PRIZM Ensemble’s new leader helps kids explore social issues through music

Gavin Wigginson, the new executive director of PRIZM Ensemble, plans to broaden Memphis’ access to music education, social activism, and life skill development.

Wigginson is no stranger to the world of Memphis nonprofits. He spent nearly five years as a fellowship coach with Memphis Music Initiative. In addition to his duties as executive director, Wigginson currently serves as the concert choir director and voice instructor at LeMoyne-Owen College. He’s also worked with PRIZM before.

“I started working with PRIZM as a panelist for their college preparation workshop that they would do every January,” he said. “And as someone working with the only HBCU in Memphis, I was invited to share my unique experiences with the students.”

Wigginson’s journey in music began when he was a student at Overton High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. After graduating he headed to Knoxville, where he completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music and vocal performance at the University of Tennessee. He also spent time as a professor at Kentucky State University and as the choir director at Memphis’ Kirby High School.

In his new role, Wigginson oversees all company operations and leads PRIZM’s school outreach program as well as their annual chamber music summer camp. He plans to help students think critically about social issues and use their musical skills to address Memphis’ challenges. He wants their artistic work to be a catalyst for deeper conversations and positive action.
“When most people think about activists, they think about people that go outside and march and hold up signs and protest, and that’s really important work,” Wigginson said.

“However, I'm thinking about ways that we can creatively become activists through our skills. For instance, I'm currently using Negro spirituals to honor victims of social injustice.”

PRIZM Ensemble is a nonprofit founded in 2005 that makes music education and programming more accessible to schools and neighborhoods across the city. The organization especially targets neighborhoods that are often underserved.

They focus mostly on chamber music—a form of instrumental music that emerged in the 19th century. Initially it was performed in smaller rooms, or “chambers.”

Today, chamber music is performed in a variety of venues and includes many different styles, including jazz, classical, and world music. Wigginson said that chamber music is often played without a conductor, meaning the musicians need to work together and collaborate closely.

In addition to education and activism, Wigginson wants to use PRIZM’s programming as a way to help students compose productive lives.

“Collaboration is a part of nearly every profession,” he said. “Learning that skill will allow them to take it into whatever profession they so choose.”
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Read more articles by Chris Jones.

Chris Jones is an attorney, community and non-profit strategist, and freelance writer.  Originally from Starkville, Mississippi, Chris has lived in Memphis for over 25 years.  In his spare time, he loves traveling, learning about history and society, and playing the guitar.