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Originally published Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Violinist emphasizes mentorship, community

If you've started out the New Year with a resolution to get more things done, you might want to consider the example of Quinton Morris. The young violinist and founding...

Seattle Times music critic

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Four free community concerts will be presented by the Seattle Symphony in a January schedule that also includes many additional school concerts.

A program featuring works by Rossini, Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday at West Seattle High School and 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at South Park Community Center.

An all-Mozart program will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center and noon Jan. 25 at Seattle City Hall.

Carolyn Kuan will conduct all performances; Quinton Morris will be the soloist in each concert, playing Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3.

If you've started out the New Year with a resolution to get more things done, you might want to consider the example of Quinton Morris.

The young violinist and founding director of the all-African-American chamber group the Young Eight, Morris is three months away from finishing his doctorate at the University of Texas-Austin while he directs Seattle University's instrumental music division, runs the chamber music program, teaches violin students, devises the curriculum for a new bachelor of music program for string students, tours and performs with the Young Eight — and performs a Mozart violin concerto in several free community concerts this month with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

Did we leave anything out? Oh, yes — he also is teaching four young students on the side (in addition to his Seattle U. students), including two African-American middle-school boys who are profiting from the kind of mentorship Morris would have loved to have had as a kid.

"I didn't have that growing up," says Morris, who graduated from Renton High School and still has lots of family and friends in this area. "I never saw an African American playing with an orchestra as a child. Now, to work as a mentor with these talented young players and show them what is possible, right in their hometown — that's really rewarding."

Performing as a violin soloist also is rewarding, and Morris is looking forward to playing Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 with the Seattle Symphony and associate conductor Carolyn Kuan, in free community concerts that should provide good chances to hear what Morris can do.

"These Seattle Symphony concerts are very valuable and important to me," Morris explained in a recent phone call on his way home from the airport. "I love the idea of bringing this great music out into the community. I've never worked with Carolyn Kuan before, but I've seen her conduct, and she is very clear and very musical. I think we're about the same age, too, around 30."

Morris says it's going to be "a little scary" to do the concerto performances with the Seattle Symphony, when he is used to the smaller forces of his Young Eight octet. But he sees the Symphony as "a really large chamber group" and the concerts as "just a bigger chamber-music experience."

For Morris, these community concerts also are extensions of the work he has done in Seattle with The Young Eight, in several residencies over the past few seasons at T.T. Minor Elementary School, and Meany and Washington middle schools (the group also has been featured at the International Chamber Series at Meany Theater). Now The Young Eight is in residence at Seattle University, where the eight players are opening eyes and ears with their energy and their repertoire; it's not every chamber group that plays hip-hop music alongside Mendelssohn.

"Last year our presence was really felt in inner-city schools," Morris says.

"Now I'm continuing that work in a different way, as a solo artist."

It's not enough, Morris believes, for young players to polish and refine their musical skills; they also need some real-world savvy. That's why the new bachelor of music curriculum he is currently devising at Seattle U. (with Fine Arts department chair Carol Clay and Arts and Sciences dean Wallace Loh) will emphasize what he calls "entrepreneurial, career-building skills": everything from renting a hall and writing press releases to financial management and business skills. After all, Mozart — as Morris points out — was not just a great performer and composer, but was adept at "getting a concert hall, hiring people to write out the various parts and getting the word out to audiences."

Morris may be almost frantically busy, but he is a happy man.

"It's fantastic to be home," he says. "I'm so thankful to have this job. For me, this is personal and heartfelt: At 30 years of age I'm able to give so much, and affect so many students and community members. It's a pretty wonderful feeling."

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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