THE BLOG

Young, Gifted and Black: Augusta's Adopted Rising Star Makes Conducting Debut at Carnegie Hall

04/24/2015 02:32 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2015
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At 6:00 a.m., I would wake up and jump out of the bed to quickly get ready for middle school and high school at the Davidson Fine Arts School in Augusta, Georgia, and just before getting on the bus, which left at 6:50 a.m., I would do my best to squeeze in at least ten or 15 minutes of practice time on the piano.

Then, after coming home from school and several after school activities, I would complete my homework assignments and eat a home-cooked meal at the dinner table with my mother and father. Then, my nightly, weekday practicing routine would start around 8:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. The well-known adage rings ever so loudly in my head, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice."

After moving to New York City in 2001, and after completing my undergraduate degree in Piano Performance at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and graduate studies at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, MD, one of my favorite things to do was drive by Carnegie Hall and say to myself: "One day I'll perform there." It seemed as if it would never happen, as I've performed at every major concert hall at Lincoln Center (Rose Theater of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall) among other major performing arts venues in New York City over the past 14 years. But, the twelfth month, December, and the twelfth day, in the year 2012 marked my first time performing at Carnegie Hall performing as guest solo pianist in one of my colleagues, Diego Ahmed's original compositions "Fier Herzog."

My heart was overflowing with joy and happiness to look out in the audience and see family members and close friends in attendance that evening to support my debut at Carnegie Hall. Yet, at the same time, the moment was bittersweet as my father, who so selflessly gave so much of himself to support my musical endeavors, had already transitioned from Earth to Heaven back in May 2005; my mother was swiftly moving into advanced stages of dementia, which rendered her unable to be aware of the awesome accomplishment she, too, had worked so hard to prepare me for.

Who would have ever thought that this young Southern man from Augusta, Georgia, who was adopted and raised by older parents, would ever have an opportunity to grace the stage of such a prestigious hall where virtuosity and sheer artistic excellence is found. Who would not only perform at Carnegie as a pianist, but then be invited back again as choral preparer and as vocal soloist alongside Grammy-winning soul singer Lalah Hathaway, and international operatic soprano Nicole Cabell in April 2014 for Duke Ellington's Sacred Suite.

Surely, this was extremely sublime to experience the moment of gracing the Carnegie stage to a completely full house. Those are the experiences, which not only shape one's creative path, but also bring affirmation to a life-long faith that pushes one through their most obscure and difficult times.

And even in celebration of those two musical milestones, I have another humbling moment coming up on this Sunday evening, April 26, 2015. I will be making my Carnegie Hall conducting debut with a choir of 150 singers and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra. Not only will I be making my own first appearance, but this will also be the first time my mentor, Wynton Marsalis, will have his through-composed work, the "Abyssinian Mass," performed at Carnegie Hall.

In retrospect, every meandering turn in my path to fulfilling my goals and realizing my dreams was worth every minute. I represent other adoptees that, at one point in their lives, may have questioned their very existence and, like me, asked God the question: "Why?" It has been my faith that has kept me when life's dark days seemed to overshadow the bright hope of a promising future.

And, yes, it is true that practice, practice, practice will land one on the stage at Carnegie Hall, but most of all, we must always be prepared for those specific moments that will catapult and shift our lives into that which we've always longed to achieve. I represent those who were told they never would, or never could. I represent those who struggle with the daily challenges of aging family members who are plagued by the memory thief of dementia. I represent young people everywhere to let them see themselves in me and know that nothing is impossible.