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Watch an interview with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, on site at a West Philly elementary school

Sheku Kanneh-Mason at St. Francis de Sales School on Nov. 6, 2023.
Jim Roese
Sheku Kanneh-Mason at St. Francis de Sales School on Nov. 6, 2023.

The spectacular rise of cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a tale with many tangents — about preternatural talent, 21st-century celebrity, and a classical establishment eager for new standard-bearers. But it is also, on some level, a story about music education.

Kanneh-Mason is famously part of a musical family, and an artist of major distinction. A seasoned performer at 24, he's still only a decade or so removed from his student years — first at The Trinity School in Nottingham, and then The Royal Academy in London. So there's a notable empathy and kindness in his interaction with young musicians, as WRTI experienced firsthand last month during his visit to Saint Francis de Sales School.

This was a joint effort of Play On Philly, which provides tuition-free music education to students K through 12, and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, which presented Kanneh-Mason in a solo recital the following night.

After he sat in with two student ensembles, Kanneh-Mason joined me in an upstairs classroom to talk about "beginner's mind," how music training supports life skills, and what it takes to change the public perception of a classical artist. WRTI is pleased to share a video of our conversation — with special thanks to the artist, to Jessica Zweig and Lea Pandy from Play on Philly, and to Chelsea Steinberg from PCMS.

WRTI Credits:
Lydia Veilleux, Education & Outreach Manager
Zev Kane, Classical Program Director
Tyler McClure, Director of Production
Mitch Demmler, Camera
Alex Ariff, Senior Producer and Editor
Paul Marchesani, Production Assistant
Jim Roese, Photographer
Josh Jackson, Associate General Manager for Content and Programming
Bill Johnson, General Manager

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.