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Obama leader amplifies the music of Black composers

Kori Coleman, a Black woman with a deep skin tone stands on a stage and holds a microphone. She stands in front of a string quartet of Black people with a range of medium to deep skin tones. Her index finger is raised.

Photo Credit: Sulyiman Stokes

Kori Coleman leverages the power of music to educate, entertain, and heal her community. According to her, creating a music community allows her to embody the world she wishes she had experienced.

Kori, a 2023 Leaders USA program participant, is the founder of D-Composed (Opens in a new tab), a Chicago-based chamber music collective that celebrates Black creativity and culture through the music of Black composers. As D-Composed prepares for its debut at Symphony Center, Kori emphasizes the significance of uniting community and culture through music, education, and outreach, particularly in Chicago, where construction is ongoing for the physical manifestation of our mission, the Obama Presidential Center.

  • Congratulations on D-Composed's upcoming debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! Were achievements like this part of your vision for yourself and your organization?

    My love for music began as early as I can remember. It has always been ingrained in my life. I grew up in a pretty musical family. My siblings and I were required to play an instrument. I started playing the violin at five years old, but I don’t play anymore. When I think about how D-Composed started, it was just a chamber music concert. It was a simple concert to let people know about Black composers. Today, our goal is to keep evolving. We're exploring how Black composers can serve as a means to tell stories, create spaces for healing within our community, generate more joy, and transcend the boundaries of a traditional concert experience.

    Hear Kori recount the moment when she decided to create D-Composed:

  • Explain the significance of the City of Chicago to your work and the impact you hope to achieve.

    D-Composed initially began as a quartet, consisting of four musicians focused on string instruments like violins, violas, and cellos. After realizing the importance of making a lasting impact and offering opportunities to more Black classical musicians, we expanded to include eight members. We are constantly challenging what a classical music experience can feel like by exploring the use of Black composers' music to genuinely serve our community rather than just put on performances. Our programs have expanded to incorporate music, meditation, sound bowls, and poetry. This year, our focus revolves around expanding various art forms within our community and considering the role classical music can play in telling that narrative.

    We have a deep presence in Chicago. It’s important to note that none of us are actually from the city of Chicago. However, the foundation of our organization is the local organizations who we partner with to bring these experiences to life. Initially, we organized about five events annually, and now we're averaging close to 25 to 30. We are now talking to New York, Atlanta, and we’re making our international debut in Brazil this year. I believe in maximizing our impact within the community and showcasing the excellence that Chicago has to offer.

    Kori Coleman, a Black woman with a deep skin tone, stands in the middle of a four person string quartet. They are a range of medium to deep skin tones and are holding a viola, violin, and cello. All are wearing shades of brown.

    Photo Credit: Seed Lynn

  • How has being a part of the Leaders USA program helped you accomplish your goals?

    Leaders USA taught me how to be more intentional about this work. I learned a lot during the program about ways to consider and protect myself as a leader. I found that there aren't many tools to prevent burnout in community-focused work. Thankfully, I've gained significant support from like-minded leaders who I can lean on. We still come together to celebrate each other's birthdays. I can reach out to them for collaborations or advice. And it's nice to have just a community of leaders who just understand the day-to-day struggle of what it means to do this work.

  • What is your hope for D-Composed?

    I want people to leave our events familiar with at least five Black composers. When you attend, that’s our guarantee. I want attendees to depart with a curiosity to explore more about classical music and a Black ensemble. I think if I would've had D-Composed, I might still be a musician today. D-Composed embodies the world I wish I had witnessed. I genuinely hope that through D-Composed, people see the vast possibilities for Black people within the arts.

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