by Sakari Dixon
Today's post is an interview with Kori Coleman, the founder and executive director of the Chicago organization D-Composed. Through unique and often cross-disciplinary chamber music experiences, D-Composed engages audiences with the works of Black composers and musicians in both popular and classical genres.
photo by Orel Chollette
BIBA : In your bio, you state that D-Composed was founded out of a desire to create more fine art and luxury experiences that are tailored to the Black community. Can you tell us a bit more about how D-Composed began? How did you and Danielle Taylor meet?
KC : Prior to D-Composed, I ran a luxury lifestyle website called The Chicagolite. It highlighted luxury events and activities throughout the Chicagoland area. I went to fashion shows, restaurant openings, art exhibit openings. I was very much like a part-time high society girl (LOL). My goal with the site was to show my audience that you don’t have to wait until you are wealthy to enjoy the finer things in life. Plus, by being very visible I wanted the Black community to know that the spaces I was entering (although very white) weren’t off limits, and we should make our presence known wherever we want to go. I had people tell me that they were inspired to even explore the North Side of the city by seeing me go to events.
However, as I attended more high-profile events, I noticed that not too many experiences catered to the Black experience in the way that I hoped to see it represented one day. Eventually I got tired just being an attendee, and I knew that eventually I wanted to create something that made a difference and reflected the change that I wanted to see.
D-Composed came about because one day I went to an event that highlighted Black composers, and it was like this light bulb went off. Throughout my entire life, the thought of Black composers never crossed my mind. I played the violin throughout much of my youth and not once was I introduced to a Black composer. It took me becoming an adult and exploring the arts scene for that world to open up to me.
Following the event, I started researching Black composer events and I couldn’t find any events outside of Black history month or MLK Day. Plus, finding Black ensembles was even harder. I had been planning events prior to D-Composed, so I felt like I had what it took to create the series. We just needed to find someone who could lead the music. That same night of the event, I decided that I wanted to pursue creating my own series, so I started researching Black musicians in Chicago. I came across our now Artistic Director Danielle Taylor, and I saw that she had already been researching Black composers ... and the rest is history! Danielle was instrumental in identifying our core quartet so the right people came together at the right time.
It was by fate that we both happened to share a similar vision to really redefine the classical music world and make our own rules and playbook along the way.
photo by Ally Almore
BIBA : What are some of the most unexpected ways in which your background in experiential marketing has influenced the way that you curate programs for D-Composed?
KC : Throughout each phase of my career I’ve been able to take so many key learnings from experiential marketing. Ultimately, when working in agencies, clients come to you because they want you to create the most compelling content or activations to promote their brand. We don’t approach creativity in a typical way with our clients, so I carry that same thought process with D-Composed.
When I first started my career as a strategist, I learned about creative concept development. That’s when I started to challenge my creativity to think of programs as concepts with their own unique narrative and story. As a strategist, it’s important to be well versed in all aspects of culture and society at large, so I always have my eye on trends and general inspiration.
And now that D-Composed is growing and developing as a business, I’m able to apply my strategic learnings in much more intentional ways, like having a pointed strategic vision for the company and just overall creating with more specificity and intention.
I like to think of myself as the person who makes sense out of creativity. Being a strategist allows me to think through every single detail of the business, and I truly believe we aren’t creating just for creativity's sake. Every action has a purpose and message that we wish to communicate.
BIBA : D-Compressed, your "music yoga experience", has become one of your most popular events. Can you tell us how that collaboration came about? What do you most look forward to in the next iteration of D-Compressed?
KC : I love blending genres and mediums together, so I thought why not combine yoga & chamber music? What’s interesting is when D-Composed first started, I mentioned to Danielle that the next phase would be yoga & chamber music, but let’s do a more traditional concert first.
The reason yoga & chamber music makes sense as it relates to our vision is because both classical music and the profession of yoga have a serious diversity issue, especially as it relates to Black people. By bringing these two forces together, we’re making and creating our own space in worlds that weren’t the most receptive to us. Plus, both classical and yoga have their own set of preconceived rules with how you are supposed to behave in those spaces, and we just wanted to dismantle all of that.
What I love so much about D-Compressed is how much fun we have with the music. The set-list is primarily contemporary pop culture songs, and Danielle consistently kills it with each of her arrangements. With D-Compressed, you can hear artists like Beyoncé, Janelle Monae, Tyler, The Creator, Juvenile, Sisqo. And all the songs are selected to compliment the actual flow of a yoga class. It’s meant to just be a fun experience where our attendees can be themselves. Also, twerking on the mats is a thing that happens and is encouraged. We’ve even had people stop what they are doing just because they are feeling the music, and that’s OK. We play whatever we want to play with D-Compressed. I’m just excited to see musically what’s in store. We might do some special themed set-lists in the future, but for now it’s a hodgepodge of just really dope music.
BIBA : Part of your vision includes reaching out to the youth through programs such as family concerts (which feature a lovely coloring book!) and your nonprofit D-Composed Gives. What is some of the most inspirational feedback that you have heard from youth attendees or their parents?
KC : There’s not a single show that happens where a parent isn’t asking for more or wondering when the next event is. I think that can be the challenge for us because D-Composed is small, but mighty; but there’s always this incredible desire for the work we’re doing. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the demand. Usually parents express so much gratitude that D-Composed even exists. One parent told Danielle that he was considering having his son play an instrument even though they were only pushing him towards sports! By seeing that concert, that opened that parent’s eyes to a new world of possibilities that weren’t previously considered. That type of feedback is powerful, and it further exemplifies why we do what we do. This is why we make a point to feature all Black musicians so those kids can see themselves in anyone on that stage. Also, there has yet to be a concert where someone hasn’t walked up to us crying. It’s an overwhelming experience for a lot of people, so we acknowledge the huge responsibility we have to create a space with so much intention and thoughtfulness behind it.
BIBA : What advice would you give to up-and-coming organizations who share a similar mission as D-Composed?
KC : The biggest advice I can give is to stay true to your vision. You may get a bit of pushback, there may be some naysayers, but staying true to yourself is well worth the risk. With D-Composed, I’m proud to say that we create exactly what we want, and I’m incredibly proud of everything that’s been put out there. We will not compromise our vision, and if that means not getting all the support, that’s OK. Regardless of what you do, I would say stay true to your vision and make sure at the end of the day you are creating something that you are genuinely proud of.
To learn more about D-composed, please visit their website at: https://www.dcomposed.com . You can also follow them on Instagram @dcomposedchicago, and watch past and upcoming videos of their artistry on their YouTube channel! In the future, stay tuned to find out how you can support D-composed in their journey to play at the prestigious festival, South by Southwest (SxSW)!! Due to the coronavirus pandemic, SxSW was cancelled this year.
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