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WDAV and FAIR PLAY Play Music Equity Initiative brought together Greg Cox and acoustic string duo Jane Hart Brendle (violin) and Matt Darsey (viola) for a streaming Facebook concert on May 26. A cameo appearance of A$H and interview segments with David "Dae-Lee" Arrington from FAIR PLAY made the online event personal. And of course, chat commentary from fans, from as far away as the Philippines, made it festive.
Lauded as Grammy-Award winner, singer-songwriter, rapper and producer, Cox is also a bridge-builder and humanitarian. He was influenced by his father, likewise a serious musician; and growing up in a church, he learned to sing, play, and write music. "They just throw you in the fire," says Cox, whose work is greatly influenced by gospel music. In fact, he advanced his career by posting songs that caught on through social media.
Darsey and Hart Brendle, two "Jedis" from the world of classically trained musicians, contributed in multiple ways. Moonlighting as gig players, they both have great facility reading charts and music on the spot. But their personal skills, which included an infusion of laughter, made the collaborative experience joyful for the threesome. Cox was taken by surprise and said he was "forever changed by the experience."
Along with a melodic voice, and skillful use of technology, Cox has charisma. He is comfortable on stage, working the audience (even listeners on Facebook), and sharing a genuine love of entertainment. But his dialogue with Arrington also revealed a humility and openness to grow musically. With this project he successfully replaced synthesized strings with live musicians. The difference was not just notable. He made a couple of friends.
The concert started with "Good Day," the perfect opener for listeners with ZOOM fatigue. Need a little optimism? You can listen to this song on YouTube. Cox never missed a beat. R&B artist A$H joined him for "All Alone," a lovely duet that sweetened the effects of living through an unusually challenging year. "Three Words" (that we all love to hear) had a little 'Stevie Wonder' quality in the vocal part that made me smile. And "Momma's House" felt like a trip down memory lane, reminding me how a strong family connection can be keep us grounded.
I thought about The Ed Sullivan Show, a highlight of Sunday night television programming for many American families during the '50s and 60s. Hosting artists ranging from the Beatles and the Supremes to Itzhak Perlman and Stevie Wonder, Sullivan tipped his hat to popular culture alongside high art. Many American orchestras have tried to increase the size of their audiences by inviting pop stars to the stage. But the reason young listeners choose other venues is more complex. Darsey and Brendle are part of a generation interested in expanding the classical canon and breaking down barriers. They believe projects like NoteWorthy can help bring diverse audiences together.
There were a couple of breaks in the streaming connection, but it didn't really matter. The short, but well-crafted event was excellent – in fact, better than I expected. Many thanks to the sponsors and producers who made it possible: OrthoCarolina, the Arts and Science Council, and Blumenthal Performing Arts for offering their stage. Most of all, kudos to the performers who brought much needed joy to this weary listener.
NoteWorthy will present Quisol with Kari Giles and Jeremy Lamb on Wednesday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m. For details, click here.