Three Venues Collaborate to bring Black Violin into Local Classrooms

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Three area performing arts venues have come together to provide a free virtual ‘field trip’ for local students. The School of the Performing Arts at Proctors Collaborative, Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Troy Savings Bank Music Hall are bringing Black Violin into classrooms of all grade levels so students may experience artists who fuse traditional and contemporary genres while upending perceptions of what it means to be a classical musician.  

Capital Region teachers who register may stream the Impossible Tour by classical-meets-hip-hop duo Black Violin for students from Feb. 22 through April 2. Black Violin is led by classically trained string players Wil Baptiste (viola) and Kev Marcus (violin); joining them are DJ SPS and drummer Nat Stokes. The group uses their unique blend of classical and hip-hop music, often described as “classical boom,” to overcome stereotypes and encourage people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds to join together to break down cultural barriers.  

The partnership between Proctors Collaborative, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and Troy Savings Bank Music Hall is a powerful statement during these unprecedented times.  

“Teachers have been given the enormous and challenging task of teaching their students in person and, or virtually at the ready,” says Christine Sheehan, Director of Education at Proctors Collaborative. “Arts education has suffered during the pandemic. Tens of thousands of students would have visited any one of our venues for educational programming during this school year. Opportunities such Black Violin can straddle the disconnect of social distancing, support wellness and foster creative development and critical thinking.” 

“SPAC is proud to be working with our colleagues at Troy Music Hall and Proctors on bringing Black Violin back to the Capital Region, this time virtually” says Saratoga Performing Arts Center President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol. “I had the privilege of working with Kev and Will when I was at Universal and we signed them to the label. At SPAC, Black Violin were one of the first bands we contracted to appear on our brand-new SPAC on Stage series and they returned a year later for education events. Their talent, spirit and message are powerful and meaningful, even more so now than ever: they open hearts and help break down stereotypes.” 

For 16 years, Black Violin members Marcus and Baptiste have merged string arrangements with modern beats and vocals. The two met in orchestra class at Dillard High School in Ft. Lauderdale, becoming classically trained on the violin and viola through their high school and college careers. Post-college, they reconvened to produce beats for South Florida rappers, and began building an audience in local clubs. They later went on to win Showtime at the Apollo in 2005, and eventually sold out headline performances at venues across the country, including a sold out two-night headline run at The Kennedy Center in 2018. Their unique brand of merging the genre they were listening to (hip hop) with the world they were studying (classical) was celebrated with collaborations with Alicia Keys, Wu Tang Clan, 2 Chainz and others. NPR took note and declared “their music will keep classical music alive for the next generation.” UPROXX also featured Black Violin in a mini-documentary as part of their “Uncharted” series, watch the video HERE

Many of the group’s over 200 performances annually are for low-income students in urban communities. They aim to challenge stereotypes and preconceived notions of what a “classical musician” looks and sounds like.  “The stereotypes are always there, embedded so deep in our culture,” says Baptiste. “Just by nature of our existence we challenge those ideas. It’s a unique thing that brings people together who aren’t usually in the same room, and in the current climate, it’s good to bring people together.”  

Capital Region teachers can register for this virtual streaming event beginning January 5 at https://school.proctors.org/blackviolin/ Educators who register will receive a study guide and a unique link and access code prior to the event going live.  

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