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Conductor tries to attract young black people with orchestra

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DETROIT - Everybody knows that classical music is dying, young people don't care for orchestral music and minorities in particular aren't interested. Right?

Looks like Ozie Cargile didn't get the memo.

Cargile, a 25-year-old African American who grew up in Detroit and graduated from the University Michigan with a degree in composition, has created a new orchestra from scratch. The Psalm: 150 Symphony gave its inaugural concerts Saturday and Sunday at Wayne State University.

Cargile, a spiritual man, named his group for the 150th Psalm because it speaks of praising God through trumpets, stringed instruments, flutes and crashing cymbals. But it also provides a metaphor for his evangelical zeal for promoting classical music to his peers and preaching the gospel of contemporary music. "Unfortunately, there's some truth to the statement that a lot of young people and young African Americans are not interested in classical music," he said.

"It's one of our goals, with me as the face of the organization, to attract people of my generation."

Last Wednesday, Cargile, tall and slender with a soft voice, gap-tooth smile and a baton in his right hand, led about 45 musicians through a rehearsal in the basement of the musicians' union hall in Southfield, Mich. Almost all of the music was his own, colored by big-tune melodies redolent of film scores. One piece grooved to a Latin beat, another was a concerto for strings and alto saxophone. Also on the docket was a concerto for electric guitar penned by a friend, James Witcher, with whom he used to play in a rock band.

Cargile is a work in progress on the podium, and the playing by the orchestra - split about 50-50 between local freelance musicians and students from area colleges - was still ragged. But the energy and enthusiasm in the room was contagious.

"We're presenting orchestral music and maintaining the integrity of that, but some things will not sound like Brahms," Cargile said. "Maybe some things might sound like John Coltrane."

Cargile, who makes his living teaching piano and playing Sunday services at his church, said it has always been his dream to start an orchestra. At this point, he remains the group's president, conductor, chief composer, marketing staff, grant-writer and personnel manager. His budget for this weekend's concerts is $15,000; he's paying the players the union rate for community orchestras, from $45-$70 per rehearsal or concert.

He rustled up a grant from Comerica Bank, and he's prepared to invest $2,000-$3,000 of his own money in the project. About 60 percent of the costs are to be covered by ticket sales. His hope is to build an organization infrastructure and launch a series.

He found his musicians by announcing his intention in a mass e-mail sent through the union. A bunch of local pros responded and word of mouth did the rest.

Violinist Faith Demorest, the personnel manager of the Plymouth Symphony, said she was intrigued by the orchestra's name and impressed by Cargile's organizational skills and vision. His wide-eyed optimism is charming, she said.

"The whole thing is very appealing and very fresh, and those of us who are here believe in him and the vision."


(c) 2006, Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.

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