The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
Random House Audio, 2022. Read by J.D. Jackson
Summary: Growing up Black in North Carolina, Ray McMillian breaks the mold by aiming for something beyond a minimum wage, low skilled job -- he wants to be a world class classical musician. He has the skills to succeed but cannot seem to catch any breaks due to his race and his poverty. When he discovers that the fiddle his grandmother gives him as a gift is really a priceless Italian violin, everything changes. He is even invited to participate in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Things are really looking up... then the violin is stolen. Will he ever see the violin again?
Review: My husband and I listened to the audiobook of The Violin Conspiracy during several recent car trips. The mystery -- where is the violin and who took it -- wasn't as compelling to me as Ray's backstory going all the way back to his great-great grandfather, he called Pop Pop, who was a slave trained to be a talented musician prior to emancipation. When he was freed he was given the violin by his owner, or was he? That is another mystery that needs to be solved. Ray also has a difficult family who don't support his musical dreams and hound him for money after it was discovered that the violin was priceless, not the pile of junk they took it for. When he won a full scholarship to college to get a degree in music his family, especially his mother, were incredulous that he wouldn't stay home and just get a job.
Brendan Slocumb is a Black classical musician. Most of the stories in the book surrounding the way that Ray was treated concerning classical music were lived first by the author. People assumed that he was a jazz or hip hop musician, not one interested in classical music. I have never ever thought of this aspect of racism before. But now that I think about it, I don't remember many Black musicians at the few classical programs I have attended. I am so grateful for this book. It has opened my eyes and will help me become a better person moving forward. In the book's afterward Slocumb sums it up this way:
“Who you are goes far beyond what you look like. My hope is that Ray’s story will inspire all of you—white or Black, Asian or Native American, straight or gay, transgender or cisgender, blond or dark haired, tall or short, big feet or small—to do what you love. Inspire those around you to do what they love, too. It might just pay off. Alone, we are a solitary violin, a lonely flute, a trumpet singing in the dark. Together, we are a symphony.”
Other Quotes (since I listened to the audiobook I am just giving random quotes, not from specific pages:)
“And none of that mattered. No matter how nice the suit, no matter how educated his speech or how strong the handshake, no matter how much muscle he packed on, no matter how friendly or how smart he was, none of it mattered at all. He was just a Black person. That’s all they saw and that’s all he was.”--------
“Music’s the gift. Caring’s the gift. And you give it to others now. There are a lot of ways apart from a concert hall to make a difference in someone’s life.”