rhythmic modes, and a variety of other forms of percussion, horn and string instruments, cultural implements of which were unknown and non-existent within these European boarders prior to Moorish occupation.
So it could very well be that Sujari may find the cello quite natural to her nature as she, in Feldman’s words, possesses such an “innate understanding of the instrument” and in the Ebony account of the cello “resembles my own strong voice.”
After all, Sujari is only playing an instrument and performing in a genre created within the bloodline of her own African ancestry that has been handed down cross culturally through the ages and finding a re-voice in the gifts, talents and musical contributions of one Sujari Britt.