From the moment he took the stage virtually on Thursday, violist and entrepreneur Drew Forde worked to change misconceptions about classical music during his A.P.E.X. Lecture and Speaker Series presentation.
Though sitting comfortably in casual clothes and headphones in his room in Los Angeles, Forde, known to mainstream media as “That Viola Kid,” performed with his eyes shut on the edge of his seat as if on stage in the Great Hall at the Hunter Conference Center where the presentation was broadcast.
“I think the reason why a lot of people don’t love [classical music] is because it’s packaged terribly, and it’s marketed terribly. I think that if you look at modern media, things that do well are marketed better than the norm,” Forde explained.
He opened the presentation with Max Reger’s first movement from his viola suite in G minor, a lesser known work created exclusively for viola.
“I performed this piece during quarantine to raise awareness about Elijah McClain and his slaying, and a lot of the police brutality that’s been captured on film.” explained Forde. “This piece has been my refuge. This is how I’ve worked out a lot of those trials and tribulations.“
Elijah McClain was a 23-year-old Black man who died after being placed in a chokehold by police and being sedated by paramedics in Colorado in August 2019. As an African American who grew up in Georgia, McClain’s death hit home for Forde.
At 12 years old Forde began playing the viola and has used the instrument as an emotional outlet throughout his life. He has worked to bring attention to the instrument’s distinction from the violin, which is roughly four inches smaller and has a different sound.
Though he went on to solo with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra during his senior year of high school, Forde also shared his struggle of getting through school with the socially distant audience.
“A lot of people really don’t know about the type of person I was or my upbringing or my experience with classical music while growing up,” Forde shared. “It was rough. I always felt like I was behind, then I got to college barely. I had a teacher kick me out of her studio before I auditioned for college.”
As he worked through high school with aspirations to attend The Juilliard School, a private performing arts conservatory in New York City, he realized that stories and connection are vital to a career in music.
Forde started using the hashtag #journeytoJulliard to document all of the rehearsals, stage fright, good and bad auditions, and even his first experiences with snow on his journey in musical education. He continued to post about his journey after being accepted and throughout the two-year program until his graduation in 2016.
After receiving his masters degree in music from Julliard, he set out to use social media to “demystify” classical music and broaden its audience.
The prevalent perception about classical music is that it’s boring and primitive, and played only in stuffy concert hall settings. Forde uses his Youtube channel, social media posts and a podcast to change that marketing.
He works to highlight the connection between classical and contemporary music, adopting the moniker “That Viola Kid.” He also uses these channels to help tutor and inspire young musicians to pursue a normally discouraged career in the music industry, setting the example with his own.
In classical settings, he is a chamber musician, orchestral player and soloist, but he also has a presence in the world of contemporary artists. Forde has shared the stage with numerous stars like Alicia Keys, Camila Cabello, Lindsey Sterling, Evanescence, and Josh Groban, among others.
He has also performed on several big budget video game soundtracks and his own studio releases.
“There’s something about the honesty and the authenticity from which you produce and show your content that really connects to your audiences and that has brought new people to classical music,” said moderator Lynn Vartan, professor of music and A.P.E.X. event series director.
Sophomore audience member Samantha Harker agreed, saying that Forde’s passion for music and life was the first thing she noticed.
“His passion for what he does is contagious,” Harker said. “I loved how he talked about how life and music are the same thing because I deeply love music too so I really connected with that. “
Forde encouraged the audience to undergo a “mindshift,” or to embrace the responsibility and potential that comes with unique trials such as the COVID-19 pandemic. He also spoke about how this change of attitude can help set young people up for their future.
“For me, my mindshift changed when I realized that it was completely my responsibility to build my audience and nobody else’s, mine alone, which required that I get a little bit better,” Forde said.
To learn more about Forde and how he is redefining classical music, visit his Youtube channel, Facebook or Instagram. His podcast, “Faking Notes Podcast,” is also available on Apple Music and Spotify.
A.P.E.X. events take place every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. For more information on upcoming events, visit the A.P.E.X. website.
Story By: Larissa Beatty
Instrument photo courtesy of unsplash.com