First black woman to join Philadelphia Orchestra in its 120-year history

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- "I always wanted to position myself to be the best at it," said Nicole Jordan, who has achieved a crown jewel position in the music industry.

Starting later this year in the 2020-2021 season, she will become the Principal Librarian at The Philadelphia Orchestra. It is a position that curates each piece of a live performance through vigorous research and an extensive encyclopedic knowledge of music.

This marks the first time that a woman of color joins the full-time ranks of The Philadelphia Orchestra, which was founded 120 years ago.

"It's a moment of celebration, and at the same time, a short of shocking moment," said Matías Tarnopolsky, the President and CEO of The Philadelphia Orchestra.

He believes this is a step forward for one of the orchestra's essential goals, "to become more and more representative of the communities that we serve," said Tarnopolsky.

It is a welcome addition to an organization that sees turnover very rarely. Since its inception in the year 1900, The Philadelphia Orchestra has only seen nine music directors.

"When you reach the pinnacle of your profession...you're unlikely to leave," Tarnopolsky said. "So, when positions open, we get many, many applicants and the very best musicians come and apply."

Nicole Jordan proved she was nothing short of the very best.

Her musical journey began in second grade when she was the subject of a musical aptitude test. She zigzagged from the cornet to the trumpet and then to the viola.

The Southwest Philadelphia native attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls before taking a one-way trip to Duluth, Minnesota, for music school.

Coming back to Philadelphia, she sought a Masters Degree in music history from Temple University. At the same time, she interned with the Philadelphia Orchestra as a library fellow.

From there, she joined the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 2011, later becoming the first African-American principal librarian.

And in 2020, she will be celebrating her homecoming.

"I didn't set out to make history. I just set out to kind of do what I love," Jordan said.

But with her newly earned platform, she wants to show the next generation that anything is possible.

"We're in a very interesting place as Black Americans," she said. "I think we're coming into our voices. We're not sitting back and taking, 'No,' for an answer."

While Nicole Jordan waits in the wings, The Philadelphia Orchestra is currently battling the effects of COVID-19. In early March, they convened to perform for an empty room and nothing has been the same since.

Matías Tarnopolsky hopes that July welcomes opportunities for smaller sects of the orchestra to appear around the city for performances. While many are unable to hear music in person, many concerts have been and will continue to be available virtually.

The orchestra is presenting a free Stay-At-Home Gala tomorrow, Saturday, June 20, titled, "HearNOW." The online broadcast starts at 8pm, featuring an all-star cast and a tribute to essential workers.

To learn more, visit their website.

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