Why a Rapper and a Violinist Walking Onto a Stage is NoteWorthy

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NoteWorthy concert series pairs unlikely musical partners for a genre-fusing, consciousness-raising experience.
Pictured (left to right): Arsena Schroeder, Chris Suter and Lenora Cox Leggatt at a NoteWorthy performance.
Pictured (left to right): Arsena Schroeder, Chris Suter and Lenora Cox Leggatt at a NoteWorthy performance.
By Page Leggett

A concert series highlighting talented, local Black and brown singer/songwriters got Charlotte Symphony violinist Kari Giles out of her “classical bubble.”

Will Keible, WDAV’s director of marketing and corporate support, said he’s heard the same thing from listeners about NoteWorthy, the innovative series presented by WDAV Classical Public Radio and FAIR PLAY Music Equity Initiative that’s been introducing Charlotteans to musical talent that’s been right in front of us.

The series – which got a Cultural Vision Grant from ASC – pairs local musicians of color with classically trained musicians for concerts that blend diverse musical styles. NoteWorthy’s notable mission: To erase cultural divisions among music lovers. In other words, to get people out of their musical bubbles.

Half of the six concerts in the series have been taped and shown via Facebook Live. The pandemic forced the series, originally conceived as in-person concerts, to go virtual. WDAV and FAIR PLAY will soon announce the final three concerts of the season. The next two will be virtual; the final one may be performed in front of a live audience. Previous concerts featured:

  • Arsena Schroeder, who fuses R&B, pop and folk into her music. She was joined by composer and pianist Leonard Mark Lewis, violinist Lenora Cox Leggatt and guitarist Chris Suter in the April series premier.
  • GRAMMY-Award winning singer /rapper/producer Greg Cox, who performed hip-hop, R&B and gospel backed by violist Matt Darsey and Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO) violinist Jane Hart Brendle in May.
  • Musician/cultural activist Quisol performed his Latin-influenced pop accompanied by CSO musicians Jeremy Lamb (cello) and Giles on violin.

David “Dae-Lee” Arrington, co-founder of FAIR PLAY and a recording artist and producer himself, said Charlotte music fans aren’t to blame for not knowing about musicians outside our favorite genres.

“There’s not a lack of talent,” he said. “There’s a lack of coverage, a lack of infrastructure.

“The missing component is no centralized place where people can learn about who’s doing what, who’s playing where, who in Charlotte just won a GRAMMY.”

Breaking down barriers, beating expectations

Greg Cox And A$H NoteWorthy performance.
Greg Cox And A$H NoteWorthy performance. WDAV photo.

NoteWorthy had a built-in media partner in WDAV. But that wasn’t all.

“ASC not only provided funding,” Keible said. “They’ve been our full partner. They’ve helped us reach audiences we wouldn’t have otherwise reached.”

ASC was a streaming partner for the first concert.

“But we also reached out to the Blumenthal, since the concert is filmed in their Stage Door Theater, and they co-streamed it with us, too,” Keible said.

Music Everywhere Charlotte, Charlotte City Center City Partners, Neighborhood Theatre and The Evening Muse also streamed the next concerts.

“Those are partnerships that didn’t exist before this project,” Keible said.

The diverse streaming partners led to the music reaching a wider-than-expected audience.

In the ASC grant application, WDAV estimated an audience of 3,500.

“Arsena’s concert – our first – reached 4,500 people,” Keible said. “We had more streaming partners for Greg Cox’s concert. That one has been viewed 4,700 times. You can’t fit that many people in the Belk Theater. Doing this virtually opened us up to a much larger audience.”

The series expanded horizons, too.

“I absolutely fell in love with Quisol’s music,” said Giles, the CSO violinist who performed with him. “It’s so beautiful and intimate and has some great rhythmic elements to it, which are fun, and they’re styles we don’t get to play even in our Pops series.”

“It was a collaborative effort,” she continued. “We all brought the best of ourselves to the project.”

“We get so wrapped up in what we do because it is very time-consuming, that we miss the rest of the music scene. I’ve heard all the NoteWorthy artists, and they’re incredible. And they’re in Charlotte.”

Quisol, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, loved how his songs sounded accompanied by strings.

“I got to perform some new songs I hadn’t performed live,” he said. “They really lent themselves to strings. That has now become the way I want to hear my music. It’s how I want other people to hear my music.”

An issue of access

Kari Giles (violin), Jeremy Lamb (cello), and Quisol. WDAV photo.

Quisol, who has a master’s degree from Harvard thanks to a scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, grew up in Charlotte but had never been to the Blumenthal until he taped his concert there. He played in the band at North Mecklenburg High School, but never heard his hometown orchestra in his hometown’s concert hall.

It’s the kind of arts access issue he addresses with his activism now.

It’s the kind of issue ASC is addressing, too. The ASC Cultural Equity Report acknowledges a history of inequitable access to arts and culture and sets forth a commitment to correct a flawed system.

The report resonated with Giles.

“Like a lot of people in the past four years, I’ve had an awakening in regards to Charlotte,” she said. “The ASC’s equity report – which actually made me cry when I read it – helped point out what white privilege is and how it shows up here in Charlotte.”

Giles has set out to educate herself on racial inequality. She took a workshop last summer through the Juilliard School on “How to Build an Anti-Racist Orchestra.”

“I’m learning all I can and then trying to apply it to my musical community,” she said. “I love getting outside my bubble, meeting new artists and being able to show up, in different ways, besides just the symphony.”

The results have been so positive that a second NoteWorthy season is assured.

“It’s in our [fiscal year] ’22 budget,” Keible said.

The mashup of musical styles has been bursting people’s bubbles – in a good way. And it’s way past time.

“Black music has permeated American culture,” Arrington said. “It is American culture. It’s been great to shine a light on the talent that exists here that often gets overlooked.”

Learn more – and catch the first three concerts – at www.noteworthyclassical.org.