Armenta Adams (Hummings) Dumisani is a former Associate Professor of Music at the Eastman School of Music. She was appointed in 1994 as Eastman’s Distinguished Community Mentor.
Ms. Dumisani is a divorced mother of four sons; professional violist, Amadi; Naval Officer, Gus, Jr.; and identical twins, Martin and Marcus, educator and psychologist respectively.
Ms. Dumisani was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 27, 1936 to parents Albert and Estella Adams who loved music, especially classical music. When she was four years old and her brother was seven, her parents arranged for them to take piano and violin lessons at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts, during the school year.
In 1954, Armenta enrolled as a piano major at the Juilliard School of Music from which she received both the Bachelor and Master of Science Degrees while a student of the eminent pianist Sascha Gorodnitzki. During her second year at Juilliard, Armenta won the piano competition performing Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor with the Juilliard Orchestra.
Her professional career includes several critically acclaimed performances in New York City at Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Town Hall. In addition to recitals and concerts in the United States, her international performances spanned twenty-seven countries on five continents. Upon her return from a state department tour, she was honored at a reception at the State Department attended by then Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, in recognition of her contributions to international relations.
She was twice the recipient of the Martha Baird Rockefeller Aid to Music Grant. She was also winner of the John Hay Whitney Competition, the New York Musicians Club Piano Competition, the Musical America Musician of the Year Award, the National Association of Negro Musicians Competition, and the first Leeds International Competition Special Prize. She has appeared at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., the Beethoven Festival in Carbondale, IL, and at the International Piano Festival at the University of Maryland as Guest Artist on the Great Performer Series.
She is founder and artistic director of the Gateways Music Festival, a nationwide festival celebrating the achievements of African American classical musicians. Founded in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1993, it was presented at the Eastman School of Music in 1995. Since then, the Rochester community has presented the festival in collaboration with the Eastman School of Music every two years. In addition, young musicians inspired by their experiences at the Gateways Music Festival are creating their own concert series throughout the country. Armenta’s greatest source of pride is seeing young people become architects of their own future.
Read an essay by Armenta (Hummings) Dumisani
The Side Effects of Music Lessons by Armenta (Hummings) Dumisani
I came from a musical family. My parents were church musicians. Numerous aunts, uncles and cousins sang and played instruments. Recordings of great artists such as Jascha Heifetz, Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes and Fritz Kreisler were played in our home. They observed how my older brother, Elwyn, reacted to the violin recordings and began the process of nurturing that instinct. Three years younger, I took up the habit of “accompanying” him, banging on the piano just to be part of the happenings. I was very enamored of the music I heard on recordings and on the radio, but had no plans to be on stage. That was never my dream.
There was some resentment in my early years because I did not understand what my parents’ dream of their son becoming a great violinist had to do with my having to take lessons on the piano as well as the violin. We had a church orchestra in which I played the violin. It was foresighted of them not to limit their children’s knowledge instruments to just one. My brother was able to accompany students when he later began to teach. My first job at Florida A&M University was the results of my being able to not only teach piano but also strings and chamber music.
The reason I had to take piano lessons instead of just continuing to bang on the piano became clear only after I was faced with raising my oldest son, Amadi, who liked nothing except music. He had to have a musical home in which to grow. The same questions came up in my other three sons’ minds. Why are we learning to play instruments? They are now aware of one of music’s most important side effects and that is the “D word”…discipline. They now appreciate the discipline music training gave them. They played piano, organ, violin, cello, trombone and sang in the Salem College Boys Choir. I remember being very concerned about my twins, Martin and Marcus, suddenly singing off key. Their voices had dropped and I had not noticed it. Once they got their range established, they went on singing gloriously on pitch!
The side effect of holding families together is not to be minimized. The side effect of facing a challenge that requires all of your mental, physical and emotional control is transferable to other aspects of life. It is an international language that breaks down geographical barriers. Having an international career and being able to see the world made me appreciate my early piano lessons. The price tag for success in the field of classical music is extremely high. My parents were willing to do their part.
I recently ran across an article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer about my family. It was entitled The Model Family and said: “The heartwarming story of the Albert Adams family is an inspiring account of parents deeply aware of responsibilities that go with the custody of children. From humble backgrounds themselves, Albert Adams and his wife Estella quickly recognized in their children musical talents that, with development, gave promise of successful professional careers for son and daughter. With determination and unending sacrifice that required the parents to live apart for 10 months of the year for 16 years, Albert and his wife saw their daughter Armenta, a pianist, and their son, Elwyn, a violinist, reach high peaks of musicianship as concert artists of international fame. Not all children have talent, but all fathers and mothers would do well to pattern their careers as parents after that of this devoted mother and father. They saw to it that their children had every opportunity, no matter what the sacrifice, to make the most of their time and abilities to fit themselves for a useful place in society.”
One day I woke up, married with four sons to raise three of whom were in diapers. That ended my original desire to have 15 children. Because I had embraced the mind-boggling challenge of performing Bach’s Goldberg variations, I equated my plight with the performing of those thirty variations. If I could play four independent musical voices, perhaps I could raise four small children at once also. I will share the practical application of that theory in another setting. I did receive a mothers’ day card from one of my sons that read “what does it take to be a good mom?” Several answers were offered such as a good cook, a psychologist, a nurse, etc., but the punch line was “a bull whip and a chair.” I think that meant I was forgiven. All parents need to be.
From Music Lessons to Health
The side effect that took fifty plus years to surface is the ability to be cognizant of the laws of nature which allow our bodies to perform the miracles they are designed to perform. There are no gimmicks involved. Bottom line is that, being a free-lance artist for most of my professional career, I did not have the health care benefits most people take for granted. The financial challenges of not having a steady job made me totally responsible for my survival. There was no way to fix the damage, only prevention was available. I do not have to reiterate a healthy lifestyle. Enough has been written about diet, exercise and positive thinking. Looking back on my life as a young adult, a mother of four sons, who also were not adequately covered in terms of health care, and my present life as a senior citizen, I can point to just a few choices that have paid off for me and my sons. The use of natural remedies, immersion in physical activity (tennis, biking, baseball, basketball, football and swimming) and the spiritual habit of loving one’s neighbors. Whenever I bought for my children, I bought for all of their friends. My children never knew we were living below the poverty level because I was a hands-on mom and did not work outside of the home. Being well requires the ability to appreciate whatever you have and to love even those who do not love you. I now look back at the over fifty years I have not had any medicine of any kind, prescribed or over the counter, I am thankful for the gift of insight into what is required to make the most of one’s natural healing power.
My newest interests are climbing mountains, playing chess and making videos of those musical works I have loved all of my life. I am presently training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in January, 2014. That may sound a bit extreme, but music and mountains have something in common: the application of discipline. This country now has health problems that cannot be ignored. Since the birth of my twins, I have lost eighty pounds that will not be returning. I am sharing my journey for the express purpose of giving my experience to anyone who wants or needs it.
DUMISANI: a South African name in the Zulu language meaning “praise god.” No one talks to me for long before I begin to talk about God’s blessings. I believe that one’s relationship to God is the most important part of his or her life. I was raised in the Amen Corner. Musicians often become ministers because they are looking for the ultimate level of perfection started with the demands of music. I do not plan to become a minister, but I do want to express my joy at being spared to live a life without pain and still be productive. And now I am done.
– Armenta (Hummings) Dumisani
Contact Ms. Dumisani directly:
Armenta Adams (Hummings) Dumisani
P.O. BOX 20412
Winston Salem, N.C. 27120