Classical Revolution Detroit

by Rick Robinson


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I’ve been a bassist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra since 1989. With this position and being African-American, I had hoped to be a catalyst for helping our orchestra to connect deeply with the wider Detroit community. In 1995 I began reaching out independently, arranging famous symphonic works for a mixed octet. CutTime Players was increasingly popular with local presenters and schools because of its virtuosity, variety, flexibility and intimacy.

Eventually I began composing emotional works in tonal, romantic styles for a string sextet I call CutTime Simfonica. Many of these works organically fold in some urban pop for a style I call Classical Soul. During this development I discovered how new audiences were more inspired when we introduced the works in any kind of personal manner. They also enjoyed watching music performed very closely. I was able to experiment much more when I launched a chapter of the Classical Revolution movement in Detroit (CRD) in 2010.

Classical Revolution began in San Francisco in 2006 with conservatory students playing for fun in a nearby coffeehouse, the Revolution Café. They soon extended this novel vibe into the prevailing young adult culture in bars, clubs and restaurants around the city. This idea of taking classical OFF the pedestal of the concert halls to face popular culture inspired another 35 chapters worldwide so far. Statewide smoking bans have helped make this possible too.

Now I've resigned from DSO to complete my vision for change in the classical music industry. The tough economic challenges we face also present tremendous opportunities for artistic reinvention and partnerships for true community relevance. My art has shifted from the art itself to the audience I’d like to see enjoying orchestra concerts. I learned that we’re not in the music business, but in the inspiration business THROUGH music! Setting a context that speaks to all is as artistic as any performance.

With Classical Revolution Detroit, I've gone some steps further, proving how we can touch the lives of a broader community through chamber music when offered with personal insights, interactions and a broad variety. I call this presentation style New Classical. My 100 CutTime arrangements and funky compositions fit neatly within this, introducing lively music in smokeless bars and clubs where regular folk love to discover music with friends, food, drink and conversation. An amplification system with good acoustic mics means people can talk but still hear.

Classical Revolution is no panacea. We serve small audiences (so far) in a noisy setting. Yet it brings balance to an industry deserving new listeners and broad public support. Everyone deserves beautiful music. And by going underground to serve the masses, by wetting the appetite of a much broader community, by clueing in curious music lovers, by countering exclusivity with inclusivity, by welcoming people who come as they are, this small revolution will cause some to start buying tickets to concerts, enroll their kids in music and speak positively about classical.

The scale of fees for professional classical musicians is much higher than rock and jazz musicians. Although the series is growing thanks to a Detroit News video, while we build new audiences, clubs can't possibly afford classical musicians. Funding this project will expand Classical Revolution Detroit to 4 monthly events with 12 paid musicians for CutTime ensembles, guest ensembles and solo performers while keeping the costs neutral or free to deserving clubs and their patrons. Your donations will also pay for some advertising, management time, hosting and amp system rental.

Please help me bring about a new future where people discover art music in the same place they discover popular music. It's time we cut loose with the classical!

    • February 07, 2013 Rick Robinson Artist

      Dear Friends... I want to THANK you again for supporting the expansion of CRD. Sadly my campaign efforts seems to have failed... but at least you'll receive a refund. I will certainly try again and in other ways, such as searching for non-profit fiscal partnerships to apply for grants to impact the lives of curious new audiences. In the meantime I'll keep running a once or twice a month series voluntarily in Detroit, as I did last night. I seem to be picking up a new market in Grand Rapids. Check out this great story that came out today: Be sure to keep in touch with CutTime and CRD by signing up for the newletter at or following me here at USA Projects. My thanks to USA Projects for providing this platform and other wonderful artist tools which I still clearly need to master! Your feedback here is certainly appreciated.

    • January 31, 2013 Rick Robinson Artist

      CRD exported out to Grand Rapids, MI last night... principally because I've been subbing this week with the Grand Rapids Symphony to play video games music then Bruckner's 7th Symphony! I had set up an impromptu public reading session with GRS musicians last July 31 and musicians asked me last month when we might do it again so I set up last night's event at an easier location load in music stands, lights, music, bass and amp system. We started with Beethoven and Mozart trios with the four musicians on hand. When another violinist arrived we went to my CutTime quartet book of symphonic adaptations and my compositions Pork 'n Beans and City of Trees. Then we had duos of Mozart and the famous (and rehearsed!) Handel-Halverson Passacaglia. Finally, because we had a flute, clarinet and bassoon, I pulled out some CutTime Players adaptations of Bizet's Carmen suite, then slow movements to Beethoven's 7th Symphony (The King's Speech) and Mahler's 1st Symphony. I love most performing HARDCORE symphony rep in a noisy bar. Many find themselves drawn into the long, climactic drama of this music without knowing why! It is my pleasure then to point out how we project our lives onto such rare and timeless music... often at the same time we're discovering some pattern to it. Lawrence Kramer put it that "we create meaning at the same time we discover meaning in the music." This is why Classical Revolution needs to expand... it "brings BALANCE to the force" of classical music. Next CRD is Feb. 5 in Detroit 8p-11 at the Cadieux Cafe.

    • January 28, 2013 Rick Robinson Artist

      After traveling to New York, Chicago and Grand Rapids, MI the last three weeks, I can tell you momentum is BUILDING for Classical Revolution! A great many people interested in classical and not want to see new segments of our communities discover the beauty and empowerment this music offers. Sadly, I am a much better artist than a fundraiser. I tell everyone I meet about CRD and the campaign to expand it, mixing it into my social media channels as well once a week. With 9 days left it's time to step up my game... and this is where YOU come in. You who have donated can mention this to three friends along with WHY you did. You can also mention the article on CRD I wrote for SYMPHONY magazine found at this link: Please help me put your generous donations to good use!

    • January 16, 2013 Rick Robinson Artist

      Very sorry for the difficulties John! I'm having someone look into it and will report back here when it is solved. Thanks for letting me know and for your TENACITY... which is what it takes to do something special. I'm in New York City this week, meeting concert presenters from around the country. And they are all pleasantly surprised to learn about CR and how it might help them increase sales to their classical events over the long term. My main mission however is to show curious music lovers how it can help THEM in the short term to find peace, happiness and empowerment. We are in the INSPIRATION business!

    • January 15, 2013 John Gamble Community Member

      I've tried to contribute on two separate occasions. Unfortunately the process hangs on the processing payment part. Is this a known problem at the hosting web site?

    • January 08, 2013 Rick Robinson Artist

      With generous support starting to roll in, I want to ask you to send a link of this page to at least three friends. And they needed be friends who are patrons of classical music. Rather send this to friends who love cool music and would pay a few bucks to see something really unusual like casual classical in a club setting. That's who this is for! The time is NOW to make this take off... but we can't do it without the help of the community-at-large. Thanks!

    • December 30, 2012 Rick Robinson Artist

      Happy New Year everyone! I'm certainly looking forward to the potential of 2013 to be breakthrough year for classical music to meet new listeners where they live. Here's my latest newsletter, to which I hope you'll consider subscribing: I was subbing with the Grand Rapids Symphony recently and a few musicians asked me to set up another Classical Revolution event like we did in late July. It's wonderful when players realize we can make an impact while enjoying ourselves. Saturating the market however takes rolling up the sleeves and offering musicians at least a token wage to guarantee good participation.

    • December 16, 2012 Rick Robinson Artist

      Having launched this campaign last week, I set up a CRD event for tonight. Of course, none could've predicted the dramatic shift in mood across the country with the unthinkable tragedy in Newtown, CT. Indeed, the news broke while taping a performance and interview on Michigan Radio with violinist and conductor John McLaughlin Williams who is playing 1st violin in the picture above. You can hear and watch them at Consequently, our goal tonight is to pay tributes to the victims with Beethoven whose birthdays (yes, he has today and tomorrow!) launched CRD two years ago. Classical music is beautifully suited for tributes because of its many profound, sustained and transformative masterpieces that renew our determination to make sense of tragedy and learn from them. Even the most jaded hearts will join the chorus of souls searching for meaning in the face of such an enigmatic travesty. And dramatic instrumental music is here to give poetic voice to thoughts impossible to articulate. We're not expecting a large turnout of musicians. As a volunteer effort, only 6 musicians have registered with me. We have piano, bass, flute, clarinet, a trumpet or two. I'm working with my software to adapt my quartet book to the instrumentalists coming; mainly converting the viola parts to the appropriate clarinet (A or Bb). We'll have alot of solo works by piano alone (Beethoven Pathetique and Moonlight Sonata slow movements, Fur Elise). As well as solo flute or clarinet works with piano. The point with CRD is to be adaptive, flexible, even impromptu... as if to counter the year-in-advance stiffness and higher-than-thou standards of the classical industry. A little bit of "anything goes" connects new audiences to what is genuine, what is REAL about classical music. If you will help us fund this series, we can guarantee a great turnout of musicians for our growing audience.