The PRIZM Ensemble was founded in Memphis in 2005 by Lecolion and Carina Nyberg Washington as a touring and performing group. Four years later, PRIZM flipped the mission of the usual classical music organization and began to focus on community education and outreach rather than concerts and performances. Since that time, the PRIZM Ensemble has offered a summer camp and international chamber music festival for young musicians to learn the art of chamber ensemble playing, while meeting, working, and performing with world-class musicians. The students and teachers play together in ensembles ranging from trio to orchestra, all without a conductor. Olasuyi, a PRIZM student, explains that playing without a conductor is like playing without knowing what you are doing. He recognizes that the program is based on the belief that musicians will be able to play together well when they watch, listen to, and trust in each other.
Lecolion tells us that the mission of the program is to build diverse community through chamber music education, youth development, and performance. Its core principles are diversity, opportunity and access. He explains that the makeup of PRIZM, including staff, faculty, and students, mirrors the composition of the community so that students can see people who look like them in all positions within the program. He stresses that providing opportunities and access must include helping frame futures and providing pathways to success.
In 2013, PRIZM began a year-round after-school program to introduce students in schools in underserved communities to sophisticated music-making through regular instruction from and interaction with professional musicians. PRIZM in the Schools includes weekly lessons as well as seminars on topics ranging from performance etiquette to public speaking. The program culminates in performances by students with and without their teachers. Scholarships to the PRIZM summer camp and festival are given to five students from each school where the program operates.
Journey, another PRIZM student, tells us that she wouldn’t have been so dedicated to her music had it not been for PRIZM. The PRIZM program not only helped her imagine what she wanted to do but also taught her how to do it. She says she was so inspired by watching Carina and Lecolion work to build PRIZM that she hopes to start a program like it someday. She has been awarded a full scholarship to study music management at the University of Hartford and will matriculate this fall.
Olasuyi tells us that he finds music fun and that it brings out the “liveliness” in him. He credits PRIZM with inspiring him to be more passionate about his violin. He says he has also become more aware and organized in his daily life because of PRIZM.
Lecolion explains that he founded and runs PRIZM because he was “one of these kids.” Even though he grew up in what most people would consider an underserved community, he was able to find his best self through classical music. He knows that all over the country there are young people like him who might be able to share that experience if they had access to music education, development, and performance. We are grateful that he is enriching us all by providing pathways through PRIZM to students in our community.