Classical Music Clarion | The living


The vocal prowess and range of Maria Ellis’ aunts intrigued her so much that she imitated their soprano styles. Her aunts played in a band with her father and other siblings.

Her family’s singing tradition inspired her to follow suit, and she was a member of the family choir throughout her elementary and secondary school years and in church. Her interest in classical music began in sixth grade after the St. Louis Children’s Choir introduced her to the genre.

“I thought I was really important because I learned to read music,” Ellis said. “Sheet music is important because everything I used to learn was learned by ear through my gospel training.”

Ellis said she loved learning to read music because it made her feel like she was “really doing something.” Her musical education continued at Millikin University for a year, and she returned home to work for AT&T.

The lessons learned were invaluable when he was offered the opportunity to “revamp” the children’s choir at Lively Stone Church of God.

While the basic knowledge was there, she realized she didn’t have all the information she needed to teach children.

To better understand, she enrolled at the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ opera program, which is part of his music education department.

“I couldn’t speak the language, she says. “I knew what I was doing, but I just didn’t know the language for it.”

Opera had never been something she saw herself involved in, but she didn’t shy away from the challenge. She says she “fell in love” with opera singing and over time became a classical music conductor.

Her background motivated her to teach classical music to students in a way that was authentic to her. She used gospel, R&B and hip-hop references to connect the two worlds. Her company, Girl Conductor, continues to follow this educational formula.

She makes music education accessible and relevant to black youth, especially black girls, using hip-hop songs to help them read notes, or using a gospel song to teach them certain phrases learned at school. ear.

“I take classic terms and break them down so people who aren’t from this world can understand them because that’s what I needed when I was in college,” she said. declared. “I felt so lost because they were saying all these terms and I was like, ‘I don’t know what all of this means. “”

Ellis also uses Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl” to improve understanding of musical intervals and the pitch distance between two notes. She remembers how, in college, her professors used the song “Here Comes the Bride” to describe intervals, but she found this method outdated as it is now rarely performed.

“I want them to ask themselves, ‘is it Beyoncé or is it a [Johan Sebastian] Bach piece?’ This [sounds] like it could be Bach when it’s basically Beyoncé,” she said.

Ellis hosts a show on Classic 107.3 called “Bach & Beyoncé”.

“I was offered a radio show and they said ‘what do you want to talk about?'” she said. “And I said, ‘Well, I love Bach and Beyoncé, so I want to talk about them and how their worlds intertwine.’ They are not as separate as we think.

Ellis knows there aren’t many women in classical music quite like her. However, several black women paved the way for her and others to find a seat at the table. The problem, she says, is that these influences aren’t taught in school.

“We are not taught anything about black people who contributed to classical music,” she said. “We are only taught Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and others. We are not talking about all the African Americans in the United States who wrote operas and classic plays like Florence Price, and Chevalier de Saint-Georges, which is said to have influenced Mozart.

She thinks the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra does a great job of diversity and inclusion. Last season, the symphony featured the works of several minority composers. She adds that there could be more works by black female composers on the symphony’s program – which is a driving force behind Girl Conductor.

“I haven’t seen black women, I saw my first black woman conductor in 2020,” she said. “When you think of conductors, you think of white men. You don’t think of women at all, especially black women.

Ellis, will conduct the works of St. Louis native Dr. Robert Ray at Carnegie Hall on June 25, 2023.

“Since he’s from St. Louis, I wanted to honor him because I’m also from St. Louis and St. Louis,” she said. “I also wanted to honor him while he’s still alive.”

For her Carnegie Hall debut, she would like students from the all-star choir of The Sheldon[an ensemble made up of young people from low-income households in North St Louis County and St Louis City]to join her.[unensemblecomposédejeunesissusdeménagesàfaiblerevenuducomtédeNorthStLouisetdelavilledeStLouis)larejoignentEncemomentelleestentraindecollecterdesfondspourqu’ilspuissentvenir[anensemblemadeupofyouthfromlowin-comehouseholdsinNorthStLouisCountyandStLouisCity)joinherRightnowshe’sintheprocessofraisingmoneyforthemtobeabletocome

Anyone interested in donating to Ellis can email her at [email protected]

Ellis hosts the weekly Bach & Beyoncé show; she is also a bandleader, musician, co-host of live SLSO shows and an educator at Sumner High School. She presents her teachings and unconventional ideas in workshops across the country.

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