Charlotte Symphony Music Director Christopher Warren-Green is paying it forward. He credits singing in a church choir as a boy for sparking his interest in music. Now, as a professional conductor, he’s leading an orchestra with an ambitious mission: to become the region’s primary source for music education. Warren-Green has invited more than two dozen elementary through high school students from groups sponsored by the Symphony to join the Orchestra and Oratorio singers on stage at their performances November 16 and 17 at the Belk Theater.
WFAE’s Duncan McFadyen caught up with Warren-Green after a rehearsal and asked him how the performance came about.
WARREN-GREEN: I’ve wanted to bring the children onto the stage at the Symphony every year, because I believe the Symphony is a family, and that family embraces the audience---the people who work for the symphony, the volunteers, everyone who comes to concerts, everyone who listens on radio---it’s a community; it’s a family, and I want our audience to see what their patronage is doing for the community.
WARREN-GREEN: One of the other reasons we’re involving the children in this concert is because the music is by Mozart. And, although it’s not one of his earliest works, it’s extraordinary music for one so young. He died so young, and he was composing major works at the age that some of the children who are performing that night will be.
MCFADYEN: Tell us how this idea came about to involve several generations of musicians.
WARREN-GREEN: Well, I’ve always said that in many ways the Charlotte Youth Symphony’s more important that the Symphony itself, but you can’t have one without the other. And I’ve over the years noticed that children that are involved with the arts---it doesn’t have to be classical music; it can be jazz or anything else---always do better at the other subjects.
MCFADYEN: How does this---involving younger generations---fit into your idea of the “New American Orchestra” that you’re trying to create here in Charlotte?
WARREN-GREEN: In changing the face of the, as I say, the “New American Orchestra,” I mean it globally actually. I think orchestras must be more involved with the community. And in a place like Charlotte, you can do exactly that. They very much embrace THEIR orchestra. You see it very much in other cities; I feel it very strongly here. And, we need help, of course, we still need help, like all non-profits to be able to do it with more children. Think how many we can put through the system. So, it’s all in education and the misconception. It’s the same in Europe; I find with politicians that I speak to in London, that they don’t seem to realize the importance of arts. There’s this misconception that it is maybe an effete intellectual entertainment---Lord, if that’s all it was---it’s there to make us better!
MCFADYEN: Where do you think this perception that classical music is inaccessible comes from? Do you think that teaching children about the arts early in life helps to dispel that myth?
WARREN-GREEN: Yes, I think that if children are exposed to the arts earlier on, the myth of the chandeliers and the diamonds and all of this sort of music being for the wealthy…
Well of course, go back in history, the music was patronized by the rich. That’s the kind of thing that happened. But, the musicians were not writing for them---especially not the likes of Mozart! The most blatant forms of protest music have been written by classical musicians over the years.
MUSIC (Mozart Mass in c minor – Charlotte Symphony rehearsal led by Christopher Warren-Green)
WARREN-GREEN: But yes, you’re right, there is a preconception that the concert hall is maybe not a place for us. It’s wrong! Everyone is musical, and if you get a chance with all the churches around here to get your children into some kind of choir, my goodness, the training is extraordinary. And it changes their life, it really does. This is not a corny catch phrase. Music transforms lives. It did it for me: I was nowhere until music picked me up out of the gutter at a very young age.
MCFADYEN: Could you get into that just very briefly?
WARREN-GREEN: I was never an academic of any sort; I was a chorister at the age of seven in Westminster. The music grabbed me from then. Later on, I hit teenage and heard the Beatles, fell in love with them, then with [Ralph] Vaughan Williams and drifted into playing the violin. I didn’t want to be a violinist, but I knew I wanted to be a performer, because it’s a giving profession. But, without that church choir I wouldn’t have gone anywhere, and without the youth orchestras that I played in---and in those days they were government-aided, and there were a lot of them. I’m sad to say that in the UK, where the youth orchestra was born, a lot of them have been abandoned through lack of funding and things like that. That’s not going to happen in here Charlotte.
MCFADYEN: Now the children are not taking part in the entire performance---the Mass in c minor is massive…
WARREN-GREEN: But they are all playing, and they’re playing and taking part in one of the most beautiful pieces Mozart ever wrote, the Ave Verum Corpus.
MCFADYEN: If we go out with a little of that…
WARREN-GREEN: I’d love you to play it. I really would. I sang that as a chorister myself, and it’s never really left me.
MUSIC (Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus)
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.