Sphinx Organization

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Sphinx Organization
Logo in brown and black type with the organization motto below "Building Diversity in Classical Music"
PurposeDevelopment of young Black and Latino classical musicians
Region served
United States
President and Founder
Aaron P. Dworkin

The Sphinx Organization is a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of young Black and Latino classical musicians. Based in Detroit, Michigan, it was founded by the American violinist Aaron Dworkin. The Sphinx was chosen to represent this organization because of what it symbolizes: "the power, wisdom and persistence" that the organization hopes to instill in its participants.[1]


At age 25, Aaron P. Dworkin began the Sphinx Competition. While he was immediately met with skepticism from his violin teacher and the dean of the University of Michigan School of Music, his passion about the endeavor won them over. He was allotted $40,000 over the course of three years from the dean, Dr. Paul Boylan and gained grant money from other organizations including Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Ford Motor Co., Masco Corp., and the Wolfensohn Family Foundation. In January 2010 the Sphinx Competition celebrated its 13th year. Since the start of the first annual competition, Sphinx has also begun a number of other programs to help the growth of minority involvement in classical music.[2]

Music ensembles[edit]

There have been multiple groups formed out of the Sphinx Organization. The organization itself has an orchestra known as the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra. Other groups created by the Sphinx Organization are: Catalyst Quartet, Harlem Quartet, and Sphinx Chamber Orchestra. The Sphinx Symphony is composed of Black and Latino professional players and teachers from around the United States. The Sphinx Chamber Orchestra allows Black and Latino musicians a chance to tour and classical music at a professional level. The Catalyst Quartet is formed by Sphinx Competition top laureates and the Harlem Quartet has all first-place winners of the competition.[3][4]

Annual Sphinx Competition[edit]

The Annual Sphinx Competition began in 1997. The Sphinx Competition give Black and Latino classical string players a chance to compete, work with an internationally renowned panel of judges and to perform with professional musicians.[5] Prizes include over $100,000 in scholarships and cash prizes, as well as solo performances with major orchestras across the United States. Many of the past laureates have gone on to either study at very prestigious schools or began careers in solo or orchestra playing.[6] Notable judges include Anthony Elliot, Sanford Allen, Atar Arad, Paul Katz, and Kim Kashkashian.[7]

Outreach programs[edit]

The Sphinx Organization is known not only for its annual competition, but for the education it has provided across the United States as well. Its outreach programs are free, non-profit programs aimed at developing interest and education towards classical music in urban under served areas in the United States.[8] These programs include: Musical Encounters, School Dayz, Sphinx Preparatory Institute, Sphinx Performance Academy, and Sphinx Journeys. Musical Encounters allows just as its name suggest, a chance for children to encounter the instruments of the orchestra and learn more about them within a school. School Dayz is a program in which the Harlem Quartet visits various schools in New York to provide exposure for elementary school children to classical music through performance.[9] The Sphinx Preparatory Institute is a program offering Saturday classes to Detroit students in music history, theory and instrumental performance. It serves string, woodwind, brass, percussion and piano instrumentalists, ages 11–18 and is designed to address the needs of students in pursuit of music studies at beginning and intermediate levels who lack access to good training.[10] The Sphinx Performance Academy is a music festival held by the Sphinx Organization where Black and Latino students ages 12–17 have the opportunity to study under the Harlem Quartet and other Sphinx Competition alumni. During their time at the Academy the students receive both private and masterclass instruction in chamber and solo music. Sphinx Journeys is a program that Aaron Dworkin himself hosts. It is a radio show which he uses to introduce and recount classical music produced by Black and Latino musicians. This program is a co-production with WRCJ-FM in Detroit.[9][11]


While the Sphinx Organization began with a modest start financially, it has become stable organization over the years. Within the years of 2006-2008, 80% of the organization's expenses have been related to the program itself. Only about 7% of it had gone to administrative costs and 10 to fund raising. The growth did however vary quite a bit from year to year. While in 2006 primary revenue was 16.6 percent and rose to 34.2 percent the next year, in 2008 it had fallen dramatically to -15.2%. This drop was due to 1 million dollars lost in contributions. All the while the organization's expenses were rising from 27% in 2006 to 35.8% in 2008. Even with these hardships, however, Sphinx had net assets of over $3 million in 2008.[12]


  1. ^ The Sphinx Organization History. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  2. ^ DeFord, Carla. "Bringing diversity to the world of classical music: the Sphinx Organization provides opportunities for young musicians of color to showcase their talents", Diverse Issues in Higher Education (June 26, 2008). Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  3. ^ Schweitzer, Vivien. "Young, Black and Latino In a Concert for Diversity", New York Times (September 27, 2007). Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  4. ^ The Sphinx Organization. Competition Alumni List. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  5. ^ McKeough, Kevin. "Cover Story: The Sphinx Stands Alone", Strings, No. 107 ( January 2003). Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  6. ^ Discover Black Heritage. "The Sphinx Competition, Detroit, MI". Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  7. ^ The Sphinx Organization. Artists – Competition Jurors List. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  8. ^ Delacoma, Wynne. "Sphinx shows minority talent's no myth ", Chicago Sun-Times (September 28, 2008) (subscription required). Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  9. ^ a b The Sphinx Organization. Programs. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  10. ^ One D. Educational Preparedness Programs & Initiatives: Sphinx Preparatory Music Institute. Retrieved 6 December 2010.
  11. ^ WRCJ FM. Sphinx Journeys. Retrieved 6 December 2010
  12. ^ Charity Navigator: The Sphinx Organization. Retrieved 6 December 2010.

External links[edit]