Music from the East End of the District of Columbia generally involves go-go, hip-hop, rhythm and blues and for the older crowd, disco and jazz.
However, while Andrew Lee, the artistic director and founder of DC Strings Workshop has no problems with the genres mentioned above, he wants residents east of the Anacostia River and other under-served areas in the District and the metropolitan area to consider classical musical as a part of their preferences.
“We want to bring classical music to all parts of the city,” Lee said. “Everyone should have the chance to enjoy classical music and what it has to offer.”
Classical music consists of pieces performed by groups of people playing musical instruments such as violins, violas, basses and harps with musicians playing clarinets, flutes, trumpets, drums, trombones and tubas in orchestras. The music tends to be softer and slower than modern genres and the musicians of various instruments play a piece of music together but often not the same notes.
Classical music can trace its roots to Europe in the late 18th century as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the defining composer of the art form, popularized it with concerts for mainly the elite. People of African descent such as Britain’s George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (who interacted with composer great Beethoven), Frenchman Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint Georges, another Brit Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Americans Florence B. Price, William Grant Still and George Walker made contributions and gained distinction as the finest in their fields whether as musicians and composers.
The two main symphony orchestras operating in the District are the National Symphony Orchestra based in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Capital City Symphony which focuses more on the local level.
Lee recognizes that many residents in the East End cannot pay to see symphonies so DC Strings Workshop fills the gap.
“At DC Strings, we have a dedicated group of musicians who participate in community concerts and performances and we do paid performances for churches, schools, corporate events and local government agencies,” Lee said. “Some of our musicians have degrees in music and teach music in local area school systems.”
Lee stresses that his organization has amateur musicians as well as professionals. He emphasized that the type of music they play in East End venues are at a high level.
An example of a DC Strings Workshop production took place on May 4 at the St. Phillip the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Southeast, Ward 8. The performance consisted of the Messiah Chamber Orchestra and the National United Methodist Church Festival Choir (co-producer) and it featured “Requiem”, a series of songs by German composer Johannes Brahms, who lived during the 19th century.
Thirty people came to the performance that started with two pieces by Los Angeles-based arranger Shawn Kirchner, “Bright Morning Stars” and “Unclouded Day” and one, “Book of Stars” by Norwegian composer and pianist Ola Gjeilo.
The “Requiem” portion of the program consisted of seven individual pieces in which baritone Austin Vitaliano and soprano Sarah Heisler performed in at one point.
Lee has an extensive background in the classical music arena. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music and political science from Furman University and has performed at the White House, George Washington’s Masonic Temple and Carnegie Hall.
Lee has been extensively involved with the “Colour of Music” Festival in Charleston, S.C., and Ray Chew’s “Night of Inspiration” at Carnegie Hall where he worked with such noted vocalists as Yolanda Adams, Dionne Warwick and Shirley Caesar.
Lee said he wants people, particularly youngsters and young adults, who live in the East End to appreciate classical music just as much as other genres.
“Classical music can open doors,” he said. “So many kids don’t get the chance to hear this music. Playing classical music, kids can get music scholarships to college and travel around the world.”
Lee noted that young people who live in Montgomery County, Md., and Alexandria, Va., “get the opportunities for scholarships and travel and kids in D.C. should too.”
He noted that DC Strings Workshops holds a concert during the Christmas season that draws up to 500 people and has other performances throughout the year in the city.
Recently, the DC Strings Workshop requested an appropriation of $300,000 from the D.C. Council to purchase instruments. Lee said his organization didn’t get in the 2020 budget cycle and will try again next year.
“It’s unfortunate that the city will fund a dog park for $1.4 million and cannot give us $300,000 out of a $15.6 billion budget for instruments,” he said.