Arsena Schroeder on the Noteworthy Concert Series

 
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The NoteWorthy concert series is presented by WDAV in partnership with the FAIR PLAY Music Equity Alliance. The series brings together gifted Black and brown artists from the Charlotte music scene with classical musicians for some genre-blending, community building music. Singer-songwriter Arsena Schroeder talks about the concert and collaborating with pianist Leonard Mark Lewis, violinist Lenora Cox Legatt, and guitarist Chris Suter, who also join the conversation. Arsena Schroeder Lenora Cox Legatt Leonard Mark Lewis Chris Suter Transcript: Frank : This is Frank Dominguez for WDAV’s Piedmont Arts. On Wednesday, April 14 at 7:30 PM, the NoteWorthy concert series debuts on Facebook Live. It’s presented by WDAV in partnership with FAIR PLAY Music Equity [Initiative] and brings together gifted Black and brown artists from the Charlotte music scene with classical musicians for some genre-bending, community building music. The first concert in the series features singer-songwriter Arsena Schroeder with musical guests pianist Leonard Mark Lewis, violinist Lenora Cox Leggatt, and guitarist Chris Suter. All of them are joining me now via Zoom to talk about the concert. Welcome, everybody. Great to have you all here! Arsena, I'll start with you. Your music is influenced by R&B, pop, and folk, and it's been described as tackling topics of personal healing and empowerment. I’m curious about how you arrived at your sound in general and those particular themes. Arsena : That's a good question. Well, I actually started music kind of late in college. I had a friend who asked me to sing on a project of his, and I thought, “I don't sing.” That’s what I told him, and he said, “You do.” So, that was my first time writing and recording, and I fell in love with it. And then shortly after, I got a hold of Lauryn Hill's MTV Unplugged performance, and it was very ‘singer-songwriter’ - her, her guitar, and storytelling - and I thought, “Oh, if I can do it that way, then I do sing, and I can do music.” So, I kind of just pull from inspiration that is soulful, but still very simple and self-reflective in content. Frank : Mark, let me ask you about your work. You’re a composer as well as a pianist, and your works have been commissioned by orchestras such as the Charlotte Symphony. How did you get involved in this particular project, and what's the collaboration been like? Mark : I was super pumped, because initially I wasn't even going to be involved. I found out that I was going to be involved three hours before the first rehearsal. I was told, “Oh, you have to be at this rehearsal.” So I [thought], “Where’s a keyboard?” So I drove around trying to find a keyboard and drive to Arsena’s loft. I had heard her music before, and I probably got involved because I told the person in charge [of recruiting the classical artists], who happened to be my wife, “I love this music. I want to play with her.” And so, that’s probably how it happened. It’s been a wonderful experience. It’s so musical and lyrical and rhythmic and lush that it was easy - I just came in and did my thing, and [Arsena] was open to new ideas and all those things, and it’s been wonderful from start to finish. Frank : Lenora, let me ask you: you have ties to the Charlotte Symphony, too, as a violinist in the orchestra. Apart from the stylistic differences, how is working with Arsena in this concert different from the classical fare that you normally rehearse and perform? Lenora : I’m used to somebody writing my notes for me, and I work hard at that, and I’m good at that, so just having to go with my own instincts was a new experience. And it was really exciting and really fun and I really enjoyed it, mostly because Arsena just made it so easy and relaxed and she was open to any ideas I wanted to try, or not try, or just explore, and she just made it. Frank : Arsena, let me go back to you for a moment and ask if there was any kind of trepidation - especially now that I've learned that you came to music rather late in life - about heading into this project with classically trained musicians such as Mark and and Lenora. Arsena : Yeah, I mean, in the back of my mind, I’m like, “I don't know how this is going to work,” because we come from two different worlds. I come from the world of improv, just going with what feels good, just kind of playing it by ear, and then also just not having that formal training and being self-taught. And knowing from experience that it normally can take months or years for a band to gel well, I’m going to have to have chemistry, and so I think we kind of hit the jackpot and it worked. But I did think, “We’re really rolling the dice here. This could either go really good or really bad.” [laughs] Frank : Well, I saw a little bit of the rehearsal, so I can attest to the fact that it's going really well. Arsena : Yeah, it went really great. Frank : Chris, let me bring you in on this and ask how you came to work with Arsena. Chris : I’ve known Arsena for a few years now. She worked with a friend of mine on, I think, one of her earlier EPs, and then long story short, he kind of stepped out of the engineering game and recommended me. We talked and seemed to have a good rapport and seemed to work together, and it just kind of all fell into place from there. Frank : It sounds as if many of our listeners might be surprised at just what an active music scene there is in Charlotte. Chris : I think you have to maybe look for it a little bit, but once you do discover it, you can find that there's a pretty lush community of musicians and artists all kind of working to help each other out. I think because it is a little bit it - it can be a little bit of a struggle, so you kind of find that when you do discover and break your way into the music scene, that everyone is really, really open to helping each other out and working together. Frank : That's great to know. This next question is really for all of you. I'd be interested in your individual thoughts on this. Genres, such as classical or pop or R&B, are handy things for recording labels (and for radio stations, I’ll admit). But what do you, as musicians and creatives, think of that term, “genre”? Arsena, let’s start with you. Arsena : I hate it, because I want to play them all, but I do understand, having a business mind, that marketing-wise, it’s helpful for the audience to know if they're going to be drawn or attracted to what you create. But I mean, I pull from so many different aspects, and one song could be one genre, and another song can be another genre when you’re creating freely, so I don't necessarily care for that label. Frank : Mark, how about you? Mark : I agree with Arsena. Postmodernism is alive and well, and I don’t think there’s any one particular music that stands above another, and it’s all there for the exact same reason. Frank : Lenora? Lenora : I don’t mind it. I like the idea of blending genres more than anything. Composers have always borrowed from each other, and I think exploring and being open to new genres is important. I have students that I was telling them - well, somehow it came up that they don’t think a violin would go in a rock band, and I said, “Actually, I’m playing in a rock band next week.” [Arsena laughs] Lenora : They were so excited by that. And so I think exploring new genres is important, and I have experience with that, mostly because my husband’s a rock musician, and my son is 9 and he’s always showing me new things to listen to on YouTube. So it helps to explore. Frank : And Chris, what's your experience been with that term as a working musician here in town? Chris : It's kind of a love-hate relationship. I mean, it obviously works and it has its purpose, but one of the most frustrating things is when you're working on an original project and then someone asks you, “What kind of genre is it?,” and it's like, “I don't know, I haven't thought about it. Now let me try to force it into this box.” Into, “Oh, I guess it's rock, but it's also kind of pop,” and then it can give people the wrong or right idea. So it has its utility, but it definitely kind of forces you think in a weird way sometimes. Frank : Arsena, I’m going to give you the last word and ask you to tell me a little bit, or give the listeners a little bit of an expectation of what they can encounter when they tune in for this concert stream. What’s the program going to be like? Arsena : I feel relaxed. Kind of like Mark said, it’s pretty relaxed. I do some storytelling in between the songs. We’ve got some solos, everybody gets a little solo and a moment. I think it’s something that you might find interesting and pleasing to your ear, just because we’ve got the violin, which I’ve never had. Now I feel like I need violin on every single one of my songs moving forward, so Lenora, I’ll be hitting you up. And we’ve got Chris on electric, and I pulled Chris in because we’ve been playing together for years, and I felt like he could fill in some of the areas that I couldn’t. But I go from electric guitar to acoustic guitar to tambourine, Mark is on electric piano and grand piano, so we really get a really good palate of music for your ears, I think. Frank : That sounds very tempting, and I know hearing that, a lot of folks are going to be interested in checking it out. My guests have been the performers for the first virtual concert in the new NoteWorthy series from WDAV and FAIR PLAY Music Equity Initiative. Singer-songwriter Arsena Schroeder (whose latest release, [Unplugged+Live: Remixed & Remastered], is available for download at arsenamusic.com), pianist and composer Leonard Mark Lewis, violinist Lenora Cox Leggatt, and guitarist Chris Suter. The concert streams on Wednesday, April 14 at 7:30 PM, and you can get more information and find a link to the Facebook Live event at noteworthyclassical.org. Everybody, thanks so much for speaking with me! Arsena : Thank you for having us. Frank : For WDAV’s Piedmont Arts, I’m Frank Dominguez.

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