Music educator, violinist, and now author Brendan Slocumb has recently released his debut novel, entitled "The Violin Conspiracy." The book follows protagonist Ray McMillian, a young African-American violinist, and his violin, a family heirloom that was gifted to his then-enslaved great-great-grandfather and handed down through the generations.
Upon requesting an appraisal of his violin, McMillian finds out that it is not a cheap, anonymous instrument but is instead a Stradivarius. The discovery comes in tandem with a meteoric rise in McMillian's performing career, but when the instrument is stolen in the lead-up to his performance in the Tchaikovsky competition, the descendants of the slave owner who gifted the violin resurface and make a legal claim to its ownership. With an eye-watering ransom sum on the line, McMillian must figure out how to get his violin back.
Woven into the novel's suspenseful plot are meditations on the many challenges McMillian faces as a Black man in the classical music industry, which range from imposter syndrome right through to staring down the barrel of a policeman's gun.
"I know, being in the classical music world, that there are a lot of people just like me, with similar stories, and we’ve never had the opportunity to tell them before," Slocumb told The Violin Channel.
"The tragic events of 2020 made it seem like this was a moment when I could tell my stories, and that people would actually listen to me, acknowledge my experiences, and not deny that my perspective was as valid as theirs," he added. "When I told people about things that happened in my life, people would say, 'No, you’re exaggerating, no that doesn't happen, absolutely not.'"
"I hope that this novel will illuminate the struggles that people of color often have in the classical music world. Only 1.8% of classical symphony musicians are Black. Why? It’s certainly not because we are incapable. I want to pull the curtain back on a subject most people never think about to expose the inequities of this field," he concluded."
Brendan Slocumb has been a music educator in private and public schools for the last 23 years. He studied at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he served as both concertmaster and principal violist in the University Symphony Orchestra. Alongside his work in education, Slocumb hosts the podcast How Music Can Save Your Life, and serves as an educational consultant for the Kennedy Center.
The Violin Conspiracy is published by Anchor Books, a division of Penguin Random House, and can be purchased here.