Sphinx Organization creates professional vocal ensemble

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
University of Michigan’s Eugene Rogers partnered with the Sphinx Organization to create the vocal ensemble Exigence.

Detroit’s Sphinx Organization, which works to get black and Latino youngsters into classical music and boost diversity within professional orchestras, has created its first professional vocal ensemble.

Exigence, as the 31-member group is called, will make its worldwide debut at Detroit’s Hartford Memorial Baptist Church on Friday evening with a public concert, “A Vision Unfolding.” The group also will perform Sunday at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, at the close of the annual Sphinx Competition.

Exigence, which means “great need,” will resemble the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, both of which are comprised of musicians of color who tour nationwide to act as role models for aspiring young musicians.

“I think Exigence is much overdue,” said Sphinx President and Artistic Director Afa S. Dworkin. “This was so ripe and ready, and to have as talented a leader as Eugene Rogers, we simply felt we had to make it happen.”

Rogers teaches conducting and is associate director of choirs at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Last year, he won Sphinx’s Medal of Excellence in conducting.

“I was talking with Afa about a dream I had,” Rogers said, “about wanting to see more diversity in the professional chorale world.” He approached Sphinx about sponsoring such an ensemble, “but they suggested we partner to make this even more successful.”

Exigence members, Rogers added, “are all professional musicians, whether composers, voice teachers or performers. A few have just finished their undergraduate studies, while many others have their doctorates. It’s a wide range.”

The program at Hartford Memorial will include works by Verdi, Beethoven, Villa-Lobos, Woo, Guillaume, Castañeda, Hearne, Hill and two premieres: “A Vision Unfolding” by Derrick Spiva Jr. and “Caged Bird” by Joel Thompson.

On Sunday, Exigence will perform three pieces by Beethoven, Spiva and Tarik O’Regan.

Sphinx over the years has awarded more than $2.5 million in music scholarships so aspiring musicians could attend top schools and summer intensives, and has also granted $500,000 to help students and musicians buy instruments.

The creation of Exigence inevitably raises the question whether the Sphinx Competition will someday expand beyond stringed instruments to include vocals — which, when you think of it, are themselves a form of stringed instrument.

“Down the road, the sky’s the limit,” Dworkin said, “but it’s just the ensemble for now.”


‘EXIGENCE: A Vision Unfolding’

8 p.m. Friday

Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, 18700 James Couzens, Detroit

Tickets: $10

(313) 861-1300




Finals Concert’

Featuring Sphinx Symphony Orchestra & EXIGENCE

2 p.m. Sunday

Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center

3711 Woodward, Detroit

Tickets: $15

(313) 576-5111