(Maestro Henri Star Muhammad is a Concert Violinist, Electric Guitarist, Pianist, Vocalist, Conductor, Composer, Studio Recording Artist, Author, Scholar, and nationally renowned Violin Instructor. We went one-on-one with him regarding his musical journey and his upcoming appearance in “Testimony”, a musical production by the Madhi Theatre Company. It will be taking place on Sept. 15th in Chicago. Get tickets @ http://ticketsweb.uchicago.edu)
Brother Jesse Blog: When did you start playing the violin and why did you choose that particular instrument, which some consider the most difficult to master? What role has learning to play the violin played in your personal self-development?
Henri Star Muhammad: My parents started me on the violin at age 7. I do not think I may have expressed an initial interest in the instrument, however when my parents asked me if wanted to study the Violin I am sure I had a natural spark of desire.
In my newly released book The Artist I refer to the words the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said to me: “As Parents we have to want something for their children.” I write in the book of how my father, who is a strong, wise, and intelligent Black man, was one of Buffalo first Black Firefighters in the 1970’s. Being a firefighter is one of the most noble and dangerous professions. Running into a burning building where temperatures are sometimes 300 degrees Fahrenheit, wearing 70 pounds of protective gear, and risking your life to save the lives of other people and property; every time the alarm sounds it’s a potential life or death situation. But my Father made that kind of sacrifice so that he could provide his children with the opportunity to study musical instruments. My parents knew they were giving me, and my younger brother and sister not only musical training, but the discipline, self esteem, educational benefits, and all the future opportunities that come from years of studying a musical instrument; that we could make the choice to pursue any field of endeavor we choose. That is the blessing that we as fathers, parents, teachers, and mentors must give to those in our care.
Brother Jesse Blog: Who has been some of your greatest influences over the years?
Henri Star Muhammad: As an Artist and Violinist I am always being inspired by and growing from various sources, other musicians, the lives of the composers I perform, and even the students I teach. My greatest influence, teacher, coach, and mentor has been the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. As a black male classical violinist growing up I never saw other black men performing on this instrument until I encountered the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. I was 16 years of age at the time, and since that time the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has helped to guide and shape my study, love, and understanding of the instrument and music, as it relates to the Essence of God.
From the hours of one on one violin instruction he has given to me, to the spiritual, mental, moral, and personal guidance he has extended to me – I am will be forever thankful for every moment. I would not be the violinist and artist that I am today without him. I thank Allah (God) for him every day, and I pray I am able to be as he is to the thousands of students that come through the doors of Muhammad School of Music (MSOM).
Brother Jesse Blog: While traveling around the country and receiving numerous awards, what has been some of your most impactful moments as a musician?
Henri Star Muhammad: The moments that have the most impact on me are those moments where I am shown the impact of the power of music in the lives of those whom I am blessed to share it with. It could be a former student, now professional adult who sends me a text or stops in the studio to say “Hey Mr. Muhammad, thank you for all you did for me”. I have former students who are now doctors, lawyers, in law enforcement, educators, productive members of their communities, and even former students who now bring their children to MSOM to give them the gift they were blessed to receive.
Earlier this year as I was completing my new Book: The Artist, and CD: The Angel One, the MSOM Chamber Players (our performing ensemble) went with me on a tour of all the nursing homes in Western New York. Inspired by what I heard the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan quote Jesus from the Bible when Jesus’ disciples asked him “Master, when were you sick and shut in and we did not minister unto you?” In the Bible Jesus responded by saying “as you have not done it for the least, you have not done it for me”. We went into hospitals, nursing home, and facilities where the residents cannot get out to hear us play in the symphony concert halls and churches – we went to them. At one location, at the conclusion of our performance, an elderly, wheel chair bound resident struggled to stand to her feet. After struggling, when she was able to stand she said to us “I just wanted to tell you how thankful we are you took the time to come and play for us. We can’t get downtown to the symphony hall, and we certainly are not as glamorous, but what you have given to us tonight made my year!” Her words touched me deeply, and sometimes those are the setting where I find the most fulfillment.
Brother Jesse Blog: Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of Muhammad School of Music, co-founded by you and your wife. What has been the impact of such a school? Do you think there is a need for more schools like that to inspire Black youth to take an interest in classical music?
Henri Star Muhammad: I am thankful and proud of the work of MSOM, now nearing 20 years. When the school celebrated its 5th Anniversary the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan came to Buffalo and spoke at our Gala Concert Celebration. I was standing next to him on the stage and he looked me and quoted the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad saying “Great things have humble beginnings, and lots of trouble in the beginning.”
The work and the struggle has been tremendous, and many sacrifices have been made, but I am thankful for the 20 years. Every student, every family, everyone who has attended one of our performances, every supporter, and every heart that has been touched by our efforts makes the sacrifices all worthwhile.
When we are in harmony and striving to be in harmony with Allah’s (God’s) Will and Purpose, then in Him we find our strength and endurance. It does not feel like 20 years, and even though ‘the struggle is real”, we are not consumed by the struggle because we are being fortified and rejuvenated by the True Source, which is Allah (God).
When I am blessed to see my Teacher and Maestro, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan for a violin lesson, that lesson will sometimes last an entire day; 5, 6, 7 and 8 hours. And at the end neither he nor I are tired because we are in harmony with that which gives us both life. In fact, I go home and can barely sleep from the instruction, guidance, inspiration, and power I receive from him in such a direct one on one setting.
I am thankful I have a wonderful example in my Maestro and Teacher the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, and his over 60 years of service in the cause of God.
Brother Jesse Blog: On September 15, you will be in the upcoming production of “Testimony” by Mahdi Theatre in Chicago. What role will you be playing? What are your thoughts on the work of Sister Margaret Mahdi and her theatre company? Why is testifying important to you? What is one of your greatest testimonies?
Henri Star Muhammad: I am honored to be with the talented and brilliant Sister Margaret Mahdi in the Mahdi Theatre Company’s production of “Testimony”. I think Sister Margaret and I first performed together in a production with Mother Tynnetta Muhammad 20 years ago. And in the 20 years Allah has blessed Sister Margaret with the aesthetic inspiration, vision, and creativity that was also present in Mother Tynnetta. I am honored she has called upon me to share my Gift in this way.
I will be bringing my Violin to perform, and with me comes both the testimonies of the composers I will perform, as well as, my own testimony. I hope to perform two selections, both of which I have been personal trained and coached on by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
The first is an excerpt from the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Tchaikovsky composed this piece during one of the darkest periods of his life. It was during this most challenging moment that he went to a place of solitude and wrote his one and only Violin Concerto in 1877. To this day it remains one of the most emotionally, technically, and physically demanding pieces for any Violinist to attempt.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said to me when I was studying the Beethoven Violin Concerto to “Let the adversity in your life serve your creativity”. The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is a testament to the words of Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, because in his most intense and despairing moment Tchaikovsky wrote a musical work so magnificent that violinists today, 140 years later, are still performing, still trying to master, and still talking about him and his music. The trial and circumstance that Tchaikovsky had to endure, in overcoming that trial, now through his music and Art Tchaikovsky has gained Eternal Life.
The second piece is the “Meditation” from Thais by Jules Massenet. Meditation is a violin solo movement from the Opera “Thaïs” by Jules Massenet. As in all operas, the main mode of expression is singing; everything is sung and articulated through voice. However, it is at this climatic point in the opera, the death of the love interest of the main character, that rather than have another “song” to articulate the intensity of the pain of loss, Massenet desired for this pain to be articulated through a solo violin – a mediation or prayer sung through the Violin. The lush passages of the piece have become so moving that the piece is often played as an encore selection, usually following a major work like the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. So, after the thunder and lightning of a piece like the Tchaikovsky, then comes the solace, tranquility, and reflective spirit of the Meditation from Thais
Both the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Mother Tynnetta Muhammad have shared with me this piece was the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s favorite piece to hear the Minister play for him on his Violin. This was the piece the Minister played, and when he returned he played it again and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad asked him “isn’t that the same piece you played the last time? Haven’t you learned anything new?”
I believe the Violin and music are a part of the ever evolving Divine Plan of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan in his fulfillment of his assignment. This episode, and as he has described the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad guiding him back to his music, gives me purpose as well, in my desire to help and aid him.
The Meditation from Thais is one of the featured tracks from my newly released CD: The Angel One. The words of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan ring true for me as well when he said to me “Let the Adversity in your life serve your creativity”. And just as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Prince, Michael Jackson, and the many great composers and artists who have produced long lasting artistic masterpieces born out of the most challenging periods of their lives, so too do I through both my new Book and CD, offer to the world my aesthetic testimony.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts.
Brother Jesse Blog: Thank you!
(Henri Star Muhammad’s new CD, ‘The Angel One’ features both original classical and contemporary musical compositions, as well as, Henri Star’s original interpretations of some of classical music’s greatest works for Violin. The CD highlights aesthetic influences from nearly all musical genres, including classical, spiritual, jazz, pop, funk, techno, world, and rock musical selections. Henri Star’s new book, The Artist, is a glimpse into his personal, musical, spiritual, and artistic journey; a work which he prays will be an inspiration and guide to all those who study it. For more information visit www.henristar.com)