The IRIS Orchestra Artist Fellows Program is a one-year residency designed for emerging professional musicians that addresses the underrepresentation of African-Americans and Latinos in classical music. For the 2018-19 season, IRIS welcomes Rosa Ortega, a violist, and Carrington Truehart, a cellist, as its Artist Fellows.
Rosa and Carrington began their fellowship over the summer and have already had an eventful couple of months balancing their full-time responsibilities. Education is at the heart of the program, and unlike other residencies that are built to propel fellows specifically into careers as orchestra musicians, IRIS considers the residents’ interests and equips them for whatever it is they want to do next professionally. They get real world experience and exposure to multiple of facets of professional music careers.
Because IRIS places a heavy emphasis on community engagement, fellows perform in the orchestra’s regular season concerts, but also do so much more. They spend 20 hours a week teaching in schools through a partnership with Memphis Music Initiative. They’re also responsible for a number of special projects and collaborations like their partnership with Opera Memphis for 30 Days of Opera. They work in chamber ensembles, performing in various settings as a duo or in trios, and quartets with other members of the orchestra.
Rosa teaches an after school violin class at Carpenter Art Garden. She and Carrington partner on work at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital with their child life specialists. They also work in the Hope House nursery and preschool, and they do outreach projects with groups such as Memphis Black Arts Alliance, Clayborn Temple, and others.
With work that’s tied to so many well-known organizations and community partners, you’ll be seeing them around town a lot. Get to know Rosa and Carrington in our brief Q & A, and take advantage of the upcoming opportunities to see them perform for free this month.
C901: What were you doing before the fellowship brought you to Memphis?
Rosa: I was studying my undergrad in viola performance at Temple University, so I was living there for the past four years. I’m originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
I never really thought that I would end up in Memphis. It never really crossed my mind but for an incredible opportunity like this, how could I pass it up?
C901: How much did you know about Memphis before you applied for the fellowship opportunity?
Rosa: I knew Elvis was born or lived here or something. That’s all I knew. When I found out I’d gotten the fellowship it was kind of a really big relief because, like a lot of us, we get out of college and we’re like ‘What are we going to do? What’s the next step? Where do I want to take my life?’ And so getting accepted into a program like this where I’d be doing a little bit of everything was just incredible. I was super excited.
Moving here, I had been nervous initially. I didn’t know a lot about Memphis coming into it, but I ended up getting very comfortable very fast and it’s a city I look forward to exploring more of.
C901: So Carrington, tell me where you were before the fellowship.
I was born here. I was just finishing my master’s degree in cello performance at University of Memphis. What’s funny is that I was doing work at the Jackson Symphony in Jackson, Tennessee and I was literally at a stoplight right before getting back to the hotel after rehearsal when I saw the email pop up saying I got the fellowship. So I was like, “YES!!!” in the middle of a turn. Don’t tell anybody that. I migrate from Memphis to Jackson a lot and that’s what I was doing. I knew I was going to Colorado for two months to play with an orchestra, and I was just hoping I’d know what was going to happen next when that was done.
C901: Tell me more about how the program is built, the components of the fellowship.
Carrington: What’s really cool about the program is you don’t just step out of it and go ‘I can go into orchestra.’ You also come out and say ‘Hey, I can teach. I know how to market myself. I know how to engage with the community.’ You step out of it having your hand in several different pots so you can cook whatever you want.
For instance, I want to learn a little more about arts administration. Rebecca [ Rebecca Arednt, head of Community Initiatives and the IRIS Artist Fellowship] asked us about the things we want to get into more. I like that I learn more about different avenues of music careers so that way when I step out, I have choices or I have more flexibility with what I want to do.
Rosa: The Fellowship also provides us a great networking opportunity. Through playing with the IRIS orchestra and working with the different communities and people around Memphis, we’re meeting musicians and mentors from all over the world that have so much to teach us and that we can grow from just by playing next to them in the orchestra or having a conversation with them about a specific topic of the musical world that we want to learn about.
C901: Rosa, do you have a specific direction that you want to go with your career?
Rosa: I like everything having to do with music. One of the things that attracted me to this program was the diversity of topics that we’re going to cover and things we’re going to do as musicians. I like playing in orchestra a lot and so I especially appreciate the opportunity to play with a professional ensemble and to meet other musicians from different professional ensembles that can help me in navigating that kind of sphere of classical music.
C901: Is there something that you’re excited to engage in locally outside of your fellowship?
Carrington: One thing that I think is really cool about where we live in the Medical District is if I need to go downtown to go to Beale Street or go do other things down there, I’m a few minutes away. If I need to go the other way and go toward the Bartlett, Cordova area, or the suburbs, I can hop on the interstate and I’m there. I honestly don’t always like going downtown because of how busy it is, but I think being closer to it and having to be in that kind of area began to give me more comfort with that. There’s all kinds of shops and performance centers and history, so I’ll be learning more and getting more familiar with all those things.
Rosa: I’m really excited to explore the music scene outside of classical music. Back home in Philadelphia what I started to do, especially towards the second or third year that I was living there, is that I was branching out and playing nonconventional music with some of my friends who would pull shows in their basements on the weekends or at bars during the week or whatever. I look forward to finding that kind of community here in Memphis and maybe getting a chance to collaborate with some of the local artists of this area in all types of music and art.
You can see Rosa and Carrington perform for free during the Memphis Medical District Collaborative’s Fall Lunch Concert Series at Health Sciences Park. It’s each Friday until October 5th from noon to 1.
The fellows are also partnering with Opera Memphis for performances of an original, homegrown opera, “Movin’ Up in the World” as part of 30 Days of Opera.
- Movin’ Up in the World at Memphis Slim House -Friday, September 21st
- 30 Days of Opera at Levitt Shell – Sunday, September 23rd
- Movin’ Up in the World at Clayborn Temple – Saturday, September 29th