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Sound of Charlotte Blog


"Tweet Seats" available for KnightSounds 'American Music Masters and Pioneers'
 April 19th at 7:30pm
To tie into the Ulysses Festival 2013 theme, "Art and Technology," we will offer patrons the opportunity TO use their phones during the April 19th concert by live-tweeting.  These seats will be in a special section in the back of the orchestra level, as not to disturb other concert-goers.  We will ask those sitting in this area to turn off all sounds as well as reduce screen brightness. Those who sit in this section must promise to tweet during the 75 minute concert about the experience using tags such as #ulyssesfest, #KnightSounds, or @cltsymphony.

Limited quantities of tickets in this section are available and are 20% off regular prices! The price includes pre-concert reception, drink ticket, concert, and post-concert DJ dance party and are available at http://bit.ly/QoGI0Z(www.carolinatix.org) using promo code TWEET SEAT OR by calling 704.972.2000. Be sure to mention you'd like Tweet Seats if ordering over the phone!
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Tagged as Innovation, Jacomo Rafael Bairos, KnightSounds.


If you've attended a Charlotte Symphony concert, you know we're quite loyal to the classic black concert attire. However, as we move into the third season of our innovative KnightSounds Series, a series of concerts intended to put a fresh, intelligent, and audience-engaging spin on classical repertoire, we are beginning to experiment with our attire from the ground or shall we say 'feet' up. On January 25, 2013, the symphony will partner with the Metropolitan Ballroom but the dancers aren't the only ones who will be sporting impressive footwear at the "Ballroom!" performance. The audience, conductor and orchestra musicians are all invited to wear their dressiest, wackiest, or fanciest shoes of all styles and colors for both the performance and the post-concert dance party.
If you've attended a Charlotte Symphony concert, you might have noticed that Assistant Concertmaster Kari Giles already wears pretty fancy shoes at her seat during concerts. We asked her a few questions on the topic 'at feet' -

When did you begin wearing fabulous shoes onstage? Why?
I always said I would buy myself a pair of fancy black shoes once I won my first job. So after I won the Charlotte audition, I found an amazing pair of Stuart Weitzman shoes on sale. From the first time I put them on I felt alluring and confident and I was hooked! What I love about shoe shopping is that even on a bad day, you can put on a great pair of shoes and get a lift.

Where do you shop for shoes? 
I absolutely love Zappos. I don't know how many hours I have spent trolling that site! Anthropologie, Nordstrom and Off Broadway are also fabulous.

If we looked in your closet right now, how many pairs of shoes would there be? 
Hmm, hard to say...60ish?

What type of shoes do you wear most often? 
In the winter I live in boots. Cowboy, Motorcycle, Mod, Vintage, Furry...I love them all!

What is the highest price you've ever paid for a pair of shoes?
It might have been around $250 for a pair of cowboy boots that fit me like a glove. I try to only 'invest' when it's a classic pair that I know will last me a long time. One of my favorite pairs of orchestra shoes were black velvet Mary Janes with a bow that I got at Target for $20. I got more compliments on those shoes! I think the key to great shoes is to find the ones that you love that speak to you and show off your style.

Kari is this month's Featured Family Member. Read the entire article here.
She is also a recent newlywed and wore some pretty fabulous shoes with her dress.

Congratulations Kari!
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Tagged as Charlotte Symphony, CSO Musicians, Innovation, KnightSounds.

The Art of Sound: On Campus

Tonight, the Charlotte Symphony will present it's annual Orchestra On Campusconcert at Central Piedmont Community College. The Charlotte Symphony's educational outreach program seeks to engage students from varying disciplines in the creation of the orchestral experience. Since its inception in 1998, the On Campus education concert has evolved into a direct collaboration with various CPCC educational departments, including art, graphic design, advertising, hospitality, and music.

In line with the collaborative and educational goals of the program, this year's concert features contributions from CPCC's graphic design and visual art students and professors. Graphic design students produced titles, logos, and program books that captured the essence of this year's orchestral selections. The winning design portfolio, seen below, will be used for this year's concert and the logo will be used this year and for future On Campus concerts.

Additionally, visual art students produced original works, also inspired by the program's music, to be projected on a screen during Barber's "Second Essay for Orchestra, op. 17." Further collaboration with Ellen Ward, a CPCC art professor and leader of Charlotte's Urban Sketchers, will take place during Prokofiev's "Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet Suite 1 and 2." Ward and other artists will "live sketch" the orchestra and the images will be projected onto the screen during the concert. The use of technology engages the students in a multi-sensory way, helping to enhance the concert-going experience. "Part of the Charlotte Symphony's educational mission is the belief that music plays a vital role in lifelong learning," said Chris Stonnell, Manager of Education Programs for the Charlotte Symphony. "Orchestra on Campus is an innovative way for us to engage the college-age demographic. By using technology and by bringing our orchestra to CPCC, we hope the concert will break down some of the barriers and misconceptions about classical concerts that may prevent young people from attending one of our events uptown."

The concert will feature works by Samuel Barber, Sergei Prokofiev, and living composer Michael Daugherty. Leonardo Soto, Principal Timpanist for the Charlotte Symphony, will perform as soloist for Daugherty's "Raise the Roof." Nearly 850 music appreciation students have the opportunity to attend the performance for course credit.
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Posted in Education & Community. Tagged as art and music, collaboration, college students, community engagement, Education, Innovation, orchestra on campus.

Heart Strings

Originally Posted: July 2010
When rising 6th-grader Maria stood proudly in front of an audience of some 25 people last Thursday (July 22) to perform "I'm a Little Teapot" on her bright pink violin, it signaled a triumph a triumph not just for this quiet, thin, intelligent young girl, but for teacher Courtney Hollenbeck and the children of Winterfield Elementary School.

It has been more than three years since Courtney Hollenbeck, a young second grade teacher at Winterfield Elementary, first brought her violin to school to teach her class about sound. Winterfield is a high-poverty school about 90% of the students are economically disadvantaged and most of the 7 and 8-year olds in Ms. Hollenbeck's class had never seen or heard a violin. They were all fascinated, but one little girl showed unusual interest. That little girl was Maria.

After class, Maria, who is shy and undemanding, walked boldly up to her teacher and asked for violin lessons. Courtney Hollenbeck is not a violinist; she played as a teenager, but did not study music seriously. But she recognized in that moment what the violin might do in the lives of her students. So, not only did she agree to teach Maria, but she founded a violin program at Winterfield a program open to all interested students, free of charge. She began to scour Ebay in search of affordable violins, spending her own money to purchase instruments for the growing number of children in her Friday afternoon violin class.

Without even knowing it, Ms. Hollenbeck became part of a movement in the United States an ever-expanding effort to help children become smarter students and better citizens through music. While the concept is not new, it has received a booster shot with the recent appointment of Gustavo Dudamel as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel is a graduate of arguably the most successful youth music program in the world, Venezuela's "El Sistema." Since he began receiving widespread media attention two years ago, programs all over the country have taken root, serving children from Baltimore to Los Angeles to Juno, Alaska. Learn more at http://elsistemausa.org/.

This past December, Courtney Hollenbeck called the Charlotte Symphony looking for help. Her program now served 25 children, grades 2 through 5, and with so many kids at so many different levels, it had exceeded her ability to teach them. The Symphony's Education Programs Manager, Chris Stonnell, and I met with Ms. Hollenbeck and began to brainstorm ways to support the program.

A three-week summer violin camp was one of the fruits of our efforts. Children in the Winterfield program were invited to attend the camp, where they received general music instruction, instrument demonstrations, and violin lessons with Sa-Idah Harley, a local violinist and violin teacher. The camp culminated in the performance last Thursday, July 22, in which Maria, her 8-year-old sister Julia, and their friend Leslie played for their families, Winterfield staff, and other campers.

The Charlotte Symphony has applied for grants from the N.C. Arts Council and the Foundation for the Carolinas to help strengthen and improve the program at Winterfield this academic year. Everywhere you look, funding for arts education is tight if not downright obliterated. Arts organizations all over Charlotte, all over North Carolina, all over the United States, are struggling to find ways to bring music or drama or dance or painting into the lives of children. School systems, counties, states have cut arts education budgets. Brave and passionate individuals, like Courtney Hollenbeck, and organizations like the Charlotte Symphony are bridging the gap. But we need help.

The CSO is happy to announce that the NC Arts Council has granted the Symphony money in support of the Winterfield Strings Program for 2010-2011.

Meg Freeman Whalen is CSO Director of Public Relations and Community Engagement
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Tagged as CMS, Courtney Hollenbeck, Education, El Sistema, Foundation for the Carolinas, Gustavo Dudamel, Innovation, NC Arts Council, winterfield elementary.

Why the Symphony?

Originally Posted: September 2011

After a successful first weekend season opener, the Charlotte Symphony is back for another dynamic, exciting season. For 80 seasons, this ensemble has sought to provide Charlotte with artistic excellence of a superior quality, and this year is no different.  From Kenny G to Carmina Burana, Bearden collages to Broadway Divas, Mendelssohn to Michael Jackson, the musical offerings are varied and thought-provoking. Nearly every weekend from September through May, this group of world-class musicians will be performing music from psychedelic rock to smooth jazz to film scores.

 What role do the arts play in your life?  

Is your artistic intake dependent on your favorite radio station, or are you a live music junkie? Are you a weekend art gallery sleuth or a garage band rock star? Does the thought of a concert hall excite you or make you want to run to the nearest sports bar? Do you find arts events stiff and old fashioned, or innovative and inspiring?

 Or, do your interests lie somewhere in between?
 Well, for arts aficionados and agnostics alike, this year the Symphony has something for everyone.
 From the family-friendly Lollipops series to the incredibly diverse Pops (this year's lineup includes Kenny G, the film music of John Williams, Cirque de la Symphonie, and Michael Jackson) to the extraordinary showcased pieces of the Classics series, the Symphony can meet the needs of every listener, especially those willing to sample new styles.  

Not convinced?
"Well... I'm more of a jeans and tee shirts kind of guy. On the weekends, I just want to kick back and relax."

 Absolutely. We get it. That's why there's no dress code for any of our concerts, and you'll see everything from Gucci to Gap.

 "But the Symphony is so old-fashioned! I mean, my grandma goes and that's just really not my scene. Maybe when I'm 60."

Pink Floyd? Michael Jackson? Cirque de la Symphonie? Broadway Divas? Many of the programs have very current music, accessible to all generations. Plus, give grandma some credit- she's had years of experience to decide what's worth listening to.

 "I like the Symphony and I'm a huge arts fan, there's just so much to do in Charlotte and it's hard for me to choose!"

That's why there's the upcoming Tchaikovsky Festival, in Spring 2012, with collaborations between the North Carolina Dance Theatre, Opera Carolina, and the Symphony. Also, for visual arts lovers, there will be works of Charlotte artist Romare Bearden displayed at our first KnightSounds concert.

 Every single decision from the Symphony, from programs and marketing to education and outreach are all crafted with the message to audiences, "the symphony is for you!" This is Charlotte's organization, a jewel in the crown of the Queen City, and one that Charlotteans should stand up for with pride.

 See you at the Symphony!
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Tagged as arts, casual, diverse, fun, Innovation.

Tuesday tidbits

Originally Posted: September 2011

  • Animals flew over London Monday in celebration of Pink Floyd's remastered albums.
  • When pigs fly... Never thought you'd hear rock 'n roll at the Symphony? Or at least, not until pigs fly? Well, yesterday one British porker did. The Music of Pink Floyd will play with the Charlotte Symphony on November 4th. With soaring swine and over a month to go until showtime, who knows what else we can expect before then. Fat ladies singing,perhaps?
  • The moderately slow Bolero, a dance that originated in Spain in the 18th century.
  • In honor of this weekend's performance, some Bolero to satisfy any latin cravings. We're posting Bolero videos daily. Suggestions? Post them to ourFacebook or leave a comment on this post.
  • Sun of Spanish Harlem by Latino artist Santiago 
  • More latin, this time in the form of Charlotte Symphony musicians enacting a Random Act of Culture, a project through the Knight Foundation that states, "Hearing Handel, or seeing the tango in an unexpected place provides a deeply felt reminder of how the classics can enrich our lives... the performances make people smile, dance, grab their cameras even cry with joy. For those brief moments, people going along in their everyday lives are part of a shared, communal experience that makes their community a more vibrant place to live. It's hard to watch what unfolds during a Random Act of Culture®, and not be inspired to see and hear more." (Still hungry? Watch more here.)
  • Hypnotic, exotic, even erotic... That's what you can expect from this weekend's musical feast. Listen to our radio clip.
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Tagged as Bolero, History, Innovation, knight foundation, pink floyd, random act of culture.

Soundwaves and Brainwaves

Originally Posted: December 2010

Creating music and listening to music are among the core activities that make us human. Every human culture has music. There is evidence that even the Neanderthals sang, and bone flutes, with multiple holes to play sophisticated scales, have been discovered and dated from 35,000 to 40,000 years old.
 Birds and whales sing; coyotes howl at the moon, but no animal's music-making is as widespread, as complex, or as creative as humans'. And no animal's music demonstrates the vast innovation that human music demonstrates.

Studies of music and the brain are on the cutting edge of neurological research. Questions of how our brains process music, how music impacts the human body and mind, and how much of our response to music is based on cultural upbringing have fascinated scientists and philosophers for centuries, but in the last decade, technological advances have created new opportunities for intense study.

Through sophisticated imaging technologies, it is now possible to actually see the brain at work as we listen to or create music. While scientists once believed that there was just one center in the brain for processing music, they now know that music is processed all over the brain, activating cells and neurons throughout our gray matter. We process melody with one part of the brain, for example, and harmony and rhythm with other parts. Engagement with music, in fact, is just about the most complicated mental activity that human beings do.

Music affects emotion, memory, motor control, attention, imagery, pattern perception, and learning. It also impacts our health. Because of its many touch points, neuroscientists are now using music to learn about the brain and how it operates, and the medical field is using music to aid in therapy and healing. Music helps steady the heart rates of premature babies. It helps stroke victims regain the ability to speak. The presence of a steady beat helps people with Parkinson disease control their motions in an orderly fashion and walk with greater control.

The irony is that at the very time scientists are discovering how music stimulates the brain and promotes learning, arts education resources are disappearing from the schools. As scientists learn more about music and the brain, it is becoming apparent that learning to actively listen to an orchestra or play an instrument or sing in harmony is vital to a healthy, well-developed mind.

We should insist on high-quality musical experiences for all children. And we should seek out those opportunities for ourselves, to keep those synapses firing.
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Tagged as Innovation, neuroscience, thought.

Dreams for a New Age of Arts in Charlotte

Originally Posted: Spetember 2010

"We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams"

So begins Arthur O'Shaughnessy's ode to the creative class. Like many others my age, I first head this refrain uttered by Gene Wilder in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." (The source of a number of many of my early cultural references...) It wasn't until years later that I took the time to read the whole poem. (It's good.) What reminded me of this poem recently was an article about an American symphony orchestra (not ours) that was in the process of laying the groundwork for some hoped-for long term financial stability (like ours...and so many others). In the article were quotes from civic leaders, corporate recruiters, politicians, and music professionals all hailing the importance of a successful symphony orchestra to their city.

Most comments focused on a successful orchestra being a source of civic pride, an important corporate recruiting tool, or a local cultural benefit. These benefits notwithstanding, many orchestras in America are struggling. Blame the economic downturn, changing demographics, or the proliferation of entertainment options, but orchestras are fighting an ongoing battle to justify their existence. A few have folded. It got me to thinking.

What if a symphony orchestra could actually be an educational, economic, and cultural catalyst to a city and its surroundings? What if that happened here?

Radical thinking, I know. But just for the fun of it, let's continue down this less traveled road. Charlotte perpetually strives to become a world class city. I know that because I read it in the paper every other day. Just what that means, of course, depends on your perspective. To some, it means the crime is low, the schools are good, and the train runs on time. To others, it means a vibrant cultural and sporting life. To others, something completely different. People inside and outside of Charlotte often poke fun at our civic status-seeking. And sure, as a city and as a region we aren't yet comfortable in our own skin. We try too hard to impress. But isn't this drive to become a better version of ourselves exactly the stuff that made Charlotte what it is today? We do not accept that this is all we can be. We desire. We hope. We aspire.
Great strides have been made in Charlotte to lay the financial groundwork for a viable symphony orchestra for years to come. There is much work to be done, of course, but thanks to the generosity and support of so many, the orchestra is in better shape than it has been for some time. What if we took things further, though? What if we adopted a vision to make Charlotte a recognized home for the arts and a leading cultural and musical center in the U.S.? Sure, there are many reasons why it wouldn't, couldn't, or shouldn't happen. But what if it did? What if we put together a plan to integrate the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra into the very fabric of life in Charlotte?

For years, music education has been considered a luxury, and is often one of the first programs to get cut when the budget tightens. But music education shouldn't be a luxury in our school systems; it should be an integral and irreplaceable part of the curriculum. A few years ago, Jonathan Fanton, then president of the MacArthur Foundation, put it this way: "The arts deepen our understanding of the human spirit, extend our capacity to comprehend the lives of others, allow us to imagine a more just and humane world. Through their diversity of feeling, their variety of form, their multiplicity of inspiration, the arts make our culture richer and more reflective."

Beyond that, there is strong evidence that music education that includes instrumental music performance from kindergarten through high school delivers measurable improvements in the math and science performance of students (another blog for another day...) The Charlotte region is moving to diversify its economic base and attempting to become a hub for energy and technology and other areas of economic development. It will increasingly need an employment base equipped with not only specific trade skills, but also with people who have broad ranging abilities in science and math. Music education can help. As a bonus, we develop a population of residents who are interested in and understand the value of the arts.
About three years ago, the nonprofit organization, Americans for the Arts, conducted an economic impact study and concluded that nationally, America's nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year. Closer to home, some folks launched an arts festival back in 1977 in Charleston as a companion to a similar festival in Italy. Today, Spoleto Festival USA is recognized as one of the world's leading festivals. Organizers estimate that the annual economic impact is over $55 million ($44 million from visitors) for the 17-day event. The festival also supports the equivalent of just under 1,000 jobs and over $20 million in local household income. I'm not suggesting that Charlotte attempt its own "Spoleto" necessarily. And yes, a 2-week music festival with out-of-town guest artists is a different animal from a resident orchestra. But rather than looking at the orchestra (and the arts in general) as a debit in the civic checkbook, we should recognize, develop, and promote the arts as an economic asset. I love sports, but they are not the only pursuits that deliver economic impact to a region.
"World class" or not, Charlotte is fast becoming an international city. We can fear that or embrace it. In making the transition from a "small town with a lot of people" to a true city-region, one of the benefits of attracting a broader scope of individuals is the cultural heritage they bring. Charlotte has always done a good job of embracing people with different backgrounds. Not diversity for the sake of being diverse, but embracing diversity as a means of enriching the cultural and economic fabric of the city. Already, we are seeing the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra begin a new venture with its KnightSounds concert series at the Knight Theater. Designed to engage audiences and let them experience the orchestra in a whole new way, KnightSounds is not about dumbing down the musical experience, but rather about opening it up to an expanded audience. It's a good start, and I hope we will continue to do more to reach out to the community that is not part of the traditional concert-going audience.

O'Shaughnessy's poem later reads:

...For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

We all know that times are difficult. That shouldn't stop us from dreaming or doing. Spoleto USA was launched in 1977. If you have forgotten or weren't around, the 1970s was the worst decade economically since the Great Depression. High inflation (over 13 percent by 1979), double-digit interest rates (the prime rate had hit 21.5 by the end of 1980), and not one, but two oil crises all contributed to  a sluggish cynicism throughout the country and long lines at the gas station. If the Spoleto organizers had tried to "time the market" and waited until times got better to launch their festival, it may not have happened.

The Charlotte Symphony is working hard to get its financial house in order and develop a sound business plan for the future. It has a new Music Director who is talented, experienced, and passionate about his mission here. It is reaching out to new audiences. Now is the time to bring to birth a new age of music and the arts to Charlotte. Let's do it.
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Tagged as americans for arts, Innovation, KnightSounds, O'Shaunessy, spoleto festival usa, World Class City.