SALT LAKE CITY — While standing in an elevator, a woman struck up a conversation with Kevin Sylvester, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound black violinist.
Noticing Sylvester’s violin case, she asked him, “What do you play?”
The violinist told NPR his response was simple: “I’m a violinist.”
"And she was like, 'Well, obviously you don't play classical, so what kind of style do you play?” Sylvester said.
In the interview with NPR, Sylvester, who has a degree in classical music, said he went on to tell the woman that he plays all kinds of styles.
"She didn't mean it maliciously, but I hope she gets to see us in concert and we can change her perception," he said.
Sylvester is one-half of the Florida-based hip-hop duo Black Violin, a duo that will perform at Logan's Ellen Eccles Theatre Monday, Feb. 26, and Kingsbury Hall Tuesday, Feb. 27. The other half of that duo, classically trained violist Wilner Baptiste, shared with the Deseret News how Black Violin continually strives to change people’s perceptions of the classical music world.
Baptiste and Sylvester met in high school, as viola stand partners during their second period orchestra class. Both classically trained musicians, the pair occasionally dabbled with hip-hop music, but it wasn’t until after college that the friends got together and began to explore the possibilities of blending classical music and hip-hop and performing it on a regular basis.
In the early 2000s, the two took their music to an unlikely venue: night clubs throughout Miami.
“We would literally go to clubs and what would happen, we’d put together an 8-10 minute long medley of songs on the radio, give the CD to the DJ, he plays it and the next thing you know, while you’re dancing and having a good time, you’re hearing violins in the speakers and we’re walking around playing violins.”
Baptiste said the idea of two black guys playing violin in a club can sound “ridiculous” to many people — especially in the early 2000s, when Twitter and other social media platforms weren’t around for posting videos and spreading the word.
"Back then, it was definitely like, 'Get these violins away from me,’” he said. “But once (people) hear what you’re talking about and they see it, then they understand.”
The name Black Violin was inspired by the American jazz violinist Stuff Smith, whose album titled “Black Violin” fell into the hands of Sylvester during his first semester in college.
“It really inspired him. He’d never really heard anything like it before and he sent it to me and I was amazed by it as well,” Baptiste said. “That album really inspired us and it continues to do the same thing to this day.”
Since forming Black Violin, Baptiste and Sylvester have continued to expand their musical styles, and the pair hope that their Utah audiences will “come with an open mind, open eyes and ears and expect the unexpected.”
“People just don’t assume that what’s in your case is a violin,” Baptiste said. “I mean, they’ll literally guess anything else. And even when you tell them, they’re assuming the way that you look that you can’t possibly be classically trained. But it happens. One of our main goals when we perform is to kind of break that stereotype, to show people that, ‘Listen, it doesn’t matter how you look. You can be and do anything.’”
If you go …
What: Black Violin
When: Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 27, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Feb. 26, Ellen Eccles Theatre, 43 S. Main, Logan; Feb. 27, Kingsbury Hall, 1395 Presidents Circle
How much: Feb. 26, $30; Feb. 27, $20-$35
Web: Feb. 26, cachearts.org; Feb. 27, tickets.utah.edu