The way Ellen Cockerham recalls it, she went to a concert, heard a violin soloist and immediately told her mother: “That’s my voice.” And that’s how she started playing violin at 5, living in Walla Walla, Washington.
Years later, she learned her mother had been suggesting the instrument for a while. But that doesn’t mater, she says, laughing, “That’s not the way I remember it.”
Cockerham stuck with the instrument and moved up quickly, eventually joining the Akron Symphony in Cleveland before graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Music. She came to Richmond in 2009 after being appointed to principal second violin with the Richmond Symphony. In her second season, she served as acting concertmaster for several months.
But her biggest impact has been bringing new audiences to classical music through her series Classical Revolution RVA. The successful program brings the works of master composers to such nontraditional venues as restaurants, clubs and art galleries.
“I got to a point where I was sick of talking and worrying about where future audiences for classical music would come from,” she says. “They’re out there.”
So instead of debating the future, she took the music to the people. After starting out using only symphony members, she now has more than 150 musicians who’ve played with the group, including school faculty and freelancers. “It’s kind of made the classical music community stronger because it’s a way we’re not divided,” she says.
In January, the Classical Revolution RVA festival packed venues in Carytown and across the Fan while celebrating Mozart. And recently it launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $35,000 toward its 2015 expenses while it works to become a nonprofit.
And Cockerham isn’t playing only classical music. She’s currently performing with Richmanian Ramblers, an eclectic local group playing Romanian folk music.
“Part of my frustration is just getting the word out,” she says. “A lot of people don’t know there’s a symphony here, or they can buy a $10 ticket. I want all kinds of people to know how accessible it is, and where it is. All classical music.”