BY KENDYL HOLLINGSWORTH
Ready, steady… breathe.
That’s what pianist and composer Chad Lawson hopes he’ll inspire you to do when he brings Judy Kang and Seth Parker Woods with him to perform March 24 at the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center.
The trio will perform at 7:30 p.m. in the Woltosz Theatre. And while the show is part of the Gogue’s orchestra and chamber music series, the audience can expect an experience that’s a far cry from a typical classical concert.
“It’s everything from Chopin to Billie Eilish,” Lawson mused.
The setlist includes songs from Lawson’s albums “Chopin Variations” — in which he reimagines the works of Frédéric Chopin as if they were written today — as well as soothing pieces from his latest album, “breathe,” and more.
Each of the three musicians brings a wealth of experience to the table that runs the gamut from classical and jazz to rock and pop.
Kang, a Canadian violinist based in New York City, is a member of the acoustic trio of Ryuichi Sakamoto — but she also collaborates with Portugal. The Man and Lenny Kravitz and has gone on tour with Lady Gaga as the pop star’s violinist.
Woods is a Grammy-nominated cellist based in Los Angeles who seeks to take his classical background and marry it with modern music. He has dabbled in a wide variety of genres, working with artists such as Sting, Peter Gabriel and Lou Reed. He has also served on faculties at colleges and universities across the U.S.
“I just wanted something really diverse with this trio, and I think I really found that — not just musically, but also just personally,” Lawson said. “The fun thing is just the camaraderie that we have offstage. It’s just as important as it is onstage.”
Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Lawson was inspired to learn piano at a young age. He was classically trained before attending the Berklee College of Music to study jazz performance but found that the genre didn’t align with his musical nature.
As a genre explorer himself, Lawson found that he enjoyed giving classical music a modern twist and introducing it to what he has dubbed “the Spotify generation.” But it isn’t just for younger audiences.
“It was really fascinating to be able to kind of introduce something to this audience that has seen and heard everything and give them something that’s dating back to tradition but still afoot in this new sound of today,” Lawson explained. “… It’s trying to kind of get rid of those defining edges of what classical music should and shouldn’t be.”
Lawson’s unique blend of genres has earned him success as a studio musician and collaborator, but there is another, more personal purpose in what he does: raising mental health awareness. The goal is to offer a sense of calm and to encourage being present in the moment. This is incorporated in his shows as well.
“I actually open up each show with a very brief breathing introduction for the audience because a lot of times, our mind is always somewhere that we’re not,” he said. “… My whole purpose in creating is for people to feel — to experience.”
Not long ago, Apple Music approached Lawson about recording a rendition of a pop song that speaks to mental health. His choice: Harry Styles’ “Matilda.” He also has a podcast called “Calm it Down” in which he touches on these topics and more.
And while Lawson admits the spotlight is not his favorite place to be, he has resolved to keep stepping into the light to help others find it in their own lives. He said it was only when he stopped trying to entertain with his music that it found its higher purpose.
“That changed everything,” he said. “That’s when I started hearing from people. That’s when I started getting emails of people saying, ‘You know what, I’m going through a really difficult time right now. I’m going through a divorce, or I just lost a loved one to cancer, and your music … just helps me take the world out.
“That was a ‘eureka’ moment for me recently where, if my being in front of a camera, or if my being on stage, or if my being in an interview enables someone to find peace, or some healing, or some comfort to some degree, then that’s why I’m doing this.”
For more information about the show, or to purchase tickets, visit goguecenter.auburn.edu/chad-lawson/. The Gogue is located at 910 S. College St.