PRIZM Chamber Music Ensemble
By: Emily Faber, Summer Creator
When Artis Hardaway played the flute for the first time in fourth grade, he had no idea that it would one day lead to an invitation to attend the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival in South Africa almost a decade later. Nevertheless, Hardaway and the other members of their four-person woodwind quartet from Memphis were one of few student groups asked to perform their entire set for the renowned program. The festival included ten days of intensive practices, mentorship from internationally esteemed musicians, and performances before the 240 program participants.
Hardaway says he felt up to the challenge, however, because of the years he has spent as a student of the PRIZM Chamber Music Ensemble in Memphis - an initiative which builds a diverse community through chamber music education, youth development, and performance.
PRIZM works towards increasing accessibility to chamber music opportunities in Memphis, especially to women and musicians of color. Each summer, PRIZM hosts a Music Camp and International Chamber Music Festival to teach the art of chamber music and provide mentorship from professional musicians from around the globe. Chamber music is a form of classical music that is performed by a small ensemble. Hardaway has attended PRIZM’s camps for the past four years.
Hardaway says he grew up in a musical family, however he was the only member of his family to stick with his instrument. Even though Hardaway was one of few males to play the flute in his fourth grade class, he continued to develop his musical skills.
“The flute sounds really beautiful. It’s different from all other instruments because it’s the only one that goes off to the side - all other instruments are straight. Flutes get the solos, too,” he says with a smile.
Hardaway’s high school music director eventually introduced him to PRIZM so that he could deepen his expertise. Hardaway enjoyed the fact that chamber music allowed him a certain freedom while playing his instrument that conductor-led bands did not provide. Hardaway shares that the people he met at PRIZM as well as his love for music kept him coming back.
“My band program wasn’t the best, and I already had been playing for a few years so I didn’t feel challenged enough. Then I came to PRIZM, and it challenged me,” said Hardaway.
Playing with PRIZM during the summer was also a way for Hardaway to continue advancing with the flute during the months when practices at school were not in session. “I’ve gotten better with PRIZM - they teach you how to count since there isn’t a conductor in chamber music. Playing with PRIZM taught me how to count and watch and listen - three important things that you need to play anywhere.”
PRIZM’s mission is to promote inclusion among chamber music opportunities in Memphis through intentionality, and the organization is committed to developing its camp and its other ensembles to reflect the racial and gender demographics in Memphis. The faculty members, repertoire of the musicians PRIZM features, and its ensembles reflect their commitment to increasing minority representation in the field.
“It’s always bigger than the music. The music brings these students together, but it’s the life skills that keeps them coming back,” said Rod Vester, Executive Director of PRIZM.
PRIZM not only offers a bi-annual summer camp and annual festival, but the program also works alongside Memphis schools to develop their music programs and introduce more students to the arts. Additionally, PRIZM hosts a College Audition Preparation Workshop, or ‘TCAP,’ to help students prepare for their college auditions.
Playing with PRIZM not only increased Hardaway’s skills at the flute, but primed him for opportunities such as the Stellenbosch Festival. At the culmination of the festival, the group was able to travel around South Africa for three days.
Hardaway received a flute scholarship to attend the University of Memphis this fall. Although he will be majoring in Biomedical Engineering, he hopes to continue playing the flute after college with dreams of one day playing in a video game orchestra to create scores.
“If you play an instrument, you should do PRIZM,” said Hardaway. “It will expose you to chamber music – in band, you usually have someone conducting you and telling you what to do. In chamber music, you tell yourself what to do.”