Chelsey Green is considered one of the best violin and viola players in the country.
This Saturday, she performs a free virtual concert with the Prince George’s Philharmonic at the state-of-the-art Prince George’s Community College at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s such a beautiful venue,” Green told WTOP. “I was very honored to perform their grand opening [in 2019]. … We were going to do a follow-up event with the Prince George’s Philharmonic … but that upcoming season just happened to be the pandemic. … We’re very excited to finally present this concert virtually.”
What can we expect to hear when we tune into the event?
“It is going to be a very eclectic set,” Green said. “We have some of my original songs that I’ve recorded, as well as some arrangements that our ensemble has recorded for previously-released projects. They all have string arrangements, so we can perform them with the orchestra. There’s a surprise tune or two in there as well, so we hope everybody can tune in.”
Born in Houston, Texas, Green grew up playing the violin at home and at church.
“I grew up with the instrument in my hand,” Green said. “In the womb, it was predetermined that when I popped out, I would be a violinist. I grew up in a family of musicians. … My mother really wanted a classical violinist to be in the bunch, so I started taking violin lessons when I was 4. … I would get on stage and play ‘Amazing Grace’ [and] I took my dad’s summer jazz workshop.”
At age 16, she performed at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“When I was playing, I was absolutely nervous,” Green said. “I was like, ‘You better not miss one note. You better stay focused on this fingerboard and nail every shift, nail every bow crossing,’ I was being really hard on myself. When I came off the stage, I was an absolute mess, just bawling like, ‘I can’t believe that just happened at such a historic place!'”
After graduating from the University of Texas in Austin, she moved to the D.C. region to get her master’s at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“Baltimore changed my life,” Green said. “My studies at Peabody transformed how I looked at being an artist completely and how I looked at developing my musicianship, far, far, far beyond just studying how to play the viola well. I would go to open mic, I would sit in with bands, and they would really push me to come out of the box, come out of the zone, it was just so much fun.”
She next got her doctorate at the University of Maryland in College Park.
“I was really in The Clarice [Performing Arts Center] all the time,” Green said. “I was playing with Northeast Groovers one night at the Go-Go Awards opening for Chuck Brown and he said, ‘Baby girl, if you can make that violin go-go, then we’ll have something to work with.’ … The vibrant live music scene on U Street was very transformative to my development as well.”
While founding her own ensemble, The Green Project, she also gave back to the world of academia by serving as Associate Professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“It’s been very fun,” Green said. “Berklee College of Music is truly the most diverse and contemporary music conservatory in the world today. These students are literally coming in studying how to be part of this industry their first day of school. We get to teach so many different varieties of styles and techniques. … I’ll tell you, they keep me on my toes!”
It’s a chance for her to give back to kids, because she was once in their shoes.
“It truly is such a blessing, especially as a young Black woman, to be able to be a professor in a string department at a music conservatory in America. … It’s certainly something that I am very honored to do. I feel like it is a responsibility to show up and be the best version of myself every single day from these students. I want students … to know that anything is possible.”
Performed on national television on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
“One of the biggest memories I have is how cold it was in that studio,” Green said. “It was freezing and you have to act very much like it is not and play your acoustic instrument with as much poise as possible. … Between takes, we’d hurry up and find somewhere to put our instrument down so we could rub our hands together to keep them as possible. … Adrenaline keeps you warm.”
Performed live at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards in 2020.
“That was such a watermark moment,” Green said. “That day, Kobe and his daughter and everyone on the plane had just unfortunately passed. It was that day and we were in the Staples Center performing with Lizzo. She was opening the show, so it was this incredible sense of heaviness that was felt throughout the arena. The only thing illuminated were his jerseys above.”
Through it all, she maintains her love for her instruments.
“It’s something about the warmth and tambour of the strings,” Green said. “The more I dug in, I said, ‘This [viola] sounds like my voice.’ It was this alto range, this more raspy situation. I was like, ‘I can get with this.’ When I was younger, my mother would help me from the bullies that would talk about the depth of my voice. … I always pray that I’m using my voice through my instrument.”