Public Media Arts Hub

Violinist and author Brendan Slocumb on his riveting, page-turning debut novel


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: And now to our weekend spotlight with violinist and author Brendan Slocumb. Slocumb has spent most of his career as a performer and teacher. But this year he released his first book, a mystery. The novel is also a reflection of Slocumb's experience in the classical music world. We sat down in the grand foyer of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Brendan Slocumb: Violin conspiracy is a story of Ray who discovers that his old family fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius violin. This discovery catapults him into superstardom in the world of classical music. And right before the Tchaikovsky Competition, which is the Olympics of classical music, his violin is stolen, will it compete? Will he win? When will we get it back? Will we find out who took it? And read it to find out?

Geoff Bennett: Why write this particular story?

Brendan Slocumb: Because it's mine. It's my story. And it's very personal to me, there's so many instances in the book that actually took place. And it's just a very, very personal story that, you know, I feel has real world implications to any and everyone. It could apply to anyone, anyone in this world can be Ray McMillan, anyone could be.

Geoff Bennett: Yeah. And how have you had to create space for yourself in the world of classical music, and much the same way that Ray did?

Brendan Slocumb: It was tough, sometimes it was tough. You know, you do all the work, you know, I practice the parts, I take the auditions. I make sure that I have everything learned. And then you go in, and people still don't believe that you're capable, they don't believe that you're going to be able to give the same level of a performance that my white counterpart would. It still happens. And, you know, I just kind of smile and sit there. And I have to prove myself over and over again, but I'm accustomed to it. So I just do it. I just sit down and do it.

Geoff Bennett: Rejection is part of the creative arts. I think everybody experiences that. But what does it feel like when that rejection is not connected to skill?

Brendan Slocumb: It's very hurtful, because you begin to second guess yourself constantly. It's like, well, I know this person made it, but I didn't. And I know I play better than this person. Because I've always played better than this person. They even admitted, you know, what is it about me that, you know, I put in all of the work that I needed to. I did everything that I was supposed to do. And it still didn't happen. It is disconcerting, and it hurts. It does.

Geoff Bennett: Ray is by no means a pushover. The way you've written him. He calls people out on their prejudices. Why was it important to give him that sort of level of courage?

Brendan Slocumb: Because as a man, as a black man, when you experience things like this, you have a choice, you can either just kind of let it go or call it out when you see it, call it what it is, that doesn't necessarily mean that you're jumping right into just being angry and belligerent and anything. You just call it out like it is.

Geoff Bennett: Did you ever feel uncomfortable writing a character that sort of closely mirrored your own life?

Brendan Slocumb: Believe it or not, no. It's actually been quite cathartic, because I get the opportunity to share the stories that have happened to me, you know, over and over again. And I actually get a sense of, OK, I'm putting it on the page. Now people will see that, you know, when they told me, you're exaggerating. Or you just known and you're just blowing that out of proportion. No, I'm not. It's real. This is my experience.

Geoff Bennett: What you mean is that they didn't believe some of the indignities that you had to deal with as a result of race.

Brendan Slocumb: 100%. And they told me that I was wrong. You're looking at this the wrong way. You're not taking it the way that he meant it. Well, how do you know how he meant it? You weren't even there. I'm telling you what happened to me. This is my perspective. And my perspective is not wrong. It's just my perspective.

Geoff Bennett: How has classical music, how has playing the violin changed your life?

Brendan Slocumb: Changed my life, it saved my life, totally saved my life. I would be in prison or dead right now. We're not for …

Geoff Bennett: You know that for a fact?

Brendan Slocumb: I do know that for a fact. I do. I had zero aspirations. I had, you know, a lot of my friends that I grew up with, they were doing bad things. They're in prison. Some of them are unfortunately deceased now because of their activities. When they were out running around, I was practicing when they were breaking in someone's house, I was on a trip. You know, I got to travel because of my violin. It took me to college. I've met some incredible people. I've, you know, gotten to do things that people will never — they can just dream about. And I've gotten to share those things with other people who never would have been able to experience those things weren't not for music. So I know that the violin saved my life. I know that for a fact.

Geoff Bennett: What advice would you give to particularly young black youth who look at the world of classical music and don't see themselves reflected in it?

Brendan Slocumb: I would say and I do say, if you see me, you see you. I could be you. You could be me. All it takes — never close your mind to anything. Never. Never let anyone tell you, you can't do something. And never ever, ever give up on what it is that you love. If you like it, if you love it, do it. What's holding you back? Someone else saying that you can't do that, they don't have to live your life. It's your life. You got to live it, go for what you love. Go for it, 100%.

Geoff Bennett: It's good advice.

Brendan Slocumb: Yeah.

Geoff Bennett: Brendan Slocumb, appreciate you.

Brendan Slocumb: Thank you.

Geoff Bennett: Thanks for your time.

Brendan Slocumb: I appreciate it.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.