Corey Denham grew up in Appalachia, in the mountains of North Carolina, watching his cousins and great-grandfather come together to play bluegrass music in the living room, or, when the family crowd got too big, on the porch. “I learned early on that there can be quality music happening in all sorts of spaces. It doesn’t have to be prestigious.” Photos by Eric Snoza. Words by Burton Runyan. Adapted from Classical Music Indy’s NOTE Magazine.
From Porch Pickin’ to Percussion
“I think that’s one thing that’s been really impactful on me. Not only was music a big part of my family life, but the music was at a really high level.”
Denham’s early exposure to music led him to study the art and earn a master’s degree in music from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He now lives in Indianapolis and teaches at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Through Classical Music Indy’s Music Unites Artists program, Denham has found another great way to share music the way he did on the porch all those years ago. “A lot of people feel that music is a magical thing that only a few people are talented enough to do,” he says. “It’s important, for young people especially, to hear quality music often, but also to recognize that the people who make that music are just like them. They’re just regular people.”
Music Unites facilitates pop-up concerts in places people may not expect to see classical music—places outside of a concert hall such as First Friday events, art galleries and more. The program brings music to people rather than the other way around.
“For me personally, it’s a really good fit because I enjoy playing in those settings more than a concert hall,” Denham says. “It feels more interactive and personal. I have a chance to actually share with an audience in a more meaningful way. Concert halls can sometimes feel sterile and prestigious, and might feel uninviting to people who aren’t from that world.”
Denham’s notion of making music feel more accessible has also influenced his personal style and instrument of choice. As a percussionist, his instrument is constantly changing and adapting. “The materials we’re playing with don’t afford us the same relationship a violinist or cellist might have,” he says.
A violinist may carry the same instrument through their entire professional life, learning its quirks and personality like an old friend, while a percussionist may play one piece on construction buckets, another on a snare drum, and yet another on a fence railing.
For Denham, sharing classical music with people from all backgrounds is an article of faith, stemming from his North Carolina roots. Playing in interesting spaces for people who may have little to no experience with classical music has only confirmed what he has always felt.
“It’s become one of my goals as a musician to actively perform in spaces that are not typically thought of as having classical music audiences,” he says. “It’s become an extremely important part of what I do, and Classical Music Indy has been a huge part of shaping that perspective.”
Music Unites Artist Corey Denham is supported by The Penrod Society.
Corey Denham is a founding member of Forward Motion, Indianapolis’ premiere new music chamber ensemble.