For Seattle University’s Quinton Morris, one of two tenured African-American violin professors in the United States, the violin is both an instrument and a seed. And with it Morris is growing a great forest—his most recent plot being south of Seattle, where he’s founded Key to Change, a violin studio with branches in Renton and Maple Valley for students of color with limited financial resources.
The studio’s origins began way back in the ’90s, when Hank Linear, then president of the Renton Black Parents Association, saw Morris had talent. Linear, through his organization, made it possible for Morris to attend college tuition-free and bought him his first violin. Now Morris wants to pay that generosity forward.
And the virtuoso has a lot to offer. Morris is a filmmaker and entrepreneur who this year toured nearly two dozen cities, from Asia to Africa, to perform, lecture, and screen his latest project, Breakthrough, a short film about the 18th-century violinist and composer Chevalier de Saint-Georges.
“I think I’ve always been a very detail-oriented person,” says Morris, sitting in his modest Seattle University office just north of the campus chapel and reflecting on the roots of his work ethic. “That’s been me since I was a little boy.”
Morris’ education started early. He learned to live both a creative and structured life by watching his father, a former director of housing in Illinois, and mother, a manager for the ombudsman office for King County, work diligently—and he intends to impart this ethic to his Key to Change students. “I didn’t realize at the time that those skills would prepare me for where I am now,” says Morris, who will receive the Governor’s Young Artist Award next month. “Having my own company and my own nonprofit just sounded like the next right thing.”
Key to Change, now accepting applications for lessons starting in November, aims to provide access to world-class private instruction to some 25 middle- and high-school students in South King County. Students will also participate in master classes taught by guest artists and attend workshops on the audition process, solo and ensemble preparation, and the college application process.
“A lot of people of color and people from low-income backgrounds are being pushed south of Seattle,” Morris says. “And unfortunately there are not very many resources there that are arts-related. I have the opportunity now–I’ve been very blessed–to give something back.”