Whether it is the sound of a truck passing, the ding of an elevator reaching its destination or the way a computer beeps to alert for incoming messages, Chelsey Green hears melodies in everything. Often, she will grab her phone and use an app to record her counting beats and time signatures, so she can remember the melodies and rhythms when she gets to her violin and viola.
“My phone memory is always full,” she said. “But I can’t delete anything. I get inspiration all the time.”
Green is driven to make music through a desire to reveal her voice. “I feel like I have a perspective and a message that I want to share through my music,” she said. “That alone is the initial inspiration to say ‘How can I communicate this message creatively? How can this come out?’ Honestly, everything inspires me.”
Growing up in Houston, Texas, Green was surrounded by jazz and funk musicians. Her father is a percussionist and served as a band director for more than 30 years. Her uncle and grandfather played the saxophone and her grandmother was a classical vocalist. “Music was in the blood,” she said.
Playing the violin was not her decision. “When I was born, my mother said, ‘She should be a violinist,'” Green said. “Once they introduced me to the violin (at age 5), there was no turning back.”
Her father frequently would introduce her to the music of artists that featured strings in their work including Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock. “It was a way to show me violin is not just classical. There are so many other ways to reach people,” she recalls.
Although she was exposed to all kinds of music genres, Green focused on classical music while attending public and private performing arts schools in the Houston area. Earning a scholarship in classical viola studies, she graduated summa cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin. She went on to earn a master’s degree in viola performance at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Conservatory and a doctorate in musical arts from the University of Maryland (UMD).
During her time in Baltimore, Green wandered into an open mic night, took out her viola and started playing with the DJ. The establishment’s owner came out of the kitchen and asked if she had a band. She didn’t, but he asked her to bring one with her and perform a set the coming weekend. Thus, nearly a decade ago, Chelsey Green and The Green Project (TGP) was born. “We solidified a unit that I am grateful has been together so long,” she said.
As artists in residence at Strathmore during the 2010-2011 season, Green and TGP began a series of educational performance-based workshops. TGP– EduOutreach, continues to go into schools across the region, including Montgomery County. “We have really been able to work with a lot of different communities, a lot of different cultures,” she said. “I think it says so much about music. It is its own power really.”
In a session known as “From Baroque to Beyoncé,” Green and the band talk to students about what improvisation is and how we use it in everyday life, even those who are non-musicians. They also discuss how to write and arrange songs along with performing contemporary songs to show how they relate back to early forms of jazz, classical and baroque music.
“One of my primary missions is (that) while technology is really burgeoning, I think it is important for our youth to know that people still play real instruments,” she said. “There is a quality of live music that you can never duplicate with computers alone. I am not saying computers are not a vital part to making that work, and you can even incorporate a lot of technology into live performances, which is very cool, very innovative and very forward thinking, (but) there is something to picking up an actual instrument and learning that discipline.”
“Discipline,” she continued, “allows us to be focused and being really focused allows us to be successful in any career we wish to pursue. Part of my goal is to get them learning about music through history and how it has developed but also how music can enhance and enrich their everyday lives–whether or not they are actual musicians themselves.”
For her efforts, Green received the Outstanding Artist Award during the County Executive’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities in November. She said she was completely shocked when she got a call from Catherine Leggett telling her she had been selected. “My mind was completely blown,” she said. “I am so grateful and so humbled because there are so many artists doing so much for the community, especially in Montgomery County, really, all over Maryland. To even be considered was an honor, so to win was that just more phenomenal.”
In August, Green was named a full-time associate professor of strings at UMD’s Berklee College of Music, where she teaches private lessons and classes on contemporary string arranging and independent artist career management. Her teaching style comes from her personal experiences.
“I know all my students have different goals they want to pursue professionally, and what I always try to remind them is my advice about plans — ‘All we can do is plan to make a plan’ — because plans continuously change,” she said. “This person’s path is not going to be your personal path. You need to make yourself prepared in a way that you are able to handle many different situations at a very high level, so you can pursue anything that may come in the interim.
“You don’t know how that will change or alter your personal goal. I just try to make sure they are as prepared as they can be to pursue (a career in) the music industry. It is such a big field and there are so many options. I just want to give them wings to fly.”
When people come to her shows, Green hopes the music resonates in some way that makes them feel emotionally connected. “If it makes you feel anything, then I feel like my message has been achieved and communicated because I feel like especially right now, we need feelings back in this world,” she said. “We need people to be emotionally connected in a new way, in a deeper way.”
Chelsey Green and The Green Project will perform “Intimate Interludes: Valentine’s Day” from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 14, at Alfio’s La Trattoria, 4515 Willard Ave., Chevy Chase. Tickets—$40 in advance, $50 at the door (doors open at 6:30 p.m.)—are available online at www.jazzknights.com. Call 301-657-9133.