Cleveland Orchestra makes itself 'At Home' in Slavic Village

By the midpoint of the Cleveland Orchestra’s Sunday Funday event earlier this month, Anthony Trzaska concisely declared what one of the city’s most treasured organizations made so apparent during the free event.
“They have perfected everything,” Trzaska, founder of Sonny Day Development, said following two free Orchestra ensemble concerts at the Slovenian National Home, affectionately known around Slavic Village and beyond as the Nash on East 80th.
The variance of the Orchestra’s capabilities were on full display that day, about a month into the Orchestra’s “At Home in Broadway Slavic Village” residency. First, a seven-member chamber ensemble wowed an intimate crowd with performances of 200-year-old pieces from the likes of Franz Schubert. An hour later, people danced, laughed and munched on nachos as an orchestral Bluegrass ensemble played banjos and fiddles downstairs in a dimly lit lounge adjacent to the Nash’s historic bowling lanes.
The first ensemble sounded as at home bringing new life to a Camille Saint-Saëns work as the second did in assuring the crowd that it could “take the finest music in the world and make it sound hillbilly.”
The wonders of that adaptability have been flowing throughout Slavic Village schools, churches and social clubs this spring as the Orchestra embarked on its third annual Neighborhood Residency program. The residency, which continues through May, is an amalgamation of free concerts, community service efforts, educational collaborations in local schools and health and wellness events over a three-month period.
“I love it,” area resident Joe Meadows said after the Bluegrass ensemble wrapped up its Sunday Funday set. “To be able to come and take advantage of having a world-class orchestra and not have to get all dressed up and be fancy is great.”
The effort to integrate the Orchestra into individual Cleveland-area communities began in 2013 in Gordon Square, followed by Lakewood, but the Slavic Village edition is much longer. Seven free concerts remain, including appearances at the Boys & Girls Club on Broadway on May 1, and late-May dates at St. Stanislaus and Our Lady of Lourdes churches.
“We have a lot of fun doing it,” Scott Haigh, an Orchestra bass player, said of the residency. “We’re trying to make ourselves more accessible as human beings and to excite younger people and older people about what we do and why we love what we do.
“I’ve never been here, and I love it. I love the people here, they’re warm and they seem so appreciative.”
The residency program is at the heart of the Orchestra’s desire to one day secure the nation’s youngest audience. The organization hopes specialized programming and interaction in the very communities of potential supporters will go a long way toward creating last relationships as the Orchestra looks to its centennial celebration in 2018.
“We’re also learning about neighborhoods in Cleveland, and can’t do that by sitting on the stage at Severance Hall,” said Joan Katz Napoli, the Orchestra’s director of Education and Community Programs.
‘For the Neighborhood’
The Cleveland Orchestra began settling on Slavic Village as the home of its 2015 residency nearly a year ago. Through various visits and meetings with entities like Slavic Village Development Corporation, the Orchestra figured out ways it could best meld its world-class musicians and resources with the identity and traditions of Slavic Village. As a result, the Orchestra decided to elongate the residency, ensuring that it would provide upcoming pop-up performances for the Polish Constitution Day Parade and the annual Rooms to Let neighborhood art walk.
“There’s so much rich history, if you look back at what Slavic Village was and represented at the turn of the century when all the immigrants were coming to Cleveland, it was just a huge melting pot,” said Carol Lee Iott, director of Strategy and Special Initiatives for the Orchestra. “It’s gone through some of the most challenging economic times with the foreclosure crisis—we all know the story.”
“But what is so amazing about Slavic Village is that it’s never lost its sense of pride, sense of identity and continues to be a melting pot … it’s kind of a microcosm of the city as a whole, coming from where it was to the future,” Iott said. “What we liked about that was that it’s a great story about Cleveland, we can shine the light on that and be proud of that.”
Trzaska was particularly grateful for that light on Sunday Funday at the Nash, a neighborhood landmark critical in his firm’s mission to continue revitalizing the Village. Upon creating Sonny Day Development he worked with the Slovenian National Home Co. No. 2 on rejuvenating the 97-year-old Nash through non-membership events and collaborations with Mahall’s in Lakewood. He credits the Orchestra with helping the Nash resemble “40 to 50 years ago, when these lanes were humming” that afternoon.
“The use of the entire building has declined to such a point where it’s the organization that owns it trying to do whatever they can, programming-wise, to maintain it,” he said. “Every penny they bring in is already spent, and struggling just to pay utilities, let alone any capital improvements.”
That’s why that one day with the Orchestra meant the world to Trzaska and others at the Nash.
“The Orchestra being here? Unbelievable,” he said. “I’m sitting here trying to rub sticks together, and the Orchestra comes and pours gas on it.”
“This is for the neighborhood.”
Getting Younger
Between educational programs and concerts both in and out of Severance Hall, the Cleveland Orchestra served more than 93,000 children and young adults during its 2013-14 season. As part of the residency, Slavic Village gets its own versions of those instrument discovery sessions and school concerts. Children at Mound STEM School learned about brass, strings, percussion and woodwinds as part of a concert earlier this month. Katz Napoli says a teacher there emailed her shortly after to inform her that the event would go down as a “legendary experience” for some students who were being exposed to live orchestral music for the first time.

Unfamiliarity is a key barrier the Orchestra seeks to break down during and after the At Home residency.
“There’s a lot of passion for music in Slavic Village — not always a lot of resources but a lot of enthusiasm,” says Katz Napoli. “We’ll continue to have musicians go to instrumental programs to coach the kids, work with them and support the teachers who are working so hard to keep music in their schools.”
The Musical Rainbows series is an example of popular children’s programming at Severance Hall that will show up in Slavic Village in the residency’s final month. Each Rainbow show introduces children to an instrument. St. Stanislaus Church will host the “Heavenly Harps” program at 10 a.m. on May 20th, while Our Lady of Lourdes will host the “Cheerful Cello” at noon the same day and the “Terrific Trumpet” at 11 a.m. on May 23rd. All programs are free and open to the public.
“I think when they get to see Orchestra musicians up close, I think it’s a really inspirational experience, especially in their school or right in their neighborhood,” Katz said. “Kids get really excited seeing the instruments played, and think ‘yeah, I could do that. There are lots of requests, but sometimes in Slavic Village you don’t know what resources are available in your backyard. We will connect kids with local instructors because they want to copy what they see, just like when kids go to a ball game.”
The residency aims to connect the Orchestra to more children like 12-year-old Tiranay R. Campbell of The Cleveland School of the Arts, who plays violin. She sat in the front row for the chamber ensemble’s performance at the Nash.
“I thought they did really good,” Tiranay said of the group. “I was looking at how their bravado was very flexible.”
Although the Cleveland Orchestra’s educational programs and concerts date back to the group’s 1918 inception, the group made its biggest leap in trying to connect with the youth in 2010 with the formation of the Center for Future Audiences. Powered by a $20 million lead endowment from the Maltz Family Foundation, the Center features the Under 18s Free series, the discounted Student Advantage program for high-schoolers, college and post-graduate students, and the $50 Student Frequent FanCard, which offers unlimited single tickets to weekly Classical Subscription Concerts for the entire season.
To Mike Miller, a native Clevelander and trumpet player in his ninth season with the Orchestra, these programs, along with the educational components in the residency, are more about creating young musicians than future concert goers.
“It’s bigger than, ‘Let’s plant seeds here and hope that these people buy tickets when they turn 18,’” he said. “This is absolutely necessary. Just to see the kids, see them light up and to send the message that you could do this, it’s a learnable skill, it’s fun and who knows where it could take you, but this is available to you. It may just help you get through middle school and make you feel like you’ve got something inside. I don’t care if they ever come to Severance Hall after that, personally.”

They are coming, though. Area high-school and college students helped their older counterparts pack Severance Hall this month for the Orchestra’s Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka concert, conducted by Susanna Mälkki. Last year, the Orchestra’s audience grew by one percent. About 8,000 ticket buyers brought 20,000 children and teens with them to Severance Hall and Blossom through the Under 18s Free program in the 2013-14 year, according to the Orchestra’s annual report. Those figures are up from 5,000 and 11,500, respectively.
Iott said the Orchestra didn’t seek to create a direct correlation between residencies and sales. Still, it is seeing “funders who understand that we’re here for the long haul and adding value to the community.” The orchestra received a record $10.1 million in annual fund gifts in 2013, the residency’s first year.
The idea of an orchestral residency isn’t new, but Iott believes the civic pride it can bring to Cleveland is unique, particularly from an arts and entertainment perspective.
“We’re trying to make it all about Cleveland,” she said. “The Cleveland Orchestra and the City of Cleveland, we’re all about finding our path and coming back and making this city great.
“When people realize they have a world-class orchestra, there’s a great sense of pride. To take that pride and it’s about the city as a whole, that’s what’s unique about our Neighborhood Residency program."

Read more articles by Brandon Baker.

Brandon Baker is a freelance journalist who has contributed articles to Freshwater Cleveland since 2014. His work has also been featured by Scene, The News-Herald, Patch, EcoWatch and more. He is also the campaign manager for the United Way of Lake County. He sits on young professionals boards for Lake Erie Ink and United Way of Lake County. Brandon is a graduate of The Ohio State University and enjoys traveling, exercising and volunteering as a football coach in his spare time.
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