The concert started with the entrance of the drum set player and a D.J. The excitement and high energy of the opening of the concert did not wane as the other performers took the stage. Black Violin performer Kevin Sylvester, violin, entered the stage playing a black, electric violin and Wilner Baptiste, viola, played an acoustic viola with a pick-up for amplification.
Black Violin is named after an album of the same title by jazz violinist Stuff Smith. This hip-hop string duo was able to alter the sound of their instruments by pressing pedals much like a rock guitar player. Originally from South Florida, the two performers met in high school and while classically trained, they listened to many types of music and found a way to connect the two worlds with their music.
Unlike a typical classical music concert, students were encouraged to take pictures with flash photography and dance in the aisles. The students were engaged for the entire concert, singing along to popular music they recognized, waving their arms, screaming, and dancing.
Black Violin makes the violin and viola more accessible for students and energized students about the performing arts. Seventh grader Alivia Corker said that she felt welcomed and entertained by the talented musicians.
“I liked this concert because they had us up dancing and on our feet. I must say I want to go back again because the players liked to be engaged with the crowd,” said Corker.
The students were thrilled to learn that Baptiste, who goes by the stage name “Wil B” calls his viola “Tiffany” and he serenaded his viola by singing the love song “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeren.
Sixth grader Kaitlyn Hurst said, “I thought the Black Violin concert was fun because you got to dance and sing along unlike other concerts. I think we should do that for our concert.”
“It was truly an unforgettable moment. They are truly talented players and very inspiring.” said seventh grader Amber Booke.
Hannah Robinson said, “I think that the Black Violin was amazing and they made me laugh and smile and I really enjoyed myself.”
Sixth grader Allie Bellamy said, “It was the most magical experience. They took good music and turned it into amazing music. Rock on!”
The message of creativity was clear as Black Violin shared their story with the students. The were studying classical music and all the while listening to hip-hop music between. Their innovative ideas connected well with the next generation of musicians. In the Thomasville City School system students are able to learn violin, viola, cello, or double bass at early as fourth grade.
Seventh grader Mckena Willis said, “I learned that you should think outside the box, take something that's classical...and make it into something someone, if not everyone, would listen to!”
Toward the end of the concert, Black Violin played their version of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, a piece that the high school orchestra most recently played for their fall concert. Recognizing the piece and hearing how the performers made it their own was very inspiring for the students.
Scholars Academy sophomore Anna Cooper said, “My favorite part was when they played ‘Brandenburg.’”
Cooper remembered seeing the video of the group in class, and it was amazing to be able to watch them perform it live. They played the song with a classical style at first and then they easily shifted the style to be more hip-hop.
“It was overall great to see string instruments being performed in this unique way. I also liked the violin that was electric and see-through,” added Cooper.
Scholars Academy freshman Isabel Claudio-Mirabal, “It was a great experience that motivated me to always work hard for what I want. It also taught me that you don't have to do anything like everyone else, that it's okay to be different.”
Seventh grader Logan Delarber, who plays the viola described the group as very well thought out with an amazing violinist, inspiring violist, phenomenal drummer, and the best DJ she’d ever seen!
“I liked it so much because I never got bored, and I was always standing. I would love to watch them again and see what they will bring to the table next,” said Delarber.
Bria Singleton said, “The Black Violin was a great ‘experiment’ to go to. I had lots of fun listening to them play.”
Dr. Sally Hernandez and Dr. Colleen Manseau are the directors of the Rose City Strings Project and teachers of the string orchestra program in Thomasville City Schools. Dr. Colleen Manseau is the newest addition in the 2015-2016 school year and directs the elementary program at Harper, Jerger, and Scott Elementary Schools. Dr. Hernandez has been with the system since 2011 and this is her first year overseeing the upper division.
Hernandez and Manseau would like to invite Thomasville and the surrounding community to their Rose City Strings Spring Concert on Tuesday, March 22 at 7:00 p.m. at the MacIntyre Park Middle School Auditorium.