When most people think of a night out at the orchestra, they likely envision a nearly-silent audience taking in classical tunes with brief periods of applause.
But three things are significantly different about an upcoming orchestral show at Knight Theater: the music selection is hip hop and R&B, the crowd is encouraged to dance and sing along, and every member of the orchestra is Black.
Orchestra Noir is an all-Black music ensemble that plays hip hop, r&b and their renditions of popular music. The group’s Y2k Meets 90s Vibe show is set to come to Knight Theater in Uptown Charlotte on Saturday, Aug. 19.
Founder and CEO of Orchestra Noir, Jason Ikeem Rogers, 40, told QCity Metro the show will be one of the orchestra’s best yet, and having it in Charlotte is a “full circle moment” for him.
Adding something to culture
Rogers, a Philadelphia-native, was a music teacher in his hometown when he decided to move to Altanta in hopes of growing his career.
“I wanted to conduct professionally. I wanted to take my career to the next level,” he said. “So I chose the Black Hollywood.”
Rogers said he chose Atlanta because it was known to be full of opportunities for Black creatives.
There, Rogers said he saw the city’s strong Black culture and wanted to be part of it. “I wanted to add something to it.”
And in 2016, Orchestra Noir was born with ten musicians, made up of violins and cellos.
He chose to have the orchestra be made up of Black musicians exclusively because he wanted to make music with people who look like him, something that he said rare in the music style.
He also wanted Black children, like his former students, to think about career paths in orchestra and be able to see themselves in the form.
Rogers said they chose hip hop and R&B because he says the music “deserves the pomp and circumstance” associated with classical music.
“Orchestra is a white, western form of art. It was born in Europe and a lot of times, we don’t have representation on orchestral stages. I want our music to be on those stages too,” he said.
Rogers, who also serves as musical director of the orchestra, has what he calls an “unorthodox” conducting style, with lots of dancing and nontraditional cues to the instrumentalists.
And unlike traditional orchestral performances, the audience is encouraged to interact with the music. Roger enjoys seeing people in the crowd show their engagement.
“You’re gonna be moving and tapping your feet, bobbing your head; you might even stand up, dance in the aisle,” he said when asked what attending the show might be like.
A Charlotte start
In 2019, at McGlohon Theatre, Orchestra Noir performs its first hip hop show for an audience of around 700 people, Rogers said. The group was brought to Charotte through a local event promotion company called Sol Kitchen.
“Charlotte was the first city that actually received the concert,” he said. “[That first performance] was crucial in the evolution of Orchestra Noir.”
Rogers said one of the things he remembers most about that performance is when the orchestra played their rendition of Juvenile’s “Back that Azz Up,” widely considered a classic in hip hop. He said the crowd “went wild.”
The positive feedback in Charlotte let Rogers know that people enjoyed the experience and connected with it. It was affirmation that Orchestra Noir was on the right track.
“And it’s been popular ever since,” he said. “People started to hear about us and started to call on us.”
The now 50-piece ensemble has been able to work with artists like the Migos, 112, 2 Chainz and Rick Ross. Rogers and Orchestra Noir have also been featured in national media like BET, NPR, Vogue and Complex Magazine.
“It just really took off beyond our wildest dreams and Charlotte has a lot to do with that because its where we performed our first hip hop concert and they showed love.”
Showing the growth
Rogers said he’s excited to show the ensemble’s growth and hopes to wow the Charlotte crowd at Knight Theater.
He said there’s more comradery among the orchestra now, they’re more experienced and they have more confidence.
He also said they have more “swag.”
“I’m most excited about coming back to Charlotte to show how we’ve evolved,” he told QCity Metro.
“We were still figuring it out [in 2019], but we can stand on what we’re doing now and we’re strong. I’m ready to show the new Orchestra Noir.”
If you go:
When: Saturday, Aug. 19
Where: Knight Theater, Uptown Charlotte
Cost: Tickets start at $49