Classical music doesn't have to be as stuffy as some stereotypes would have you believe. Recently, Ben Folds performed a concert with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra backing him. In the early 1990s, Frank Zappa was conducting ensembles, and Metallica even released an album with the San Francisco Symphony.
As co-president of CSO Pulse, Beth Rennie is doing her best to help change the perception that the symphony is only for high-brow people in formal wear. The group creates engaging events to help sustain the CSO and foster a new generation of fans by growing its audience and creating more interactive experiences for members of all ages.
"I think it has to do with what you've been exposed to in your life," Rennie says. "Kids are usually open to anything and want to check it out. People think you have to sit there and be quiet and not clap at the wrong time. That's not what it's about anymore."
A member of the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte since 2007, Rennie joined Pulse in 2012 and became co-president with Whitney Greene in 2013. "Whitney's and my strengths compliment each other nicely," Rennie, who is also the managing editor of a trade publication, says. "She's more of the relationship-building kind of person. She handles the meeting planning and builds contacts. Because of my communications background, I do all of our branding, marketing, social media, newsletters, website [to help get the word out about the organization]."
Rennie has always had a love of classical and symphonic music, and hopes more people in the Queen City will experience it live. "We want to get young people to come out and see that symphonic music isn't boring," Rennie says. "The KnightSounds series has a multimedia or dance aspect, which makes it more accessible. It's about an hour, you can bring your drinks in and it's more of a party. It's always cooler to be in the audience for a live show than listening to it on your radio."
Rennie, who earned a bachelors degree in music as a voice performance major at UNC Chapel Hill, sang with one of the sister choruses to the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., before relocating to Charlotte. Coming from a family of musicians, Rennie has fed her love of singing through the choir wherever she has lived.
"I have a really high soprano voice, so I sound really dumb if I try to sing anything popular," Rennie says with a laugh. "I make a fool out of myself with karaoke. You only want me singing classical or symphonic styles of music."
Her enthusiasm and respect for the symphony is evident within minutes of sitting down for our conversation. She admires the countless hours that musicians put into their craft and says Pulse is a great way to expose people to some of the players behind the sounds.
Among the dozen or so Pulse events that happen each year are pre-concert socials where select musicians will meet with members to talk about the piece of music they are about to hear.
At Rush Hour Recitals, members of the orchestra perform pieces for small groups at an Uptown restaurant. The events are open to the public, giving commuters (or anyone) the opportunity to hear modern or non-CSO pieces of music and avoid traffic before heading home.
"Beyond my own love of symphonic and choral music, it's for my kids," Rennie says. "I have a daughter in the junior youth orchestra. I don't want it to be 20 years from now and she has nowhere to go to feed that interest for her. My other daughter plays guitar and never misses a show, and she volunteers for Pulse. I want my kids to be able to go to the symphony."