CBS highlights TU's Gabrielle Stanback among boundary-breaking Black classical musicians

By Rebecca Kirkman on April 8, 2021

Music student and violinist featured on ‘CBS This Morning’

On Thursday, “CBS This Morning” featured Towson University music performance student and violinist Gabrielle Stanback ’22 in its “A More Perfect Union” series, which aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. 

The piece focused on the Black Violin Foundation, a nonprofit from Kev Marcus and Wil Baptiste of the Grammy-nominated, genre-bending musical duo Black Violin, and its work to empower youth to push the boundaries of music through innovation.

Stanback, who became the first Black female student to solo with the Towson University Symphony Orchestra in 2018, received one of the foundation’s 20 inaugural music innovation grants for promising young musicians ages 13–20.

“It enabled me to have summer lessons and participate in a summer program,” Stanback said in the feature. “Without their funds I really don’t know how that would have been possible for me.”

She used the scholarship to continue summer studies with TU associate professor of violin Jeffrey Howard and to participate in the 2020 InterHarmony Music Festival.

In addition to serving as the youngest and second Black female concertmaster and section leader of TU’s Symphony Orchestra, Stanback is manager and first violinist of the Chariot String Quartet, an ensemble founded at TU, and sectional coach for the Chesapeake Youth Orchestra. She also serves as the music department representative on the College of Fine Arts & Communication (COFAC) Student Advisory Council.

“Gabrielle is incredibly resourceful and focused. Since her earliest days here, she knew her path and has stuck with it,” says music department chair Phillip Collister. “She is a kind and gracious person who is greatly respected by her peers and the faculty of the department. She leads by example. I am so proud of her and her accomplishments.”

Stanback performs violin at concert
Music student Gabrielle Stanback ’22 performs with the TU Symphony Orchestra. (Photo: Nick Sibol ’23)

Stanback earned first place in the 2020 TU Peggy Friedmann-Gordon Music Competition, received the 2019 Congressional Black Caucus Performing Artist Award and won the 2018 TU Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition. For the past two years, she has adjudicated the Maryland All-State Orchestra for the Maryland Music Educators Association and taught private lessons for beginning students in the Baltimore County area.

“Gabbi is a wonderful student,” says assistant professor of music and TU Symphony Orchestra conductor Christopher Cicconi. “The orchestra is an ensemble that is near and dear to me, and Gabbi is a major part of that. She not only models what it means to be an amazing musician, she embodies and demonstrates daily what it means to be an amazing, genuine human being.”

“ My course has been bumpy, to say the least, but it’s a beautiful journey that is growing me into the artist and person that I am meant to be. ”

Gabrielle Stanback ’22

While preparing for the Peggy Friedmann-Gordon competition, Stanback had a “pivotal lesson” with Howard that shifted how she sees herself as an artist.

“Dr. Howard encouraged, ‘Be the artist you were meant to be. You have something to say, so share it,’” Stanback recalls. “Before this moment, I had always looked at myself as a student, not a young artist with something to share. I realized that my voice matters, and what I have to say through music can only be expressed if I become vulnerable enough to display my true self.

“For the first time in my musical career, I dared to be myself and share the music with my audience without the barrier created by fear of mistakes or of anxiety that my audience would not like my interpretation.”

Support from the Black Violin Foundation came at a critical time for Stanback. 

In addition to navigating the many changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, over the past year she persevered through a series of tragedies including the loss of her grandfather, the death of a close friend and the loss of her childhood home, which she details in a submission to the COFAC “Silver Linings” blog series, which highlights stories of adaptation, resiliency and innovation within the community.

“Facing these challenges has reaffirmed my faith, developed my musicianship skills, helped me to become my own inspiration and produced a more resilient version of me,” Stanback says. 

“Dr. Howard always says that while my path might look different from the paths of others, it will be the perfect one for me. I think he was specifically referring to my journey as a violinist, but his advice really can be applied to my life as a whole. My course has been bumpy, to say the least, but it’s a beautiful journey that is growing me into the artist and person that I am meant to be.”

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