Sound of Charlotte Blog
You've had a pretty long history with the Charlotte Symphony. What was your path to General Manager?
Yes! My history with the CSO goes back about 20 years. I played bassoon and contrabassoon in the Orchestra - it was my first gig right out of Juilliard. Then I played in Grand Rapids Michigan for many years. It gives me a unique perspective; I've learned so much from being on both sides, and having to represent issues from both points of view. It's really given me an understanding that is unique and it helps me find the common ground.
What made you decide to come back to Charlotte after all those years?
The General Manager position was such a great opportunity for me; and the city itself enticed me to come back - it just felt alive! I remember coming back to see a concert and there were people everywhere - downtown wasn't like this before - the place was jumping, with a lot of young people around. It was a major transformation, and I remember hoping that it was reflecting on the orchestra as well, because this is what you want to see - people excited to be out.
So much of your job is planning for the future, how far ahead are you working now?
Well, we're always planning about 18-24 months ahead. All of the 2020-21 season is finished and 2021-22 is in the draft stage - the calendar is pretty much done, but still in pencil, so I can change it a few more times. And, believe it or not, the 2022-23 calendar is in the initial layout stage.
It sounds like it would be difficult to juggle all of those calendars and priorities at once!
Well, I have a secret weapon - it's a photographic memory. It's really helped me both in my musical career and in my management. I don't have to look at the calendar - if I've seen it, and worked on it, I know where it is.
So, basically you have a superpower. What would you love to see for the future of the CSO?
I think that some of our biggest successes have come when we dare to take something that people are used to seeing and do it differently. Take our Rite of Spring collaboration with the Ballet. Some people loved it and some hated it, but it was impactful. I remember seeing those kids - not too long after Trayvon Martin was killed - and they came out on stage with those hoodies on and people just put their heads down, crying. I'd like to see more collaborations like that. For years I've been trying to bridge the world of hip hop and classical - there are so many similarities that people just don't understand. I have some things in the works, but I'm not ready to divulge just yet!
As we face this global pandemic, the Charlotte Symphony has been tasked with adjusting to a new normal. Our musicians have turned their living rooms into performance spaces, Zoom has become a place for online learning, and our public performances have gone digital on #CSOatHome.
The fear around this public health emergency is certainly overwhelming, but it has also shown us inspiring acts of kindness, both big and small, in our city and around the world. The musicians and staff of the CSO have been humbled by the immense support we've received during this very difficult time, and we've felt inspired to give back to our community. From offering free lessons and performances to healthcare workers and donating blood, to baking for neighbors and sewing masks, the CSO is doing what we can to pay it forward.
Musicians of the Charlotte Symphony are volunteering to perform for healthcare workers at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center during their shift changes. Here, violinist Martha Geissler performs near the staff entrance.
"My feeling is if it gives even 5 or 10 seconds of respite from what they have faced and what they will continue to face, I feel honored." ~ Martha Geissler
Musicians from the Charlotte Symphony are offering free virtual lessons to healthcare professionals as a casual and fun respite from their daily work stress. The program consists of weekly, thirty minute lessons for six weeks. Healthcare workers that are interested should write to email@example.com.
Musicians and staff have been making and donating cloth face masks. Interim President and CEO Michelle Hamilton shows off some of the 120 masks she made for Charlotte Symphony staff, musicians, friends, and neighbors to help keep them safe during the pandemic.
Multiple staff members have given blood to help with the critical nation-wide blood shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, Grants Manager Caroline Cave smiles through her donation.
Development Coordinator Senta Harvey and her family moved up the delivery of their traditional holiday cookies for friends and neighbors. "We're going to do it during this time to spread smiles!" Read more
During this time of social distancing, our Education & Community Engagement team and Youth Orchestra Programs team have been hard at work creating and adapting content that teachers, students, orchestra members, and families can access from their homes.
As school instruction has moved to online classrooms, so have our musicians. They're providing virtual instrument coaching to students in local schools. In this Zoom meeting students, teachers, and CSO musicians follow along with the music as a violin student from Northwest School of the Arts performs solo.
Musicians and members of the staff have also participated in coaching and career panels, answering student's questions about what it's like to be a professional musician and what their career options are, both onstage and off. These panels are funded by a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council.
Our Youth Orchestra's 2020-21 season auditions are complete! Everyone adapted quickly to conduct virtual auditions for over 200 students over the course of four days.
The rehearsals must go on! Woodwinds, Brass, and Percussion players from the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra get together virtually to check-in, discuss their music, and see familiar faces again.
Youth Philharmonic conductor Jessica Morel recorded lectures on Brahms and Beethoven, covering everything from the composers' childhood, personalities, and most famous pieces.
In lieu of the special shout-outs they would have received at their final concert, Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees recorded special videos for the seniors, thanking them for their commitment to the program and sharing their plans for next year.
For in-home learning, musical coloring pages and word searches are available at #CSOatHome, in addition to a series of virtual Education Concerts that include digital guides paired with audio playlists. Teachers and parents can choose the elements that best meet their needs to introduce young learners to classical repertoire. The program themes cover everything from fairy tales to math concepts and take participants on journeys into outer space and backwards through time.
The Charlotte Symphony's staff and musicians are eager to find even more ways to stay connected with our community and provide educational resources during this time. Keep checking #CSOatHome for more content. Read more
Chris Stonnell, Director of Education and Community Engagement for your Charlotte Symphony, has a long history with, and passion for, the arts in Charlotte. We sat down with Chris to learn more about why he chose this profession, and to find out what's next for education and community engagement at the CSO.
Chris, you've been working for the Charlotte Symphony longer than anyone else on staff. What was your path to the CSO?
I started working as a chorus and drama teacher in Cabarrus County where I grew up. I spent a little over 4 years teaching in public schools but found myself getting a little burned out from the grind. I loved the teaching part of it - the rewards of seeing the finished product - but didn't enjoy the classroom management, the paperwork, the endless meetings. I knew there had to be something else I could do with my knowledge of the arts and education so I took a chance and quit my job - three months before getting married.
Wow. And how did your significant other react to that?
Well, she still married me!
So, what came next?
Either through luck or divine intervention the School Programs Manager position opened up at the CSO! I started in January of 2006 and haven't looked back.
|What changes have you seen in the Charlotte community through your years here?
It just continues growing; and with it so does the diversity of the community! The CSO has really been responding to all of this growth. We're reaching new populations and our community outreach has really taken off in the last few years.
Healing Hands performance
Is that important?
Yes! It shows that we value our community. Music should not be a luxury; it should be accessible for everyone.
That's a beautiful idea. Do you think the CSO's community programs are having that effect?
We're really starting to see the long-term successes of programs that we've been doing for a while. I was around for the very beginning, when Project Harmony started at Winterfield Elementary. We've had some success creating a pipeline for students from there to Northwest School of the Arts through to our Youth Orchestras.
Project Harmony students
|And it's all about providing that pipeline, because down the road, we'd love to see our community reflected onstage. It's difficult because it all comes down to access. If you don't start playing an instrument until middle school you're already at a disadvantage to those that could afford private lessons at an earlier age. The idea is trying to help bridge that gap.|
What's next for education and community engagement at the CSO?
I'd like to see us take the successful programs that we have and expand upon them - deepen their impact. I also want to look at other areas of the community that we haven't reached yet. We're starting to look into sensory friendly concerts. Again, it's about accessibility. Coming uptown at night to sit in an assigned seat for 2 plus hours in a darkened theater can be challenging for patrons with disabilities, but there's no reason why they shouldn't have access to be able to experience the CSO.
|So, what do you do when you're not sharing classical music with the world?
I really like singing and acting in community theatre shows, but when you work in the arts, Friday and Saturday nights are when the magic happens, so it's hard to find time for my own performances! I also enjoy sports; I go to a lot of Panthers games. I'm also a proud Appalachian State University grad, so I've been really happy with their success in football. I also really like movies - especially scary ones!
Then I have to ask, which horror movie score would you like to hear the CSO perform?
Oh, that's tough. I'd have to say Psycho. The score is great - I'd love to hear that played by the CSO!
Well, we'll have to try to make that happen! Thanks so much for allowing us to get to know you a little better.
Any time. Read more
The Cherokee Chamber Singers have a powerful message to share: Si Otsedoha (We're Still Here). Nestled in an all-American Classical Series concert on Jan. 31 and Feb.1, here's everything that you need to know about this powerful work and our collaboration.
Si Otsedoha (We're Still Here) sprang from the minds and hearts of students of Cherokee Middle and High Schools under the guidance of the Cherokee Chamber Singers. Composed in 2018 by contemporary American composer (and NC native) William Brittelle, Si Otsedoha (We're Still Here) is sung in the Cherokee language and musically documents the past, present, and future of the Cherokee people who have lived in the mountains of Western North Carolina for several thousand years.
The Cherokee Chamber Singers vocal group was formed in 2016 as the advanced vocal group from the Performing Arts Department at Cherokee High School, the Native American high school in the Qualla Boundary in Cherokee, NC (also known as the Cherokee Indian Reservation). Under the direction of Michael Yannette, the singers' unique and varied repertoire offers audiences both traditional and modern Native American music, as well as choral, classical, musical theater, and pop/rock genres.
"I have been a teacher for 33 years and have never been part of something with the impact of this work," Yannette said. "The audience reaction has been overwhelmingly positive; I thought people might be disturbed by it in Raleigh, but it had universal acceptance. They were open to what these kids had to say: 'We're still here, and we're always going to be.'"
This concert serves as a continuation of the Symphony's commitment to use music to both explore issues of systematic injustice, and to look to a more equitable future for all people. Under the baton of Music Director Christopher Warren-Green, the orchestra will perform this powerful work that celebrates the creativity and cultural heritage of the original citizens of North Carolina, but also amplifies their voices.
"Si Otsedoha (We're Still Here) is not only an artistically excellent work that shines a light on North Carolina music and composers, but it also gives voice to a group of people in our home state who feel forgotten," Michelle Hamilton, Charlotte Symphony Interim President and CEO, said. "The Charlotte Symphony is proud to share the stage with these young singers and provide a platform for their voices."
Hear their message: Join us on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at Belk Theater. Also on the program: Copland's Appalachian Spring and Barber's Adagio for Strings.
We asked CSO musicians to "turn back time"... and, boy, did they deliver! With its distinctive fashion, slang, and music, the 1980s was definitely the raddest decade in history. Take a blast to the past with these old-school cool photos, and then set your Swatch watch for Jan. 24 & 25 because we're going Totally '80s at Knight Theater!
Violist Ning ZhaoNing immigrated to the U.S. to further his music education at Kent State University in 1986. This photo was taken during his first year. With this white jacket and sneaker combo, Ning shows that he definitely knows as much about fashion as he does about music - like the back of his hand.
Acting Assistant Principal Double Bassist Jason McNeelJason may have been young in the '80s, but he definitely had his finger on the pop culture pulse. On Halloween of 1988, Jason was repping one of the most iconic characters of the decade: Alf. He definitely proved his love for the extraterrestrial by featuring him in his outfit not once, but twice.
Evidently, I loved Alf! ~ Jason McNeel
Violist Nancy Marsh LevineIf there is one thing the '80s is known for, it's volume. This photo from Nancy's wedding in 1989 definitely exemplifies that trend. The amount of sleeve on her dress is beyond impressive. Modern-day bridal fashion really isn't what it used to be!
Violist Ellen FerdonAs hard as it may be to believe, this is not a still from a John Hughes film. This photo was taken in 1982 of Ellen and Jeff Ferdon, just before their wedding. As impressive as the fashion and hair are in this photo, the only thing we can focus on is the adoring look they're sharing.
Double Bassist Jeffrey FerdonThis photo from 1984 shows Jeff graduating from University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Jeff claims he "had zero interest in clothes at the time," but judging by that sleek white button-up shirt and voguish clogs, we don't believe him at all. Finding inspiration from MTV's hottest music videos, Jeff's hair evolution included both the infamous mullet and even a foot-long rat tail. We can only hope to see a revival of one of those looks on stage!
Break out those Members Only jackets, stirrup pants, and shoulder pads, and hold on to your hairspray -- We're going Totally '80s, Jan. 24 & 25 at Knight Theater.
Emmy-winning composer Gary Fry returns this season for Magic of Christmas & The Singing Christmas Tree, Dec. 13-22 at Knight Theater. We sat down with Gary to find out if his beloved carol written for the Queen City, "Christmastime in Charlotte," will sport a new verse, when he begins listening to Christmas music every year, and more.
Do you have any holiday traditions?
I think our family traditions are pretty normal. We gather for family dinner on Christmas Eve, and my wife gives all our children (and now, grandchildren) Christmas pajamas before bedtime, and we read the Clement Moore poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke. Christmas Day is a time for spending time with family and opening gifts!
Last year, you wrote a new Christmas carol for us, "Christmastime in Charlotte." Will there be any changes or additions to the carol this year?
From the beginning, the idea was to have one verse of lyrics that changed each year to reflect things that were happening currently in Charlotte, or something special related to the Magic of Christmas program that particular year. You'll just have to come to the concert to find out what the "topical lyrics" are this year!
Which part of the concert are you most excited for?
It's all exciting to me especially the fact that this year joining our wonderful Charlotte Symphony are Carolina Voices' The Singing Christmas Tree, the Charlotte Children's Choir, and Grey Seal Puppets. It will all make for a very fresh and exciting new sound and look - filled with Christmas spirit!
What's your favorite Christmas carol?
Well, I must say I especially like "O Holy Night" as a traditional carol, and the music from the movie The Polar Express is wonderful as far as newer Christmas songs go. And, hearing "Christmastime in Charlotte" is always a wonderful thrill for me as a composer.
If you were a sugar cookie, what shape would you be?
Ha! A Christmas cookie shaped like a harp or a bell-- something musical!-- would be appropriate for me.
A potentially controversial question: At what time of the year do you start listening to Christmas music?
Since I work on so much Christmas music, I listen to it literally year-round. I'm already listening to Christmas music for 2020!
Joyful. Heartwarming. Pure family fun. Make new family memories to cherish for years to come at Magic of Christmas & The Singing Christmas Tree, Dec. 13-22 at Knight Theater.
|Taylor Maness is currently a senior at UNCC, and in the last year and a half she has interned at five Charlotte arts organizations, including your Charlotte Symphony. We were blown away by her ambition and dedication, so we asked her why she is voting FOR the quarter-cent sales tax referendum on Nov. 5. Find out below.|
The Priceless Cost of Arts & Culture
If you've stepped outside, turned on your TV, or listened to your radio these past few weeks, you've heard about the possible quarter cent sales tax referendum that would support the arts, parks, and education in Mecklenburg County.
With tensions rising and Election Day quickly approaching, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to remember why we proposed this sales tax in the first place. Our arts organizations have been benefitting our community and the individuals within it, and now it's time that we give back to these organizations.
I understand that increasing a tax is no small ask, but, ultimately, I feel it's well worth it for reasons more profound that we're neglecting to see. These organizations strengthen our economy, educate us, and increase our overall quality of life.
Arts and cultural organizations have contributed significantly to economic growth in Mecklenburg County. Due to our vast array of cultural institutions, many tourists flock to Charlotte, generating $359 million in annual economic activity and employing over 11,180 people in our community.
These organizations also bridge gaps between cultural and political divide. We live in a world polarized by personal belief, and Charlotte is no different. One of my favorite things about art is that it is an outlet for individuals to express themselves in a way that is both comprehensive and peaceful.
On top of everything else, the arts improve our quality of life. It's easy to become consumed by work, school, and our other seemly endless string of responsibilities. We need to be excited, challenged, and fascinated. Some of my fondest memories of being in Charlotte revolve around me strolling through an art exhibit, going to a Broadway musical, or experiencing a live symphony performance. These are the occasions that have made my time here special. It saddens me to think that the opportunity to experience these magical moments may be taken away.
Art affects our lives in more ways than we know. We are fortunate to have these organizations that fill out lives with culture and innovation, and we should all want them to continue to thrive. This is why I encourage everyone to vote in favor of this tax referendum. We are voting on so much more than just simple sales tax; we are voting on the creative future of our community.
This blog was written by Taylor Maness. All opinions are her own.
The Holidays are just around the corner, which means the return of time-honored traditions and the making of new ones. From acrobatics above the orchestra to snow in the theater, check out these five exciting experiences that you can have, only with your CSO.
1. Snow in the Knight TheaterYou may already be familiar with the CSO's annual Magic of Christmas, but did you know that it snows in the theater following the concert? Featuring a visit from Santa, audience sing-alongs and your favorite holiday music, this longstanding Charlotte tradition combines this year with Carolina Voices' The Singing Christmas Tree December 13-21.
2. Acrobatics above the orchestraWhen the circus comes to town, they don't mess around. Cirque de Noel on December 28 at Belk Theater will include stunning aerial feats that will wow the whole family.
3. Dancing on stage for New Year's EveThe party has moved to the Belk Theater this year to accommodate more room for the post-concert festivities. Swing into the New Year with style with Gershwin's famous Rhapsody in Blue, followed by champagne, desserts, a live jazz band, and a countdown to midnight.
4. Halleluja!Handel's Messiah returns this year by popular demand. The CSO will perform this beautiful, dramatic work featuring the Hallelujah Chorus with the Charlotte Master Chorale and four soloists on December 6 & 7 at Knight Theater.
5. Watch Kevin get left Home AlonePart of the CSO's Movie Series, the orchestra will perform the soundtrack to this delightful holiday classic live in sync with the film projected on a large screen above orchestra. Don't miss it on November 29 at Belk Theater. Read more
Violinist Jenny Topilow has a special connection to our upcoming Stars, Stripes and Sousa concert on Nov. 15 & 16: her father is the guest conductor! Find out in our interview below what it's like for Jenny to see her dad on the podium, and how Carl Topilow creates his patriotic clarinet for this concert.
Jenny, what's it like to have your father on the podium as your conductor? Have you worked together like this before?
JT: My Dad was my primary conductor when I was 18-22 years old. During that time, I wouldn't say we "worked" together as much as I was a student learning from him as a teacher, which he's great at. He did give me a B in conducting class [at the Cleveland Institute of Music], though (he was probably being generous!).
Since becoming a member of the Charlotte Symphony, I have worked with my Dad many times. Often it's just us playing duets (with him on the clarinet), but also in [an orchestral setting] a few times, too.
I'm very proud of my dad and his amazing career, and it is special when he is on the podium, but he's very cognizant about not treating me any differently when we are in a professional setting. Maybe he'll point out that I'm his kid and he's excited to have me in the band, but then it's down to business. As he says "I've worked with hundreds of violinists, and you're definitely one of them."
Carl and Jenny, what inspired you to choose a career in music?
CT: My love of music and my desire to pass this passion on to other people as teacher and performer was my inspiration to make this a full-time profession.
JT: I started violin at age three after seeing Itzhak Perlman on Sesame Street (a surprisingly common story!). It's been simply amazing to share the stage with him recently.
My dad being a conductor and my mom being a ballet dancer, they basically had the 16th sized violin waiting for me in the closet. I was pretty talented and practiced pretty diligently, but as a professional musician and a teacher at a conservatory, my dad knows just how hard it is to have a successful career in music, and never pushed me to go into it. He didn't exactly stand in my way, but he made sure I knew how competitive it is.
When I won my job with the CSO, he was the first person I called and he was the one person who cried happy tears with me, because he really understands how rare it is to win a job and how hard musicians work to prepare for auditions.
Is anyone else in your family musical?
CT: My brother, Arthur, is an excellent jazz pianist. He's also a much-respected hematologist/oncologist. My younger daughter Emily enjoyed performing as violinist with her college orchestra for 4 years and is now playing with a community orchestra in Cleveland. I recently appeared as guest conductor with that orchestra, and it was very rewarding to perform together!
JT: Like my dad said, my Uncle is a fantastic jazz pianist and my little sister plays the violin. My mom was a ballet dancer with Joffrey and the Metropolitan Opera in NYC before I was born and is a great lover of classical music (especially opera), and my stepmom, Shirley, is a professional tap dancer and also started the Cleveland Pops.
Carl, this kind of patriotic concert is one of your specialties. How did that come to be?
CT: These concerts do so much to instill a sense of pride and privilege to be living in the United States. There are many portions of the concert that are very moving, but I strive to create a balance of solemn and upbeat selections. It's always great to observe the reaction of the audience when they are touched by particular piece.
We hear you have a very patriotic clarinet... What's the story behind that?
CT: I have red, white, blue, and green clarinets, and can assemble parts of each to come up with multicolored clarinets. I always play the piccolo obbligato to the Stars and Stripes along with the orchestra piccolo players on a red, white, and blue clarinet.
See Jenny and Carl on stage together at Stars, Stripes and Sousa, November 15 & 16 at Knight Theater. Read more
|Older Posts »|
- A peek behind the curtain with General Manager John Clapp
- How your Charlotte Symphony is giving back
- Educating from a distance
- 14 years of passion for arts education & outreach with Chris Stonnell
- A powerful message from Cherokee Nation youth: Si Otsedoha (We're Still Here)
- CSO Musicians Go Totally '80s!
- Meet "Christmastime in Charlotte" composer, Gary Fry
- UNCC student shares why she's voting FOR the quarter-cent sales tax referendum
- 5 Exciting holiday experiences with your CSO this season
- Father and daughter share the stage at Stars, Stripes and Sousa