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Crain’s Detroit Business: A different chamber for music: Piquette Plant

By Sherri Welch.

The factory where Henry Ford first built Model T’s will host a concert by the Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings. Come April, the sound of a horn once again will reverberate through Detroit’s historic Piquette Avenue Plant.

The Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings plans to break from its routine of performing at suburban churches with a new series beginning April 1 at the birthplace of Henry Ford’s Motel T. The Piquette Plant performance will set the tone for “Structurally Sound,” a series that will feature Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings ensembles performing at architecturally interesting buildings, with music programmed especially for the site and spoken presentations that highlight the significance of the space.

In 2000, the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex Inc. acquired the plant with a mission to preserve it. The Detroit Chamber Winds plans one concert as part of the series this year and two additional performances at yet-to-be-determined sites in the coming year. A $68,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan to support programs around the Detroit Chamber Winds’ 30th anniversary season will
cover the estimated $5,000 cost of the first performance, said Maury Okun, executive
director of the Detroit Chamber Winds, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival and
Eisenhower Dance. But Detroit Chamber Winds, which is operating on a budget of about $800,000 this year, continues to seek sponsors for each performance.
Historically, the organization has focused its performances on suburban religious institutions like Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church or St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic Church in Bloomfield Hills, Okun said.

“While we want to continue those relationships, we also know there’s a significant and growing urban audience we want to reach,” he said. “In order for us to play a role in the next generation of the community, we have to keep stretching ourselves.”

Detroit Chamber Winds reported total revenue of $832,665 for fiscal 2011 ended July 31, with net assets of just under $390,000 at year’s end. The Piquette Plant performance will include music specially programmed for the building and the early 1900s when the plant hummed with production of the first Ford Motor Co. vehicles, and later the Studebaker Corp. Detroit Chamber Winds trombonist David Jackson will perform contemporary composer Adolphus Hailstork’s “John Henry’s Big” (Man vs. Machine), accompanied by a pianist.

A University of Michigan music professor, Jackson will bring some of his music students to perform with Detroit Chamber Winds musicians. Music from the early 1900s will comprise a second part of the concert, and 15-20 musicians will perform from different points in the plant to take advantage of the building’s acoustic properties. Wayne State University’s Irvin D. Reid Honors College and its dean, Jerry Herron, worked with Detroit
Chamber Winds on the concept for the performance. Herron will speak about the plant’s background and the early 1900s. He will bring more than 300 students
and about 30 WSU faculty and staff members. That leaves 100 additional tickets, at $10-$35, for sale through Detroit Chamber Winds’ website at

“Most young people have been to rock concerts, a symphony or a jazz concert,” Herron said, “but it’s not as likely they’ve heard chamber music.

“Structurally Sound” is just one example of a classical music group going into the community to attract new audiences.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has expanded its community programming with the new musicians contract put in place last spring. Through its Neighborhood Concert Series, the DSO is taking its performances to the suburbs, performing at venues like the Seligman Performing Arts Center at Detroit Country Day School in Beverly Hills, Kirk in the Hills, Grosse Pointe Memorial Church, Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield and Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.

The DSO said in January that it increased the number of donors to the symphony by 28 percent during its most recent annual fundraising campaign, which took place during the last quarter of 2011, and it generated more than $1 million in new or increased giving. By January, four months into its yearlong fundraising drive, the organization had raised $6.4 million of a $12 million goal for 2011-12.

In a similar bid to attract new audiences, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit launched a free series at the Novi Public Library this month. The society has performed almost exclusively at the Seligman Performing Arts Center. The audience that typically comes to the Chamber Music Society’s concerts is not getting any younger, President Steve
Wogaman told Crain’s earlier this month.

“They are incredibly passionate and committed, but we have to look … to the next generation of listeners.”

The society, which operates on an annual budget of about $750,000, isn’t “mining for donors in Novi,” but it is looking to attract new listeners to its concerts from that area, he said. Its new series includes shorter, informal and interactive performances and presentations that include things like taking apart a piano. A fourth, longer presentation, scheduled for late May will take place at Novi High School across from the library. Prior to the performance, the Chamber Music Society plans to set up a musical instrument “petting zoo” at the library to introduce children — and anyone else who is interested — to a variety of classical instruments.

Sherri Welch: (313) 446-1694, Twitter: @sherriwelch