The cashier at a local music shop told a six-year-old Randall Goosby that he was too small to play the violin. “The guy kind of looked down at me and looked back up at my mom and goes ‘You know, he’s kind of small, he’s pretty short, his hands are small,” Goosby said.
As a result, Goosby agreed to play the piano like his siblings. Only a few months later, his mother noticed he was unhappy. After learning the basics, she had him start playing violin.
Size doesn’t matter
Undeterred since then, Goosby earned Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from Juilliard, studying under the likes of Itzhak Perlman, Catherine Cho, Laurie Smukler, and Donald Weilerstein. He has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the New World Symphony Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra. He’s been featured on NPR’s From the Top and he has been honored as a Rising Star of the Stradivari Society, a major musical philanthropic organization based in Chicago.
Goosby’s latest endeavor is as the featured violinist in Cycles of My Being, a song cycle from composer Tyshawn Sorey and poet Terrance Hayes that centers on what it means to be a Black man living in America today. Cycles had its world debut in 2018 but was recently filmed and is now available to the public online through the Opera Philadelphia Channel.
Breaking the cycle
Goosby said that to him, the “cycles” are the emotions he tends to go through when he hears about another act of violence against a Black person in America. He says he tends to become optimistic about change, then devastated, then sorrowful, then angry. For Goosby, there was not a better time to record this piece than now, in the current political climate.
Going forward, Goosby hopes to inspire other Black people to explore classical music and thinks that continuing to work on pieces such as this and working with Black composers is the key. He admits that he feels he has been privileged to have been afforded the opportunities he has had, and he sees that as a responsibility.
“Being a Black man is an opportunity,” Goosby said. “I see an opportunity to show people that Blackness is not a one-size-fits-all thing. Black people are capable of any and everything that any other person is capable of.
“Although the field of classical music was not designed with Black people in mind, we have still found ways over hundreds of years to make our mark and contribute to the rich history of this art.”
Goosby recently signed with Decca Records and is working on his debut album with his good friend and collaborative pianist, Zhu Wang. They hope to release it in the spring of 2021.
What, When, Where, and Accessibility:
Randall Goosby is the featured violinist in Tyshawn Sorey’s Cycles of My Being, which is streaming on Opera Philadelphia’s online channel. Tickets are $20 for access to the show for up to seven days. Season passes are available for $99. The filmed performance is available through May 31, 2021. Closed captions are available for the show.
Image Description 1: Goosby is standing on the front stairs of a brownstone home, wearing a light-colored suit and holding a violin, looking into the distance. The camera is angled low.
Image Description 2: Goosby wears a black hoodie and black mask, sitting playing violin, a podium in front of him, a light cast behind him, in a mostly dark room.