Classical Revolution Detroit helps classical music leap off the pedestal

arts / Article

Above: A CutTime Simfonica performance. Photo by Mark L. Brown.

Rick Robinson is a Detroit classical bassist and founder of Classical Revolution Detroit.

CutTime’s Knight Arts Challenge-winning project is to expand the ongoing Classical Revolution Detroit series to three events per month, each featuring our main ensemble, CutTime Simfonica, special guest musicians and musicians from the community. We adapt classical music–usually seen as stuffy, European and boring–to show another side to it that is instead fun, raw and personal. We’ve been able to reset the ideas of “classical,” particularly from an African-American viewpoint, as a universal tool for self-exploration, inspiring the average person to be curious about fine arts.

CutTime began doing independent outreach in 1994 from within the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with a group of eight. We reduced further to a smaller group in 2010 to fit in bars, clubs, restaurants and coffeehouses. Today we play familiar and lively symphonic works, getting the audience involved with items such as eggshakers and cowbells. Several community musicians have joined us to sight-read written music, poets have rhymed with us–a virtuoso beat-boxer even turned Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” into a viral video! All of these interactions add personal meaning, new context and pleasant emotional memories to the classical music experience.

We’re expanding our footprint across the city of Detroit at a time when it is both experiencing a cultural renaissance and grappling with issues of gentrification. This creates both risks and opportunities. By reinventing classical music for casual settings, including playing through party noise, we can democratize the concert tradition; illustrate how it became a semi-sacred, spiritual experience where listening is virtually an act of meditation; and at the same time, we are able to restore the intimate salon tradition to the classical genre.

Classical Revolution Detroit video via YouTube.

As a grassroots movement, Classical Revolution actually began in San Francisco in 2006. It quickly spread to more than 35 cities worldwide. It is open-source, with initial permission from the founder, and a way for musicians to experiment without expectations, critical reviews or ties to established institutions. With our Knight grant, Classical Revolution Detroit experiments with poets, rappers, dancers, video projections, jazz musicians and rock covers–not to mention humor, interviews and mashups of all kinds. Classical Revolution Detroit is a liberation of the art form itself, which we believe wants to be enjoyed by the broader public as they are.

We hope most of our audiences will then feel prepared and curious to check out traditional concerts, take up instrument lessons at community music schools, or just enjoy classical music on the radio and online. Now is the time to cut loose with classical music.

The next CutTime Simfonica performance will be a Spoken Word Mashup on Feb. 26 from 7-10 p.m. at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art (52 E. Forest Ave., Detroit). Tickets are $5-8.

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