Kamyron Williams
Edited by: 
Kaitlyn Soloway

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your performing arts journey and how you first became involved in the arts?

So ... my journey with the arts? My original music journey started with failing at piano lessons when I was younger. But that was quick lived. Fast forward to middle school you have to pick an elective, so I got some advice from my best friend. He said, “hey man I really think you should join the orchestra and then we can have a class together.” So I did. Fast forward, a little bit and I am in an orchestra with my friend. When it came to choosing our instruments, the orchestra teacher said, “oh you know you're a big kid, I think you should play cello.” That is how I got started playing the cello. In middle school, I was able to get a private teacher in the local area. My orchestra director in middle school was able to help direct me to go to the performing arts high school. Instead of going to the neighborhood high school, where I would have been with all of my  friends and probably focusing on academics  sports, I decided to go to the performing arts high school downtown.

Then in high school, it was the same deal: cello, cello, cello. I loved it! I didn't want to do anything else but just play music with my friends in the orchestra. I knew I wanted to pursue cello in college, I guess it was just one of those things. I wasn't great at math or science and I wasn't interested in biology or anything like that, It was music. I knew I wanted to share something, I knew I had a talent for cello and music and I wanted to dive in. So during high school, I was able to take cello lessons with a professor at one of the local universities back home in Florida. I would drive four hours round trip every weekend to take cello lessons during my junior and senior years of high school. I was so fortunate for this.

I attended Indiana University for my undergrad for four years and then went on to the University of Michigan for graduate school. When I got to the University of Michigan, I asked myself, “what am I really going to do with this instrument?” I remember during one of my first lessons, my teacher asked me, “so what do you want to do, orchestra, solo or chamber?” That was something I could never really wrap my head around, because I enjoyed all of it and didn’t understand why I had to choose just one. So now, my role is wearing multiple hats in music and not in music. As a performer, I perform in mostly collaborative or chamber music settings, and I also play in orchestras. I also have other roles as an arts administrator. Obviously, as an artist, we are all our own administrators. I do some audience development work and  I'm diving into radio which has broadened my interest outside of classical music. I am moving to Providence, Rhode Island within the next year to begin working with Community MusicWorks.

Q: Has the performing arts ever helped you overcome any hardships in your life? What have been some challenges as a performing artist?

I would say fitting into my own shoe. During my studies I sometimes felt contained to a box and list of checkpoints. You have to complete A,B,C and D, you got to do this, you got to do that and even though that’s cool, I've always been trying to figure out how am I going to make this work for me. I've realized, you have to be able to do more than just play your instrument.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about what it was like being one of the only students of color in SMTD and I assume in your undergrad as well?

It was definitely something very apparent. I think I could count on one hand the number of students of color in my undergrad. I'm pretty sure there were no more than three or four black people in the string department during my time at Indiana University, which is one of the largest music programs in the nation. I mean, that just speaks for itself. I would say that at that time I had such a close knit group of friends and a community, and that's what I stuck with during my four years at Indiana.

When I got to Michigan, I started to ask “what am I going to do? How am I going to use the cello and my music to represent myself?” So, that led me to performing my recitals, the curation of other projects including my radio show, Voices Unheard. It also led me to work with the Sphinx Organization as the audience development coordinator, going out to different communities and sharing the mission of the work of Sphinx. There is still a lot of work to be done. Even in Detroit when I would go to a church or local bussines to drop off  fliers about Sphinx, people really did not have an idea about what Sphinx was...The lack of awareness was very surprising to me, because the Sphinx Organization is so big in the classical community and with diversity in the arts. It showed me that there is still a lot of work to be done.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your radio show Voices Unheard?

Voices Unheard started with radio side gigs last summer. I was traveling and in and out of Ann Arbor between music festivals and there wasn't really enough time to pick up extra work. I was listening to a lot of podcasts at the time and public radio was very interesting to me. I did a random search to see if there was a radio affiliated with the University and, of course there was. So I reached out to WCBN, the local community radio station here in Ann Arbor, and went through the radio dj training process and passed the broadcast exam. Fast forward and I was on the radio from 12:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. every Thursday Night during the first semester. As a new dj to the station, It was my first “graveyard shift” and even though the timing was awful, I was becoming immersed in so much new music!  I am meeting so many new people and to have a public platform that can literally reach anyone in the world. All you have to do is just either tune in or login onto the web and as time went on WCBN became my Third place.

After completing the graveyard shift, I was a rotational host for tempo rubato and developed my own show Voices Unheard, a radio show that features lesser known works and underrepresented composers. I also feature live interviews from people in the community who want to come onto the show and share their work. I want Voices Unheard to be another resource for people to come and share projects they are working on or talk about what’s going on in the world. As the radio station has been shut down during the pandemic, I have been bootstrapping it from my apartment with remote conversations for the time being.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you as a performing artist?

At first, I was definitely in denial. I remember the conversation I had with people when it first started. I was at the Boston Airport getting ready to board the plane and I was talking to one of my buddies in Europe about the virus and at that time I was saying that I thought it was blown out of control and that we would all be fine. I flew home from Boston to Detroit and returned to school, two days later and I had a lesson and my professor was saying that other universities were shutting down and that his friends in Italy were sending him pictures showing them standing outside the grocery stores.  Still in denial I told him that we’ll be fine and I'll see you next week. Yet, later that same day school was canceled and 24 hours later school was completely shut down and then the University was advising us to return home. That all happened really fast. When it started, I thought it may be a few weeks and then we would be back. But here we are now, and it's about to be July.

I feel like now people’s game plans and focus are shifting because it’s becoming apparent that we are not going to be on stage until next year. I think at first it was thought that maybe things would be better by July or the fall. But now, major arts organizations are calling off their seasons, New York, Houston, Nashville and I'm sure others will also modify as we continue to learn more.

I have been trying to use this time to remain creative. I am doing interviews for the radio show. I also am trying to use this free time to just self reflect. I know that I am in a more fortunate situation than some other people. I have work that is lined up for the fall and I'm thankful for that. I also am grateful that I recently completed school. I also think the narrative is shifting just a tad bit. Even though we are still in the middle of a pandemic, I feel like there are other issues, much bigger issues that are now being brought up.


Q: Can you talk a little bit about what it's been looking like online for musicians and the music world?  And can you just talk a little bit about how the music world has been continuing to create during this time?

I think it has been very similar to the dance world, a lot of online classes, a lot of webinars and a lot of Zoom. I think the cool thing to see coming out of this is how we are all connected, how our organizations can come together and have discussions. We need to be having more of this, not just discussions of COVID-19 but discussions of current events. I think in the future we may be thousands of miles apart and doing different things however, we can still come together and solve, communicate and come up with solutions …  together. Everyone has been using social media and online classes.  Every artist is an entrepreneur right now in their own way, even if they don't realize it.

Q:  Can you talk a little bit about, as a recent graduate, about going into the professional world?  By this I mean you've been trained to play an instrument. And now, the entire game has changed and when we come out of this, it's not going to look the same. As well as, what do you think the performing arts world's going to look like after this? What do you think there's going to be more room for in terms of new works and how performers can navigate this new sphere?

I think if we can find a way to link our artistry with our public awareness of what is happening in the world, global issues and use that to intensify or express it as an artist. I feel like there will be more of this coming up in the future.

Q: Can you talk about  maybe advice that you have or even for yourself about how performers are going into this totally different world post pandemic. How do you think that we can move forward and what sense of hope, if any, is moving forward?

I think going off what I was saying before we are artists and things are changing and we are also citizens.  I think we can find a way to use those … use those two things together. How can we infuse being an artist and a citizen? In addition, using our training to relate to a certain issue. I think we need to be better on public awareness and bigger issues, you know?  I think if we can express the stories and ideas, notice the injustice around us and critique that through art I think that will do  a lot. We are all from different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, but we are connected because of the community. We are artists and we are citizens, so let us combine the two. Let us make something happen.

Q: What do you hope the performing arts will look like after this, in terms of more diversity, equity inclusion or funding for the arts ect?

I hope that there are more artist and citizen connections. I think this online presence is going to remain. The online presence is still going to be very strong. I think that is important too, because, I mean, it is 2020. There is so much technology and I think that is something that even some organizations are catching up on. I see more collaboration, I see more socially conscious programming.  I also see a change coming in education, especially in music schools and conservatories.  I think this is a weird time because we are in the middle of a pandemic. But as I was saying earlier, we have a lot of other stuff to fix now within our country dealing with injustice and equality.  I am hopeful that this is the time for change to happen … NOW!

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