This Juilliard Student Wants to Make Classical Music Cool Again
Drew Forde (@thatviolakid) wanted to be nervous. He needed to feel the pressure — to have a large audience paying close attention to him, listening to and scrutinizing every note he played on his viola, the instrument he had been mastering for the last decade. By getting it out of the way now, he would be tremble-free for his upcoming audition at Juilliard in New York City.
So he began posting videos of himself playing little previews of what people would hear if they came to his senior recital at Georgia’s Mercer University. When the clips proved popular, he gave the series a name: #JourneyToJuilliard.
“People were like, ‘Wow, this guy’s going for it,’” remembers Drew, reflecting on the feedback he received from other musicians, friends and the growing number of younger students who began to find him online. “It wasn’t until after I auditioned that I realized, ‘Oh shoot, what if I don’t get in?’”
Drew didn’t have to worry about that. Thanks to his hard work — and getting all those nerves out of the way — he was accepted into Juilliard for the fall 2014 semester. By then, the videos he was posting were actively improving his viola skills, and giving users a glimpse into the hallowed musical institution.
“When I record and I’m getting ready to post something, I listen to it,” he says. “If I’m not happy with it, I’m not posting it. Most of the time, the first take, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t post that.’ So it informs me on how I need to make it better.”
In his own way, the 24-year-old has become a teacher even before graduating from his own master’s program (that comes this spring), responding to followers who ask for music tips. Ironically, the school he has worked so hard to promote doesn’t much like his social media presence –– or his efforts to transmit his lessons to the Internet.
“They do not want you posting videos or pictures of Juilliard or in Juilliard or anything like that, and I break that rule all the time,” he says. “They’re following me. They called me to the office a few times just to make sure that I’m not going to do anything ridiculous.”
It’s an outdated philosophy, he thinks, especially because he’s determined to demystify Juilliard and classical music in general. With graduation quickly approaching, Drew is thinking hard about how to extend the project and apply its central philosophy to a rewarding career. A science geek growing up , he says he’d like to become the Neil deGrasse Tyson of classical music, helping spread the art to a new generation.
“I want to use classical music as a platform to create other types of music, like jazz and EDM,” he says. “But on top of doing that, I want to create an implicit connection between pop music and classical music and really be a big advocate for why classical music is so important and why it’s still so valuable to mainstream culture. Because a lot of people don’t value it, they don’t listen to it in their free time. And I think it comes from a place of fear. So I try to dispel that fear with love and acceptance and inclusion.”