On Tuesday, March 10, internationally renowned electric violinist Tracy Silverman visited Richmond for workshops and performances with Richmond Public Schools students and with the students of Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra Program.
In case you aren’t familiar with Tracy, he made his debut with the Chicago Symphony at age 13, was named by The Juilliard School as one of 100 distinguished alumni, and was formerly first violinist with Turtle Island String Quartet. A concert electric violinist, Tracy is the subject of several electric violin concertos composed specifically for him by John Adams, Terry Riley, Nico Muhly and Kenji Bunch, as well as the composer of three electric violin concertos of his own. He performs at famous venues all over the world with many prestigious orchestras and musicians, and has performed on, composed for, and produced many recordings in a variety of musical styles in addition to his “classical” concert repertoire.
Tracy also teaches at Belmont University in Nashville. He is a pioneer of alternate strings education, and the author of The Strum Bowing Method, a clear and comprehensive approach for string players to easily learn how to play and teach the grooves in contemporary popular music. I was fortunate to meet Tracy about fifteen years ago when he was developing and refining the method he now teaches all over the world. We founded Music City Youth Orchestra together with ten students in 2007 (I was music director, Tracy was artist-in-residence) and saw our children through the program together over the next five years. Tracy brought his “outside of the box” musicianship to our youth orchestra over those years on a regular basis and I saw first hand how powerful and positive the real skills and lessons he brought were for MCYO students.
So last fall, when we began brainstorming ideas for a special event to bring together Richmond Public Schools strings students, engaging Tracy to lead the workshop that became Meet the Artist on March 10 was the obvious solution.
Our remarkable RPS strings teachers worked hard to arrange for as many strings students as possible to participate. In the end, more than 130 fourth and fifth graders from 22 RPS elementary schools attended!
- Barack Obama Elementary School
- Bellevue Elementary School
- Blackwell Elementary School
- Broad Rock Elementary School
- Chimborazo Elementary School
- E.S.H. Greene Elementary School
- G.H. Reid Elementary School
- George Mason Elementary School
- George Washing Carver Elementary School
- J. L. Francis Elementary School
- J.B. Fisher Elementary School
- John B Cary Elementary School
- Linwood Holton Elementary School
- Mary Munford Elementary School
- Miles Jones Elementary School
- Overby-Sheppard Elementary School
- Redd Elementary School
- Southampton Elementary School
- Swansboro Elementary School
- Westover Hills Elementary School
- William Fox Elementary School
- Woodville Elementary School
It felt like a momentous event to bring all of them together to play as one, many on instruments purchased for their schools with money raised through Richmond Symphony’s Big Tent Community Festivals. Funds that made Meet the Artist possible were raised by the RVA East End Festival 2019.
We were thrilled to have the presence of Richmond civic leaders as well: 4th Voter District City Council Representative Kristen Larsen was in attendance, as were School Board Chair Linda Owen (9th District) and Vice Chair Cheryl Burke (7th District). Their presence in the room was a wonderful demonstration of the commitment of our city’s leadership to the importance of music education for our city’s children.
What a heartwarming experience it was to witness this diverse ensemble of children from 22 of our city’s elementary schools make music with Tracy Silverman! This wonderful event was a powerful expression of the power of music to unite our community. The joy, challenge, and engagement for our students was wonderful to see and hear!
~ Cheryl Burke
Richmond Public Schools School Board
PRESS PLAY! and enjoy a few moments with Tracy and our giant RPS string orchestra from Meet the Artist!
I’ve taken hundreds of students on scores of field trips over the years, and I can honestly say this one will probably have the biggest impact on my students.
Immediately afterwards, the children were over the moon with excitement. Yesterday and today some of my students said they give it “a million points on a scale of one to ten.” We discussed the music that we heard, and they really connected with Tracy; they understood how he was layering many different styles and genres of music, and they were able to explain to other students his composition process for the piece entitled “Matisse.”
They also specifically remember learning to play the blues and I was blown away that many of them remembered – unprompted – the fingering for the blues scale, so we will definitely be exploring that further this school year.
~ Beth Almore
Richmond Public Schools Orchestra & Strings Teacher
That evening, Tracy visited Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra Program ensembles in rehearsal: he led each of our two string orchestras String Sinfonietta and Camerata Strings in an introduction to strum bowing technique, improvisation, and the electric violin; and closed the evening with a special performance for our gathered students and their families.
It was a remarkable experience to have Tracy work with the Youth Orchestra students! It is so important for students to be exposed to musicianship that encourages them to think outside of the box. Tracy’s take on electric violin inspired creativity, improvisation and simply having fun while playing your instrument. I heard from students and parents alike how much they appreciated changing gears for the night. We hope this inspire them to continue being curious about music and become life-long music lovers.
~ Logan Massey
Assistant Director of Education
All in all, Meet the Artist was a tremendous success and an unforgettable experience for all involved, and especially the young string musicians who had the opportunity to take part. Thank you so much to everyone who helped make it happen!
It’s so wonderful to play a small part in the important and creative community engagement programs curated by the Richmond Symphony. These meaningful interactions with the vibrant young people in the Richmond Public Schools and in the Richmond Youth Symphony programs will have a lasting impact not only on their musical lives, but on their future relationships with their peers and, hopefully, in their higher education communities. Just as we are better musicians when we know and love many different kinds of music, we are better people when we know and love many different kinds of people. Arts create empathy!
~ Tracy Silverman