A Thursday with Anthony McGill, A Masterclass in Living 

Armond Dorsey, GR'23, Special Projects Fellow

Special Projects Fellow Armond Dorsey, GR'23 spends a day with principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic Anthony McGill.

Thursday, October 7, 2021. 12:50PM: A warm, sunny day graces Hanover. Just as fall seemed to be creeping in, a vibrant sunshine brightens the Upper Valley. It was as if the sun-kissed Hanover anticipated his arrival. As I walk up to the Six South Street Hotel, we meet eyes. A mutual familiarity glows upon our faces. "As I was on my way up here, I was just thinking 'I wonder if he's still here,'" Anthony McGill says to me as we greet one another. I had the honor of meeting the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic back when I was a sophomore at Dartmouth during his tour with the Musicians of Marlboro in 2017. And today, I not only would reunite with Mr. McGill but also moderate both a lunch and post-concert discussion with him. It became official. Anthony McGill has arrived, he remembers me, and the day has only just begun!

1:02 PM: We arrive at the lunch with the Hopkins Center fellows. Their 17 faces light up as Anthony McGill enters the room. After we take our seats and I introduce Mr. McGill, the fellows applaud and immediately grow silent, anticipating what he will share with us. I begin our conversation by asking Mr. McGill to share some defining and impactful experiences in his musical career. We go on a journey through the Merit School of Music and the other music programs where Mr. McGill gained his classical training. His discussion of his musical education leads me to inquire how his exposure or lack of exposure to Black artists has impacted his education and career. As he recounts the Black musicians from his youth who shaped his early musical journey, he evokes powerful words about support systems and overcoming adversity. He shares the story of meeting Wynton Marsalis and traces his sources of musical inspiration in the lineage from Sidney Bechet to Marsalis: "even without meeting them, you're still taking lessons from people...always consider yourself in a process of learning." Mr. McGill goes on to explain that life "[is] a masterclass in living; living is about knowing which space you're in." He meets eyes with each fellow, making each person in the room feel seen as he encourages "one of the challenges we face is how we think...don't let your own voice tell you to fail." It was as if the wisdom Mr. McGill bestowed was individually curated for each of us and placed right in our hands. He ends the lunch with more words of encouragement "You can change the world by living...by doing the things that they say you cannot do. The world is very slow to change...so what [you can do] to speed up that process is to live." We leave the lunch with full stomachs and even fuller hearts.

7:15 PM: I enter Spaulding Auditorium and take my seat. Where the global pandemic once left Spaulding's seats empty, this evening fills the hall with student and community listeners excited to experience Anthony McGill's artistry. Fifteen minutes later, the concert hall lights dim, Anthony McGill and Anna Polonsky enter the stage, and the show begins. The repertoire for the evening featured Witold Lutoslawski, Leonard Bernstein, Philippe Gaubert, Adolphus Hailstork and Aaron Copland. In each piece, Mr. McGill sung through every phrase and gesture and with Miss Polonsky's keen expressiveness, the two delivered a brilliant performance. I enter backstage as we approach the end of the concert and the beginning of the day's last masterclass in living.

9:00 PM: Anthony McGill and I walk out onto the stage and take our seats. Applause fills the hall as the post-concert discussion begins. I introduce ourselves and, to my surprise, Mr. McGill begins our discussion by recounting the email I sent that led to us first meeting at Dartmouth years ago. My heart warms as he remarks at my growth and tells the audience how proud he is of me. The audience applauses. I beam under my mask. And from there, the evening brings delightful questions, conversations and laughter around music. Mozart's clarinet concerto is lauded; an audience member praises the similarities between the Bernstein Clarinet Sonata and a choral piece he performed at the Lincoln Center; and Mr. McGill leaves us with a reminder to give back to the support systems that sustain us. Mr. McGill and I fist bump one another as the audience applauds and the post-concert discussion concludes. Though the day is done and the hall empties once more, the levity and kinship cultivated that evening lives on. Today's masterclass in living comes to an end. 

To Mr. McGill: Thank you for remembering me after all these years. Thank you for making time to meet the Black boy clarinetist who reached out to you during one of the hardest moments in his academic career. Thank you for showing him he can exist. Thank you for believing in me and my aspirations. Thank you for sharing your words, your music and your heart. And, thank you for sharing a masterclass in living in just one day. I look forward to the next one.