A Moment with Anthony McGill, Artist-in-Residence, John J. Cali School of Music

Photo by Chris Lee/New York Philharmonic

Anthony McGill has given much thought to this moment we’re in.

“It’s a very interesting, challenging time, but also pretty inspiring,” says McGill, the 2020-2021 John J. Cali School of Music Artist-in-Residence and winner of the 2020 Avery Fisher Prize.

As the first African American principal musician (clarinet) in the history of the 178-year-old New York Philharmonic, McGill brings his considerable musical chops as well as his activist spirit to his role as mentor to Montclair State students. Referring to both the pandemic and the global racial justice movement, McGill says, “I’m doing a lot of work in ways that I’ve never done before – obviously online, with teaching, of course – but I’m also doing a lot of work communicating to students and others about my kind of career and continuing to think about our roles as musicians or students in this world that is very complex and challenging and difficult.”

Art and activism constantly collide for McGill. This summer he participated in a recording of “Lift Every Voice,” an arrangement of the song known as America’s Black National Anthem. The project showcased nearly a dozen Black symphonic musicians from across the U.S., including Demarre McGill, Anthony’s brother and principal flute for the Seattle Symphony.

“The community of classical musicians is a very small community to start with,” says McGill of the recording, which was planned “to show to the world how beautiful it can be when Black classical musicians get together and perform really great music. It was a powerful, meaningful thing for me.”

“What I’ve been doing my whole career has been, in a way, a demonstration of what representation looks like, what change looks like within the world and in an industry that is predominantly white. There’s a huge responsibility. Always. To represent not only that, but also to be an advocate for positive change in the world surrounding diversity and inclusion and equity in our society. Not only do I feel that responsibility, I feel like it’s a duty. It’s a part of who I am as a musician but also as a person who understands my own individual place, using my power as best as I can to affect positive change in the world.” 

–Mary Barr Mann