“My mom’s goal for me was to be a classical violinist,” said musician Chelsey Green. “I kind of took a detour on purpose.”
Born into a family of jazz and funk musicians, Houston native Green started her performance career on the violin at age 5. By 16, she was performing solo at Carnegie Hall.
Now, Green is using her classical violin and viola training to bolster the sounds of contemporary artists such as Michael Jackson and John Legend. Green and her ensemble, The Green Project, will perform at the BlackRock Center for the Arts on Saturday night.
“The marriage of classical and contemporary music is something that is relatable to everyone no matter what ethnicity you are … no matter what education or background you have,” Green said. “That’s what music is meant to do … it’s meant to touch everybody. That was my goal with The Green Project.”
Green said the desire to meld classical and contemporary sounds was first born during an internship with a Top 40 radio station.
“An artist that shall remain nameless came to the station and they wanted me to stand in the elevator to make sure the doors were open when they got on,” Green said. “I said, on that day, ‘I’m more than this.’”
Green went on to earn her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin, a graduate degree from The Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins and is now working on her doctorate at the University of Maryland. Since 2009, Chelsey Green and The Green Project have been touring the world and shattering the perception of the classical music scene.
“I want to erase all stereotypes of typical acoustic classical instruments,” Green said. “I want people to know the violin is capable of doing anything.”
Beyond challenging stereotypes about classical music, Green hopes her work speaks to pushing the limits in general.
“The bigger message there is that anything you want to do, you can make happen because it’s your voice,” Green said. “If [you] do it with focus and integrity, you have limitless possibilities … I want to show people that you can have fun and still do something well.”
It’s a message Green said she hopes to communicate through her educational outreach in the Washington, D.C., area with students ranging from pre-K to adulthood.
“What I try to do with outreach, is show young students from pre-K all the way to high school the discipline of learning an instrument,” Green said. “It helps set you up for success for anything you ever want to go into.”
The Green Project features musicians Ignatius Perry Jr. on keyboard and piano, Lorenzo Johnson on keyboard and organ, Kevin Power Jr. on electric bass and Spyda Wheatley on drum. Saturday night’s show will showcase a mix of original songs and covers, including a special Green Project arrangement of John Legend’s “Ordinary People.” The band will head into the recording studio in February to work on their next album, due out in April.
When selecting songs to cover, Green said she takes a few things into consideration. First is whether the piece will translate well through instrumental music. And second is the significance behind the song.
“We try to work with covers that have a special meaning,” Green said. “I try to find melodies and find harmonies that would support a story … I want the listener to engage in their own story as much as I want the listener to engage in my story.”
Once the songs have been selected, Green said the last step is putting that “Green Project twist” on it.
Unlike the artist for whom she held the elevator, Green’s first priority is not herself, but her audience.
“I do my best to use that power for good and really influence or have a connection with people. That’s the most powerful thing we can do,” Green said. “To have someone come up to you after the performance and say, ‘I don’t really like violin but what you did tonight is amazing,’ that’s what I strive for.”