Tai Murray Biography
Violinist Tai Murray is a rising young star within the world of classical music, and only in her early 20s, she has already been rising for over a decade. Known for her beautiful, mature phrasing and graceful bow work, Murray has received critical acclaim from coast to coast. She has also drawn attention as one of the few African-American musicians involved in classical music.
Murray first asked to play the violin when she was just two years old. Finally, just before her fifth birthday, Murray received her first violin. She began to take lessons at the Sherwood Conservatory of Music in Chicago "because I wanted to," she told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I started asking at a younger age, but my mother thought I should wait until I was older. I've always been drawn to music." Although Murray's one sister has taken up the flute, none of her four brothers play an instrument.
Within a few years Murray was drawing attention for her exceptional ability. As a result, her family made a beginning commitment to her future in music by spending $1,600 for a new violin and bow when Murray was just seven years old. The investment paid off, and at the age of nine she made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. When she was young, Murray practiced her instrument between three and four hours every day. At the beginning of her fifth-grade year of school, she began being homeschooled to allow more time for her to practice, which she stepped up to five hours a day. She also began to travel to performances on a more regular basis.
At the age of 16, Murray was invited to perform as soloist with the Utah Symphony. The symphony's conductor Joseph Silverstein had heard her perform in a master class in Chicago when she was just 14 years old and again at a chamber-music performance at the University of Indiana, and he was duly impressed. Following her performance, Jeff Manookian reported in his review for the Salt Lake Tribune, "[Murray's] elegant demeanor was the complete antithesis of the opulent music gushing from this rare talent. Every note from the 16-year-old Murray was marked with superhuman intonation amid abundant pyrotechnical display. Throw in her magical bowing technique (at times, bow changes were imperceptible), and what comes is an awe-inspiring execution." Edward Reichel, the reviewer for Salt Lake City's Deseret News, noted, "Despite her young age, Murray is an incredible violinist. She possesses the technical mastery of her instrument that is needed to dazzle her audience. She coaxes a fine, mellow tone out of her violin, and she has an enticing vibrato."
In 2001 Murray made her debut in San Antonio, Texas, as guest soloist with the San Antonio Symphony. In his review in the San Antonio Express-News, Mike Greenberg wrote, "Murray impressed immediately with her depth of tone, mature phrasing and steely sweetness.…In temperament, she was more like a chamber musician than the typical concert artist. Though she projected a big assertive sound, she also melded into the orchestral backdrop with uncommon grace."
Murray returned to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to perform once again when she was 21 years old. Wynee Delacoma, who reviewed her performance for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote, "Murray's supple, clean violin line was front and center.… In Berstein's rapt passages, she established an extraordinary psychological relationship with the audience. She was completely absorbed with her meandering melody line, at time sounding like she was improvising, at other times as if she were following some musical voice audible only to herself."
Murray studied music at the University of Indiana and graduated with honors from the school's Artist Diploma program. Following her tenure at the University of Indiana, she enrolled in a three-year program at New York's Julliard School of Music to study under Joel Smirnoff. After a performance with the Julliard Orchestra in 2002, Dennis Rooney wrote in The Strad, "Displaying sophisticated bowing and vibrato, her performance was at times deliberate but never stolid. It was enhanced by a warm tone that easily soared above the orchestra.…" She graduated from Julliard in the spring of 2004.
By 2004 Murray stage appearances included the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, the St. Ambrose Chamber Orchestra, and the Oakland-East Bay Symphony, as well as the symphonies in St. Louis, San Antonio, Greensboro, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. Her performance with the Sacramento Philharmonic in 2002 was named the classical performance of the year by the Sacramento Bee. Her awards include top honors in the Indiana University Concerto Competition, the Sphinx Competition, and the Julliard School Concerto Competition. She also earned a Certificate of Honor for musicianship by the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Italy. In 2004 she was awarded a $15,000 career grant from the Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Artist Program.
Although Murray's home base has moved from Chicago to New York, her family is still very involved with supporting her career, both emotionally and financially. For lessons, wardrobe, travel, rehearsing, Murray and her family have spent approximately $30,000 annually to maintain and promote her career. "Playing the violin is a very expensive endeavor, which is why you don't see many Black violinists," Murray's mother Ellen Murray told Ebony. "It takes the efforts of the whole family to help us in this endeavor. It takes a village to raise a Black violinist."
Another financial strain for Murray is acquiring an instrument. A high-quality instrument, such as an Italian-made Guarneri or Stradivarius, can cost from $150,000 to upwards of $1 million. Throughout her career, Murray, who doesn't own an instrument of this caliber, has used the standard practice of borrowing a violin from a music store when she is on tour. During her days at Julliard, she played a school-issued 1727 Guarneri del Gesu.
In the fall of 2004, 22-year-old Murray earned a spot in a two-year professional residency program at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. She also performs regularly with chamber ensembles in New York, Philadelphia, and Jacksonville, including the Ritz Chamber Players, the only black chamber orchestra in the country. Her third tour is planned for 2005, during which she will tour with Musicians from Marlboro, an extension of Vermont's Marlboro Music Festival.
Despite her intense practice and performance schedule, Murray finds time to enjoy life. She loves dance, both as an observer and a participant, including tango, salsa, ballet, swing, and modern. She also likes to read, knit, and spend time with her friends. In an interview with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, she described a typical day: "I like to get in two or three hours of practicing as soon as I get out of bed.… Late afternoon I might take a walk or read a book. I'm a bit of a night owl so after dinner…I like to practice into the wee hours of the morning." Her advice to young musicians: "Practice makes perfect, and quality over quantity."
Charleston Daily Mail (WV), May 20, 2004.
Chicago Sun-Times, April 3, 2004.
Ebony, January 2001, December 2003.
Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), November 22, 1998; November 28, 1998.
Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), January 12, 2003.
News & Record (Greensboro, NC), May 8, 2004.
Salt Lake Tribune, November 22, 1998; November 30, 1998.
San Antonio Express-News, February 6, 2001.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 19, 2003.
The Strad, August 2002; July 2003.
"Tai Murray," Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, www.chambermusicsociety.org/artists/artist_detail.php?id=242 (August 11, 2004).
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