Problem, Challenge, or Focus:

Reducing Economic and Race-Based Educational Disparities through Music

Listen to David France's Story

Please describe who you are, where you are from, and your current role.

My name is David France, and I am a violinist. I’ve recently moved to Boston from Bermuda, but I was born in Connecticut. I am the son of West Indian immigrants from the island of Nevis in the West Indies. My last name is France—my great-great-grandfather was kidnapped from France, so there’s some French in there, and there’s some Caribbean. I am currently a violinist, and I just recently launched a youth orchestra program in Roxbury, the Roxbury Youth Orchestra, of which I am the founder and the executive director.

What problem or challenge are you currently working to address?

I’m passionately working to address the issue of what I call “economic and race-based educational disparities” in the inner city.

Why is this problem or challenge important?

I think in this country, the United States, there have been a lot of efforts and a lot of people with better lives around this issue of race or racism in America. They are trying to rectify the issues that sprang or are springboarding from slavery and Jim Crow, and I think the issue of what I call “economic and race-based educational disparities” are some of the by-products of the disenfranchisement of minority communities in the United States. And I think while there are a lot of great work being done in this area, there are a lot of hurdles, challenges, and setbacks that still need to be addressed in really significant and profound ways. I believe that until these problems have been fully addressed—and addressed in a way that gives people from this inner city communities or poor communities or minority communities an equal footing or an equal chance to make it in this country, to really pursue the dreams that they have—we still need to address this issue so that we can achieve and live out the true essence of our creed in America: freedom and justice for all. I think the freedom to pursue one’s own passions and dreams is what this country is about, and I think the inability to do so is a problem that needs to be addressed.

How do you address this problem or challenge?

I am addressing this problem or challenge through the unique social intervention of a world-class symphony orchestra. I believe that social change happens not only in poor communities or disenfranchised communities, but also in every community. In my own journey, I have seen that the parents from more affluent communities make sure that their children are in a great program, so if their child likes soccer, they are in a great soccer program. If they like ballet, they’re in an amazing ballet program. If they like music, they’re in an amazing music program. I think the reason why these parents in these affluent communities want these awesome, great programs is that they realize that the kind of people that they want their children to become, they can’t do it on their own. So putting them through a great program will come alongside their own parenting, to change their children and transform them to the kind of people they want them to be.

Also, I have seen that in the same affluent communities, they would never put up with a mediocre or bad program because they realize that a mediocre program or a program that is just not great is not going to create the kind of change in their children’s lives that they’re hoping for. I have also seen that in the inner city or in more economically disenfranchised communities, we pat ourselves in the back. We’re proud to give them our used clothes or canned goods or something mediocre. It’s like, “Oh, wow, look at this mediocre thing. Let’s celebrate it. Wow, look at this great thing we’ve done.” And then we wonder why we haven’t achieved that kind of social transformation in these inner city communities or among minority communities that we wish. I believe it’s because we are giving them hand-me-downs and mediocre things, so I think mediocrity then doesn’t yield the kind of greatness or the change that we are looking for. Therefore, I believe that a world-class music program in the inner city can be a part of a larger strategy to achieve the kind of social change that I’m dreaming of.

What skills help you to successfully address this problem or challenge?

My own story of a violinist. Playing the violin has been a huge passion in my life. Growing up, I was very shy, and I needed a voice, and the violin became my voice. But at the same time, the people that were my teachers eventually didn’t think much of me and the violin. That is, “Oh, that’s such a cute thing he wants to do.” They didn’t think I wanted to do it professionally because I was black, and so I kept being passed off to lots of teachers, but that passion and desire was still there. So in my most recent years, I sought out the world for the best teachers for my instrument. I’ve written to them, and I’ve flown to different parts of the world to study with them, get a world-class education, and try to pursue my art as a violinist with the highest level I can possibly achieve. Then I’ve tried to bring alongside me the teachers who can help me achieve that and show me what the path to achieving greatness is. Having had those teachers come alongside me, I think, is the skill basically. Personally, reaching for the highest standards but also learning what the building blocks are to get to that level and how I can take someone else to that same path. It’s a personal journey, but it’s also a pedagogical study of how you then take someone from A and bring them to Z.

Please describe the path that led you to where you are now.

I was born in the United States to immigrants who had moved to this country with my brother and sister who were already born. My parents left this country in Nevis, West Indies in pursuit of the American dream. Basically, they believed that their life and the life of their born and unborn children would be better and would have greater opportunity in this country.

I, from my own pathway into this American dream, went through a violin program. In my elementary school, I was seven years old, and violin was the thing that really caught my attention. I don’t really know why I wanted to play, but I wanted to play and wasn’t doing well in school. I have bad handwriting. I wasn’t really a bad kid, but I just wasn’t doing well academically. But after being in this music program, my grades got better, I got better in Math, and my handwriting actually got better. My confidence got better. I was shy and just wanted to follow this path to see where it would lead.

Like my first job, most teenagers were working at McDonald’s. I was also interested in business, so my first job was working for an insurance company. Then my next job, at 17, was working with military contracts. Even though I was doing that and while I love that business side, music was also my passion. When I was 17 and working with military contracts, there was a guy in my job whom I met, and he said, “Oh wow, you play the violin. When I was your age, I used to be a composer.” At that moment, I remember going home that day from work, thinking, “I never wanna say ‘what if’.” I didn’t want to, later in life, wonder what my life would have been like if I became a musician, so I decided I was gonna follow that path. And so I did. I just really sought out the greatest teachers that I could possibly study with, and I practiced really hard. I practiced up to seven or eight hours a day, and I eventually moved to Bermuda.

While I was in Bermuda, the website YouTube had their first ever international contest. Every YouTube contest before was very localized, but this one was open to anyone in the world with a camera, and YouTube said, “We want to assemble the first ever orchestra audition on the internet, so audition online, and you will be picked by some judges and the YouTube community.” I already had videos on YouTube then, but I thought, “This is for me. All I have to do is practice for two months more than everybody in the world. I can do that.” So I did, and I won. I got to be one of the five concert masters and leaders of the YouTube symphony at Carnegie Hall. I didn’t tell my parents I was leaving the orchestra because I thought I was gonna be fired during the rehearsals, so I didn’t tell them. But my parents have 37 aunts and uncles, and a number of them are in Connecticut, so my parents filled up the van with the many aunts and uncles that they could fill. They drove to Carnegie Hall, and when they are in the concert, I didn’t tell them that I was the first chair for one of the pieces. So after one of the pieces, the lights went down, and when lights came up and I was in the first chair, I really felt at that moment the realization of my parent’s American dream: that they could move to this country from the smallest country in the United Nations and their son, through a free violin program, could lead it to international orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

For me, that was a huge experience because it was motivating and it was a dream come true, but I realized I’m not as good as I want to be and I want to be better. So I set up these two teachers in Chicago, Roland and Almita Vamos, known as the world’s number one teaching couple of violin and viola. I was like, “Please teach me. I was the leader of this international orchestra, but I’m not as good as I wanna be. Can I study with you?” They said yes, and I started studying with them in the summer festival. That summer, the wife said to me, “Well David, you told me you like to cook and you like to eat, so I’ll make you a deal. I’ll buy the food, you cook.” And so for this whole summer, these dream teachers that I have dreamed of studying with since I was a teenager, I was making and eating dinner with them all day. I would practice for a number of hours, go to their place, cook dinner, and sit on the porch and just talk about life and music with these teachers I have always dreamed about. Then at night, I would go home and practice all night.

At the end of the summer, she said, “I’ll add up the lessons and pay us.” They charged a lot of money, so I was able to pay. I paid them and then lived at night. Then the wife took me outside, gave me most of my money back, and said, “I don’t need your money.” I’ve been studying with them since 2009, and they’ve been teaching me for free. I’ve just really seen the generosity in them. Basically, I have this hunger and thirst to learn this instrument, and they have this hunger and thirst to share their information with me in this generous way. And really, it was just inspiring me to want to give back what I have been given.

Growing up playing the violin, being African American, and being black, so many people, if they’re brave enough, come to me and say, “I’ve never met a black person that plays the violin.” And I would say, “Me neither,” just jokingly. I just wanted to invest in an African American neighborhood because that’s something really important to me. I thought I was given a lot, and I just want to be a part of what I think is a movement of investing valuable information into African American communities. I wanted to be a part of that movement of more strategically coming alongside of minority communities or more economically disenfranchised communities.

So I moved to Boston for a fellowship, the New England Conservatory that was studying the idea of using music as a vehicle for social change, which was a resonant of this idea called “El Sistema” in Venezuela. I came to Boston and studied there, and one day in Venezuela, it just came out of my mouth, I just kind of said, “I’m gonna start a youth orchestra in Roxbury.” Everyone who heard me, the idea just resonated with them, and they were like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “Yeah.” I heard myself saying this and just resonating with me. I felt I found the neighborhood to invest the wealth they had invested in me, so this past February, we launched the Roxbury Youth Orchestra.

Who or what inspired you to take the path you took?

I was born in the United States to immigrants who had moved to this country with my brother and sister who were already born. My parents left this country in Nevis, West Indies in pursuit of the American dream. Basically, they believed that their life and the life of their born and unborn children would be better and would have greater opportunity in this country.

I, from my own pathway into this American dream, went through a violin program. In my elementary school, I was seven years old, and violin was the thing that really caught my attention. I don’t really know why I wanted to play, but I wanted to play and wasn’t doing well in school. I have bad handwriting. I wasn’t really a bad kid, but I just wasn’t doing well academically. But after being in this music program, my grades got better, I got better in Math, and my handwriting actually got better. My confidence got better. I was shy and just wanted to follow this path to see where it would lead.

Like my first job, most teenagers were working at McDonald’s. I was also interested in business, so my first job was working for an insurance company. Then my next job, at 17, was working with military contracts. Even though I was doing that and while I love that business side, music was also my passion. When I was 17 and working with military contracts, there was a guy in my job whom I met, and he said, “Oh wow, you play the violin. When I was your age, I used to be a composer.” At that moment, I remember going home that day from work, thinking, “I never wanna say ‘what if’.” I didn’t want to, later in life, wonder what my life would have been like if I became a musician, so I decided I was gonna follow that path. And so I did. I just really sought out the greatest teachers that I could possibly study with, and I practiced really hard. I practiced up to seven or eight hours a day, and I eventually moved to Bermuda.

While I was in Bermuda, the website YouTube had their first ever international contest. Every YouTube contest before was very localized, but this one was open to anyone in the world with a camera, and YouTube said, “We want to assemble the first ever orchestra audition on the internet, so audition online, and you will be picked by some judges and the YouTube community.” I already had videos on YouTube then, but I thought, “This is for me. All I have to do is practice for two months more than everybody in the world. I can do that.” So I did, and I won. I got to be one of the five concert masters and leaders of the YouTube symphony at Carnegie Hall. I didn’t tell my parents I was leaving the orchestra because I thought I was gonna be fired during the rehearsals, so I didn’t tell them. But my parents have 37 aunts and uncles, and a number of them are in Connecticut, so my parents filled up the van with the many aunts and uncles that they could fill. They drove to Carnegie Hall, and when they are in the concert, I didn’t tell them that I was the first chair for one of the pieces. So after one of the pieces, the lights went down, and when lights came up and I was in the first chair, I really felt at that moment the realization of my parent’s American dream: that they could move to this country from the smallest country in the United Nations and their son, through a free violin program, could lead it to international orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

For me, that was a huge experience because it was motivating and it was a dream come true, but I realized I’m not as good as I want to be and I want to be better. So I set up these two teachers in Chicago, Roland and Almita Vamos, known as the world’s number one teaching couple of violin and viola. I was like, “Please teach me. I was the leader of this international orchestra, but I’m not as good as I wanna be. Can I study with you?” They said yes, and I started studying with them in the summer festival. That summer, the wife said to me, “Well David, you told me you like to cook and you like to eat, so I’ll make you a deal. I’ll buy the food, you cook.” And so for this whole summer, these dream teachers that I have dreamed of studying with since I was a teenager, I was making and eating dinner with them all day. I would practice for a number of hours, go to their place, cook dinner, and sit on the porch and just talk about life and music with these teachers I have always dreamed about. Then at night, I would go home and practice all night.

At the end of the summer, she said, “I’ll add up the lessons and pay us.” They charged a lot of money, so I was able to pay. I paid them and then lived at night. Then the wife took me outside, gave me most of my money back, and said, “I don’t need your money.” I’ve been studying with them since 2009, and they’ve been teaching me for free. I’ve just really seen the generosity in them. Basically, I have this hunger and thirst to learn this instrument, and they have this hunger and thirst to share their information with me in this generous way. And really, it was just inspiring me to want to give back what I have been given.

Growing up playing the violin, being African American, and being black, so many people, if they’re brave enough, come to me and say, “I’ve never met a black person that plays the violin.” And I would say, “Me neither,” just jokingly. I just wanted to invest in an African American neighborhood because that’s something really important to me. I thought I was given a lot, and I just want to be a part of what I think is a movement of investing valuable information into African American communities. I wanted to be a part of that movement of more strategically coming alongside of minority communities or more economically disenfranchised communities.

So I moved to Boston for a fellowship, the New England Conservatory that was studying the idea of using music as a vehicle for social change, which was a resonant of this idea called “El Sistema” in Venezuela. I came to Boston and studied there, and one day in Venezuela, it just came out of my mouth, I just kind of said, “I’m gonna start a youth orchestra in Roxbury.” Everyone who heard me, the idea just resonated with them, and they were like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “Yeah.” I heard myself saying this and just resonating with me. I felt I found the neighborhood to invest the wealth they had invested in me, so this past February, we launched the Roxbury Youth Orchestra.

Please describe the current organization for which you work.

I started my project, my umbrella organizations called Revolution of Hope, and our first project is called the Roxbury Youth Orchestra. Our mission is to transform the lives of the inner city youths, giving them confidence, endurance, and resilience through a joy-filled, intensive conservatory-level music program. As the founder and executive director, I wear all the hats.

Give a sampling of the work you do on a day-to-day basis.

I started my project, my umbrella organizations called Revolution of Hope, and our first project is called the Roxbury Youth Orchestra. Our mission is to transform the lives of the inner city youths, giving them confidence, endurance, and resilience through a joy-filled, intensive conservatory-level music program. As the founder and executive director, I wear all the hats.
In the morning, I usually get up and start with social media. I get on Twitter and see who has or if anybody has retweeted me. If not, I’ve probably haven’t said anything worthy of being retweeted, so my brain just starts, “Okay, what can I say today? What’s inspiring?” I start tweeting. I tweet out some statements that I usually say. One of my mottos is, “When we take shortcuts in education, we shortchange our youth.” So I might tweet that out, or I have a couple of videos that I wanna share, so I share the video. I get on Facebook, and I’m very loud, and I’m like, “It’s week four, the kids are awesome!” I might say some quote. I might do an “overheard in Roxbury today.” Basically, I first get on social media, and then I do emails and write some random person. I have a list of people, and I write one of them a letter such as, “Hey, here’s what I’m up to.” I have this kind of a guerrilla tactic: I’m writing people, I’m tweeting, and I’m just sending things on the cyberspace, hoping that it’s gold that lands, not a meteor.
Then I get on the bicycle. I ride seven miles or so to the program, and I stop off at a computer lab, and I write my lesson plan for the day or type things and do my printing there. Then I start to do my printing, ride off to the program, and get everything set up. The program runs five days a week, three hours a day, so the students start showing up around 2:15. I don’t get everything out because I want to give them a sense of ownership with the program. Now they come, and they ask for my keys. I give them my keys, and they get their own instruments. They get their instruments, and they use it in chilling and hanging out. I usually get some snack for them on the way, and when they get their snack, they’re so hungry; after they finish opening it, the food is probably all gone. They’re serving each other snacks, and I’m kinda getting everything ready, then we start for the day.
I teach violin and viola, two levels of violin and viola, and then I have a cello teacher. I am either teaching one level of violin while another level is practicing while I’m keeping my ear out for the cello lesson. Because my program is new, I’m trying to create the whole culture. I’m trying to oversee the curriculum. I’m trying to oversee the progress, so maybe this is not a good thing, but if something is going against my pedagogical desires in the cello, I’ll stop at what I’m doing, run over, try to calm down, and give the cello to a teacher and get some feedback on the pedagogy. My hands are in, and if I hear a kid practicing wrong, then I’ll run over and say, “Okay, maybe you’re just tuned out, and do this section.” My ears are open to everything, so I’m hearing everything, I’m seeing everything, and I’m trying to make sure that the pedagogical journey of these kids is at the highest level possible. But also, I’m trying to not smother this period of the program, which is an organized, chaotic, joy-filled, magnificent shmorgishborg of beautiful, young teenagers who have entrusted me with their dreams.
So it’s three hours of working hard; them chilling, flirting with each other, and teaching each other; and me trying to curate that while sort of, “Today, we have a new thing. We’re gonna have a meeting every Tuesday.” And in the meeting, I told them what my goal was for them. I still need to go home and marinate over this, but when I told them my goal, they were completely silenced. They were talking the whole time, being kind of rude and talking over me, but when I told them what my goal was for them, they shut up and they were stunned because I told them, “This is what we’re up to: my goal is for you to become not one of the best, but the number one inner city youth orchestra in the United States of America. To (1) inspire our community here and (2) inspire others to give their very best in the inner city communities.” And I said, “That’s what we are aiming towards. With our instruction, if you cooperate with what I’m up to, this is going to be the number one program in the country.” Thinking about that, I don’t think anyone has ever said anything like that to them from a believable context because what I said that day, they believed that it could happen. And it wasn’t some pipe dream. So it’s curating the environment, and part of curating the environment is having them live within the greater vision for what this is so that whatever they’re doing is within this vision.

With whom do you collaborate to address the problem or challenge you work on?

That’s an area that I’m growing. I think by nature, I am a loner, and since I am the founder and executive director, in so many ways, I am a one-man show. One of the ways I’m trying to expand my collaboration is—next month, we are doing our first formal concert for the youth in the boys and the girls club down the hill. Right on the hill, the kids of the school program, the boys and the girls club, we’re gonna go down and play some pieces for them and hopefully inspire them. The teenagers in my program will tell their stories and will have a little petting zoo, “Here are the instruments, and this is what it’s all about.”
I think making these little connections is going to be the ways that we collaborate. One of my ideas for our spring classical concert is to collaborate with the art programs in the neighborhood and have works of art inspired by one of the pieces that we’re going to play. Have people and students create the works of arts inspired by a particular piece, and have the best ones on display at our concert. After the concert, the kids who created the work can talk about their work, and they can sell their work, so it could be a way for us to connect the music, the arts, and other kids in the community with the program.

Also, my program is in a school, even though it’s not a part of the school. I am not an employee of the school system, but I’m there every day, so there’s a middle school in the city that has given me space, free space. They’re maybe one of our most important collaborators because they’ve given me free reign. It feels like I work there, but I guess I don’t have the benefits of having to do meetings. So I use their space, and that’s a huge collaboration.

There’s a development corporation at the bottom of the hill that I’ve been meeting with for a year and a half. I’ve been telling them what the program is, so we are now exploring another program I started, exploring meaningful ways to collaborate.

There’s another organization. I think it’s the Black Community Information Center, and I’ve been talking with them, and they actually have asked me to be in their board today, but I’m not sure that’s going to be possible at the moment. But I wanted to collaborate with them about when we have concerts, or having their constituents come to the concert. We’re playing at their events, so we’re basically creating and building a relationship with other organizations.

There are two other orchestras that meet in the neighborhood, and both are one-day-a-week programs. I’ve been meeting with the leaders of those orchestras, and we’re trying to put on a Fall holiday concert where the three of us come together and kind of say, “Hey, we’re here for this neighborhood.” There are two programs, we have three options, but we all know each other and love each other. We work together, so that’s another way of collaboration.

I’ve been talking with the music schools in the area of Berklee and New England Conservatory to try to dream up other kinds of collaborations, but those are still in their infancy. I would say those are some of the main collaborations, but we’re still growing, and we’re still learning. Again, one of the things I’m realizing as a one-man show is that my movements and the growth of this have to be manageable for me to do. So how many relationships can I actually manage? Then grow according to what is actual and have it grow realistically rather than exponentially.

What are the enjoyable parts of your work? What are the less enjoyable parts?

My life is very adventurous. Probably every week and sometimes almost every day could be its own action-packed movie. Giving myself the freedom and opportunity again to create my own opportunities and how they are created is very random. I ride the bicycle. When I started my orchestra, I would just ride into downtown, and I would just see somebody in a suit and stop them and say, “I have this amazing idea. Who in Boston is crazy enough to listen to me?” They didn’t ask what the idea was. They would give me a name, or they would give a place, and I would follow that lead. The fact that I’m now the entrepreneur, founder, and executive director, I keep my own hours. I created my own hours and my own schedule. It gives me the opportunity to create a beautiful adventure that I get to kind of be the lead character in. So I was like, “Okay, how am I gonna get the instruments? How am I gonna get the space? How am I to get the kids? How am I gonna get the funding? How am I gonna get this known?” It’s kind of like seeing Dorothy on the yellow brick road picking up a scarecrow and then a tin man.

So I have all these different friends and colleagues that I’ve picked up along the way that have been useful. One of my friends is a documentary filmmaker, and he’s made amazing videos for us. Or another—one of the first people I met in my neighborhood is now an aspiring photographer who took pictures of us. Having the time and the space to be able to break into conferences or go to Chicago with no money and play a great concert for my teachers, that maybe is the most enjoyable. I guess in my own words, live like a multi-millionaire where I can do the things that I feel are the most meaningful and follow the pathways that I think will, as I put it, give me the most bang for my buck. Sometimes people feel like they don’t have the means to live that extravagantly. It’s like: I don’t know poker, but what I do know about poker is that the more money you have, the more risks you can take. And the more big risks you can take, the more you win. My life is like a poker game in that way. I believe my riches aren’t financial; my riches are probably faith and a mindset. I have faith in a God that can do things beyond my wildest imaginations. I have a mindset that while I might make a bit lower than the poverty line in terms of income, I imagine myself as a multi-millionaire. I have the time, and the resources are more mindset resources that allowed me to have this opportunity to follow my dream, which is what everybody wishes that they could do.

The bad part, the hard part, maybe programmatically, is having to be that one-man show. At the moment, it’s probably what it needs to be for the program to, in the beginning stages, have the foundation for what my dream can actually become. I need to rise above myself, but not having the kind of support to be able to have other passionate, hardworking people come alongside me to help me is the hardest. People want to help, but then they don’t actually come through. It’s discouraging, but then it’s like, “Okay, I just have to do it myself.” That for me is maybe one of the hardest things. It’s the struggle to find the right people to come alongside in the trenches to do the kind of work that needs to be done with me, and to really grow it. By having the resources to hire those people, I can get people to work for free, but there comes a point when the right people are the people that you can pay the right amount to do that right work. That would be one part of the struggle as well.

What is a challenge that you have faced in your career? How did you deal with that challenge?

A challenge that I faced in my career, maybe just a vague challenge, is to have more opportunities in a more opportunistic form. For instance, since I am a violinist, it was a challenge to find more opportunities to perform, more opportunities to teach, more opportunities for this and for that. The music industry is such a hard industry. Everyone plays violin, and just to make it into music is very difficult. Also, because of being an African American musician, the opportunities have become even less. And if I say I play the violin, people don’t even expect that and they’d think how good you could actually be. I think one of the ways I addressed that challenge is to create my own opportunities, rather that stumble over the hurdles. Just think, “Okay, I wanna perform, so where am I gonna perform? I could perform on the internet.” So I could make a video on some random street in the Netherlands and have hundreds or thousands of people watch, so a lot of my performing career is on the internet where tons of people have to see me perform.

I met a guy from Crete a couple of years ago. I met him completely randomly in London, and he had been following my career. He went looking for me online. He went looking for me in the Netherlands. Because I had so many videos in the Netherlands, he wouldn’t know where to find me. So I just created my own path for performances where I started a duo in Bermuda with a guitarist, and we performed all over Bermuda, and we were invited to India. And they said, “Well, you can perform in India if you can get yourselves here.” So we just thought, “Okay, let’s get ourselves to India. We have this opportunity.”

Teaching-wise, everybody wants great students, and I think I have something to offer as a teacher, but nobody knows who I am. How do I jump over that hurdle? Grow my own students, start with my own program, start them from scratch, and then give them this school for them. I want to grow my own advanced students. Here in Boston, I play in the subway. A couple of weeks ago, it happened a lot where almost every day, people were saying, “Why don’t you play with the Boston Symphony?” They were like, “I wish the Boston Symphony would come by and hear you play.” And I thought, “I don’t, because then, you people here wouldn’t hear me.” So I just create my own performance opportunities. I get to be a soloist at the subway, but I play in subways and on the streets all over the world, which is what people dream about doing. I mean, maybe the venues aren’t always the best, but usually at a street corner or at a subway, some of the beautiful moments have happened in those venues.

I guess the answer is that the way I have overcome the hurdles is by creating my own performance opportunities, creating my own teaching opportunities, and basically growing my own career, growing my own audience, growing my own program, and getting advice and making them better. Over the years, I try to make changes and adjustments to have it become the thing that I have always dreamed.

What types of interests and activities do you maintain outside of your work?

I love to cook, so after a long day, I go home. My roommates know that if I get home by 10 or 11 p.m., 12 or 1 a.m., I’m cooking. I’m chopping, baking. It’s a way for me to kind of wind down. It’s a way for me to be creative in a certain kind of way. I love cooking.

I wish I’d ride a bike. I guess right now it’s more functional. I ride it for my transportation. Even last night, I was like, “Okay, I know it’s 12:30, but I could get on my bike and I’m gonna ride for pleasure.” So I got on my bike at 12:30 a.m., and I just rode for an hour, and it was great. I guess, alongside the bike, I love to travel. Even though I don’t have a lot of money, I’ve learned that’s still possible. Last summer, I traveled to Europe with no money, and I played the violin on the street.

Travelling, biking, cooking—I would say those are the interests that I try to maintain outside of my work.

Can you recommend pieces of media that profoundly shaped you?

One of my mentors wrote a book called Don’t Waste Your Life. I think that was really profound. One of my friends who loves the author said, “If somebody gives you the book Don’t Waste Your Life, maybe they are assuming that you’re wasting it.” The author, John Piper, who really helped me to reenvision the American dream, said, “The American dream is a lie.” What he meant by that was the pursuit of riches for riches’ sake as the sole goal of one’s life is not the most pleasurable pursuit. He recommended pursuing one’s joy. He said, “The pursuit of God is the highest pleasurable pursuit, and the pursuit of joy in God through the things you do is part of that noble pursuit.” So the pursuit of God isn’t just the pursuit of God, but you want to come pursued knowing God through. I could know God through biking, and I could know God through cooking. The pursuit of joy in God through things so that the pursuits are means to an end—a greater, more noble, larger end. That book, Don’t Waste Your Life, and this author, John Piper, are huge. That one hugely rocked my world.

Maybe I’m not answering your question, but a hero of mine is Martin Luther King, who wrote the speech “I Have a Dream.” I listen to that a couple of times a year—just that idea of this dream that merges from a real struggle. This man and his mission, that he was able to find something worth dying for…so, yes, Martin Luther King and his “I Have a Dream” speech profoundly shaped me.

My favorite piece of music is Scriabin’s piano concerto in F-sharp minor andante. I like classical music, but I don’t even know a lot of classical music. While I was in Bermuda, I was asking my colleagues at work, “What’s your favorite piece?” I was new to iTunes, so whatever they said, I bought it. I was like, “Whatever your favorite piece, I’m just gonna buy it.” So I’d buy it and listen to it. One colleague would say, “Scroll up one piano concerto in F-sharp minor andante.” And I remember going home listening to it, and for the next few weeks, every night, I’d listen to it before I went to bed. There’s something really beautiful about it, and there’s a whole world that it created, and just this idea of the power of music to transform is beyond the corporeal world into the more spiritual realm, where I think a lot of Western cultures deny the spiritual. You can’t deny that some of the music is maybe one of the last frontiers that we haven’t destroyed that connects us to the spiritual world.

What advice do you have for people in their early stages of exploring?

Work harder than you want to. Do the work, do the hard work, do the detailed work early. The earlier, the better. Work hard, work harder, and seek out the best advice. No one’s an island. Nothing great ever happened with someone who is doing something completely on their own. I think that would be the advice. Work harder than you want to. Study those who are doing the things that you are doing, and study the things that they did to achieve the things you want. Do the things that they did that you don’t want to do or the things that you think were not significant, because it’s all those significant little things that they did that you’re like, “Oh, I don’t have to do that.’’ That’s what separates men from the boys, in a sense, in terms of success. All those little things that we think we’re not going to do or don’t want to do or had nothing to do with their success are the things that had everything to do with our success.

What is your vision for the problem or challenge you are working to address?

My vision for my problem or challenge is that no matter how great my program can be—if my program ever becomes great or greater—you will not see as if I have made a dent to the problem or challenge that I’m proposing to solve. The problem or challenge I think will still exist, and my program will not seem to have a huge effect on it. However, it will have an effect on it, because I believe in being exponential. I believe that my dream and vision for my effect on this problem or challenge is exponential, because if my program grows to 400 kids—and that’s our orchestral system, the Roxbury Youth Orchestra—then those 400 kids will then co-grow up to have 400 families. Those 400 families will then have kids, and those kids will have kids. So to be able to impact the trajectory and the mindset of a small group of kids, and have them become parents who then impact the trajectory of those kids, their impact would be huge even though you might not see it because the families have moved away. But if you were to gather all the people whom you an impact to, then eventually it would be the whole world.



Click Play to Listen to Interview Audio Clips

1David France 1 - Please describe who you are, where you are from, and your current role.
2David France 2 - What problem or challenge are you working to address?
3David France 3 - Why is this problem or challenge important?
4David France 4 - How do you address this problem or challenge?
5David France 5 - What skills help you to successfully address this problem or challenge?
6David France 6 - Please describe the path that led you to where you are now.
7David France 7 - Who or what inspired you to take the path you took?
8David France 9 - Give a sampling of the work you do on a day-to-day basis.
9David France 10 - With whom do you collaborate to address the problem or challenge you work on?
10David France 11 - What are the enjoyable parts of your work? What are the less enjoyable parts?
11David France 12 - What is a challenge that you have faced in your career? How did you deal with that challenge?
12David France 13 - What types of interests and activities do you maintain outside of your work?
13David France 14 - Can you recommend pieces of media that profoundly shaped you?
14David France 15 - What advice do you have for people in their early stages of exploring?
15David France 16 - What is your vision for the problem or challenge you are working to address?


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