Classical Music

Krystle Ford: Built for Tough Love

Words by Okara Imani

I knew I’d sit down with Maestro Krystle Ford of the Indy’s Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, a Black woman director after my own proverbial band kid heart. Something in me felt it before we even interviewed– I peeped the hustle and recognized her drive and determination before I’d fully registered my admiration. Perhaps I’ve just been conditioned that way. Perhaps to see a Black woman is to witness the epitome of resilience and grace under pressure, leading with love both the vast plain and the secure fence which encircles it. 

This energy is confirmed as she proceeds to recount such a rich and nourishing progression– from bright young student of music to the quintessence of Black musical leadership– I struggle not to romanticize the journey, being the stan that I am now! Ford describes a childhood alight with passionate music study and practice and abundant in intentional, dedicated mentorship.However, the pantheon of Black music leadership in her studies and ensembles was a small and closed circle. The late, great Betty Perry was among the few directors and thought leaders guiding young classical musicians. This continued lack of Black representation in classical music– be it directors, arrangers, composers, principals, or mentors– is the blaring whitewashed pea under all the layers of what Ford loves about her professional music career. It’s what causes that vacuum effect when a Black musician enters the space, steps up to the podium, or commands the room, and that’s how they’ve got her messed up!

There may have only been a few Black authorities along the way, but the seeds they planted into Ford’s perspective and approach as a professional have deep and well-nourished roots: tough love, explore, follow your heart, and the hustle. While we are all working with newly discovered language and boundaries for how we engage with our loved ones and the world, there are some areas in which tough love is still paramount, mastering a craft being one of them. Ford knows it. She knows by the way she was never allowed to quit instrument lessons after investing time & energy ‘cause it’s not that she was incapable or even uninterested. She was just a kid, frustrated, stalling, or stubborn in her youthful efforts. She shares that wisdom of self-determination and fortitude in the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, in a realm of teaching that often sees the pupils’ parents weary and willing to drop an extracurricular not tied to CORE-40 or standardized testing. 

Ford holds a space for her students to see themselves reflected at their highest potential and capacity and leads with love that steadies her young charges as it envelopes and elevates them. She speaks of her vision of getting into more partnerships with schools to create this space for more young musicians, to help fill the gap of resources and investment into their budding creative passion. And this isn’t a swing at the fabled “Black Excellence” either; Ford is looking to foster a sense of personal potential, an inner strength forged with her own brand of tcompassionate, tough love. This is iron sharpening iron– with a velvety, safe place to rest and pour into their craft when the world has been hard enough. 

Not only a maverick maestro to many a young musician, leading the MYO in arrangements from Motown to Mozart, but Krystle Ford is also a professional arranger and member of a vibrant Trap Orchestra (IG: @thetraporchestra), wherein she gets to frolic at the intersections of organized sound and Black creative expression for herself. She is an entrepreneur all round! She’s the maker Now Boarding Bags, offering up a delightful variety of stylish, well-designed, hand-sewn handbags. Furthermore, the owner of a lovely rental property, adorably and aptly named The Little Mint Cottage, which can be booked through Airbnb for a nice getaway or even a staycation for Hoosiers. All of which I’m tryna see partake of ‘cause if there’s one thing I’m always looking to spend is Black Dollars, and all I need for a vacay is dope music and a comfy escape from routine!

In short, the hustling professional creative, the likes of which would surely do her mentor proud– bless her soul. Shoot, I was proud from the moment I read Ford’s biographies online to now as I write these very words. When I finally couldn’t take up any more of her day, Ford shared how she felt she put the “I” in classical music: Identification, intention, illustration. [Shamelessly transmuted these themes from the original: define, decide, demonstrate into an alliteration matching the blog series because I have a problem!] Maestro Krystle identifies with her marginalized orchestra members and students and has identified and named the invisible factors impacting their access and stifling their passion. She intentionally engages their highest potential by identifying their personal excellence and nourishing it. She illustrates for them a way of existing in these spaces with confidence to be precisely who they are, even when they’re still struggling to envision their greatest heights– even when overwhelmed, over-policed, or overlooked, they just want to quit. The firm, warm hands guiding forward and keeping them from straying or stalling, Maestro Krystle is built Ford Tough Love. 

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