Classical music 'shaken and stirred:' Chelsey Green and the Green Project shows what string instruments are capable of in free concert

After playing the viola in a symphony concert, musician Chelsey Green was supposed to go out on a date.

The guy never showed. It changed her life for the better.

Seeking something to do, Green took her viola to a Baltimore club and performed at an open microphone night where anyone could play anything.

She used her classical string instrument to play a decidedly non-classical tune: Kanye West's "Flashing Lights." And on that night, after the crowd stopped applauding, Chelsey Green and the Green Project was born.

Green, an accomplished violist and violinist, will perform everything from soul to rhythm and blues to rock selections with her band at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster. The eclectic free concert, which also features her contemporary band, is being presented by the Carroll County Public Library.

It's a chance, Green said, for an audience to embrace classical string instruments and see how they can be used to effectively play nearly any type of music.

"The Green Project became an opportunity to explore these ideas live and in living color and see the reaction of listeners and see how it impacts them," she said. "It exposes them to a classical repertoire through that vessel of contemporary pop music."

Every musician has influences based on what they have been exposed to from a young age. Green, a Houston native, is no different.

She started taking violin lessons when she was 4, becoming a classically trained performer right away.

Her family is full of jazz and funk musicians. Her father, a skilled drummer, was a band director at a Houston performing arts academy. She went to church every Sunday. Gospel music was a huge part of her life.

Once she reached high school, she wanted to blend her favorite genres. While interning at a radio station, she once brainstormed how a classical Bach piece would fit perfectly into the chord of a rap song.

"Those kinds of musical fusions would always happen in my head," she said.

They never stopped, even after she relocated to the Baltimore area to study classically, first to get her master's degree in viola performance at The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, then at the University of Maryland in College Park, where she is in her fourth year of pursuing a doctorate in viola classical studies.

"I'm learning new musicianship and learning how to create your own artistry and be something special," Green said.

The Green Project, which debuted nearly three years ago, is her opportunity to do just that. It was named one of six artists-in-residence for The Music Center at Strathmore's 2010-11 season in Bethesda.

Green called the band's sound "classical: shaken and stirred." The performance, Green said, is intended to introduce perspective young players to the power of acoustic string instruments.

Green and her band mates have performed throughout the region and are planning to record a full-length album later this year.

The Green Project's Westminster performance is made possible through funding from the Maryland Humanities Council in support of the One Maryland One Book program, which strives to bring together communities throughout the state through the shared experience of reading the same book.

This year's text for the program is "The Cellist of Sarajevo," by Steven Galloway.

The story is about a cellist in war-torn Sarajevo who performed for 22 straight days at the site of a mortar attack where 22 of his friends were killed.

The Green Project concert complements the text by showing how powerful stringed instruments can be, library spokeswoman Lisa Back said.

The violin and viola can be relevant in just about all types of music, even on open microphone nights at clubs after a date stands a musician up, Green said.

"I think about that guy all the time and just thank him for standing me up," she said. "Everything would have different."