Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: From Renton to Carnegie Corridor and past, Quinton Morris conjures up through violin

Quinton Morris is an accomplished violinist and educator. (Jennifer Richard Photo)

Quinton Morris has performed and taught violin around the world, playing at some of the most prestigious concert halls in existence. He returned to his native Renton, Wash., to educate and inspire a new wave of musicians who might otherwise have missed the opportunity for such an education.

The multifaceted Morris is a concert violinist, professor, filmmaker and entrepreneur. He’s the founder and executive director of Key To Change, a nonprofit that provides violin lessons to middle and high school students in the South King County area. Morris is also GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week, as we hit the road to shine a spotlight on some of the personalities and businesses in Renton, south of Seattle.

“I started my undergraduate collegiate studies in pre-law, but fell in love with music and never looked back,” Morris said. He went on to receive three degrees in violin: undergrad at University of North Carolina School of the Arts; master’s from the Boston Conservatory; and a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin.

He’s now a tenured associate professor at Seattle University — the first in over 30 years, he says, and the second living African-American violinist in U.S. history to have the rank of tenure at a major university.

Morris has performed three different years to sold out audiences in Weill Recital Hall at New York’s Carnegie Hall and he completed a two-year world tour where he performed and taught in more than 40 cities on five different continents — including the Louvre Museum (Paris) and Sydney Opera House (Australia). He’s also a TEDx speaker.

“I’m very passionate about learning, teaching, creating and collaborating with people from all different disciplines,” Morris said. “I absolutely love music and am so thankful to wake up every morning and do what I love.”

In his spare time, Morris loves watching sports, roller skating, writing, traveling and being with family and close friends.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Quinton Morris:

What do you do, and why do you do it? When I am not performing or teaching at the university, I can be found running and teaching in my nonprofit, Key to Change, whose mission is to inspire underserved youth through world-class music instruction and support their development as self-aware leaders. Key to Change provides violin lessons under market rate to middle and high school students in the South King County area (Renton, Auburn, Kent, Federal Way, Maple Valley, Tukwila, Des Moines and surrounding areas) who don’t have access to a private lesson instructor. Students as young as 11 years old have an opportunity to study with a university professor (me!) and participate in all of our activities: outreach concerts in the community; guest master classes with professional violinists and university professors; college prep seminars; attendance to concert performances such as the Seattle Symphony; and access to receive an instrument through our instrument library. We also provide professional development for music teachers in school districts, ranging from classroom support to one-on-one mentorship.

Because I’m a native of the Renton area, I understand first hand the importance of students receiving the tools and support they need to be successful in whatever they choose to do. I remember being in high school and having to take three Metro buses to Seattle to attend my private violin lesson because there wasn’t anyone in my neighborhood who I could study from. That was over 20 years ago and sadly, not much has changed. So going into South King County each week to provide violin lessons for students is addressing a critical need that most people don’t even know exists. Students come from all over the area to work with me and it’s thrilling. Last year, we graduated our first student from Key to Change and she’s now a freshman studying violin at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University … and she received a scholarship! Not bad for Key to Change’s first graduate.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? The most surprising thing about my field — but frankly any field that requires you to operate at a high level — is to expect to work really hard, make bold, smart strategic decisions and be prepared to receive A LOT of rejection as you pursue the pathway towards success. Being in music (or any competitive field) can be really hard and the amount of no’s that one can receive can send anyone into a deep depression or make them want to quit. So you have to remember what your vision is and follow your efforts in making whatever you want to be successful. Perseverance is key. In my work, the world is really small and everyone knows everyone. So being pleasant, easy to work with, always prepared and doing your best is essential. First impressions are sometimes the only impression you can give so do your best. All of those things play a vital role in my field.

Where do you find your inspiration? I find my inspiration from many different places. I think first and foremost, I find my students incredibly inspiring. There is such a great feeling that comes over me when I see my students learn. I’m also inspired by people who have overcome great adversity and challenges in their lives.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? iPhone. My whole world is connected to that thing. I know, crazy!

Quinton Morris works with a student in his office. (Sarah Shannon Photo)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My office is serene and peaceful. I purposely painted the walls of my office different colors of lavender and purple because they are calming colors and because my work can be very intense, I figured I would try to make my work space as calm as possible. People who walk into my office constantly comment on how calm it feels in there, so I guess the lavender walls are working. 🙂

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) I wake up super early in the morning (including weekends!) between 5:15-5:30 a.m. I always hit the gym first and try to plan major events (concerts, guest lectures, work or personal trips) one year in advance. This has served me well and I try not to take on projects or activities that don’t fit my present vision or project I’m working on. I think the trick to managing everyday work and life is having the ability to say no a lot and being able to truly understand the things you value and are important to you. Once you’ve identified that, managing your work and life shouldn’t be too difficult.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Kirk.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time Machine.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … invest it all into my nonprofit, Key to Change. The need is so great and providing more opportunities to take lessons would be a major competitive advantage in the South King County area. Investing that money would change a lot of young people’s lives for the better.

I once waited in line for … four hours to get tickets to see the Obama vs. Clinton debate at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008.

Your role models: My favorite role models are:

  • My Mom: She taught me as a child that if I put my mind to something, I can do it. She’s a remarkable woman and I’m so thankful that she’s my mother.
  • Daniel Ching, my violin mentor at the University of Texas at Austin: I learned from him how to work hard and aim high always. He kicked my butt while I was a graduate student at UT and never, ever gave up on me. I truly credit him with showing me how to have a career in music. He will never understand how much he inspired me and changed my life, for the better.
  • Vivian Phillips and Stephanie Ellis-Smith: These two women exemplify excellence in every way. Both are amazing role models to so many in the Seattle area and huge advocates in the arts. What I love about both of them the most is their ability to get things done at such a high level. They make the work that they do look so easy. It’s inspiring to watch.
  • The Obamas: Although they have completed their presidency, their legacy of being good people lives on. They continue to demonstrate what it means to treat people with respect and dignity, which I truly admire about them. Regardless of where you stand on the side of politics, there is no denying that the Obamas are good people.

Greatest game in history: New England patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons Super Bowl two years ago. Greatest game ever!

Best gadget ever: A phone that has a microphone and video recording device. That is perfect for musicians, especially when trying to record themselves during a practice or rehearsal.

First computer: Apple G3 Mac.

Current phone: iPhone.

Favorite app: YouTube.

Favorite cause: Key to Change.

Most important technology of 2018: Artificial Intelligence.

Most important technology of 2020: Flying technology.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Follow your passion, but be sure it aligns with your what you are willing to work hard for. Passion and talent are important, but they don’t always win in the end. It’s about the hard work and perseverance. Be sure to surround yourself with people who are smarter and better than you. You will be amazed how much you can learn. Oh yeah, and don’t compare yourself to people. It’s totally not worth it.

Website: Key to Change

LinkedIn: Quinton Morris

Twitter: @QuintinIMorris

Instagram: qimorris

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