West Virginia native Maestro Luke Frazier shares the impact country music had on him in time for new Country and American Roots episodes of ‘One Voice: The Songs We Share’ premiering Oct. 29

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Founded by Maestro Luke Frazier in 2015, the American Pops Orchestra is dedicated to bringing the highest quality art to the most diverse and broad audiences.

On Friday, October 29, WOUB-TV will broadcast new episodes of “One Voice: The Songs We Share” featuring Frazier and the American Pops Orchestra, kicking off with an episode celebrating country music at 10 p.m. ET followed by an episode celebrating American Roots music starting at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Frazier is a West Virginia native and an Ohio University graduate, and he took the time to speak to WOUB Culture about how his grandmother’s country music records impacted him growing up, what it’s been like to work as an artist in the COVID-19 era, and what he believes an orchestra should always be doing for the community it serves.

Maestro Luke Frazer. (Image provided by artist) 

WOUB Culture: I’m very excited to speak with you today because the programs we’re discussing have to do with musical genres that are very close to our audience here in Appalachia: Country music and the indigenous roots of American music. My first question is about country music, in particular. You are a West Virginia native, and I also grew up in Appalachia — so I know if someone grows up in this area, they either despise Country music the entire time they’re growing up, or they love it. I personally loved it. I know lots of folks that didn’t. So I was curious, how did you feel about Country music when you were growing up here in our region in West Virginia?

Luke Frazier: You know, I grew up hearing Country music a lot — specifically from one of my grandmothers. She loved the older Country music — Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty — that whole generation of Country music. I also really like bluegrass. I would hear Country and bluegrass a lot, whether it was at the state or county fair, or during performances at small gatherings; it was always something in my ears and I really enjoyed it. But, you know, I think one of the greatest things about our region, the Appalachian region, is that it truly is such a place to enjoy so many types of music, so many different cultures combined right here. Country was just one of the pieces of my musical puzzle.

I think one of the greatest things about our region, the Appalachian region, is that it truly is such a place to enjoy so many types of music, so many different cultures combined right here. Country was just one of the pieces of my musical puzzle. – Maestro Luke Frazier

WOUB Culture: Could you speak a bit on what American roots music is in particular that the other special focuses on?

Luke Frazier: Well, you know, when you say ‘American roots’, there’s an automatic assumption of a very kind of almost scientific definition of what that music is. And for me, when I was asked to put this program together, I wanted to make sure that many different types of people felt that they were represented in this program. We’ve really got a big cross-section of music in there to make sure that we can show a representation of many different cultures, because that’s what the United States is. It’s many different cultures coming together for the greater good.

WOUB Culture: Both the Country and American Roots performances were filmed in West Virginia during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m curious: what was that experience like for you?

Luke Frazier: You know, Emily, I think something that’s been sad for me over this last almost two years now, is that so many organizations said they couldn’t make art. And so many of my artist friends didn’t get paychecks. And so many orchestras had to close their doors. I’m committed to keeping people employed at full salary. I’m committed to hiring people to come in and work on shows. And so, yes, it was difficult, but you may be surprised to hear that actually we just finished filming our 11th TV show in the last 18 months of the pandemic. So it wasn’t just these two that we filmed, we filmed so many — and I’m very proud to say that we never cut budgets for any of our staff. We never cut the salary of any of our musicians, guests artists, or our crew. And the most exciting thing is that we had not a single case of COVID. We followed every protocol: we did extensive testing. We had proof of vaccination and we made sure in every filming, including the two that were filmed in West Virginia, that safety was of the utmost concern. But, you know, Emily, the other utmost concern is that artists are employed and creating meaningful projects.

WOUB Culture: In the past, you’ve described orchestras as having a role of being service organizations. Could you extrapolate on that and how you see the American Pops Orchestra as being a service organization in the particular instances of the two specials we are focusing on?

Luke Frazier: Yes. I think an orchestra should be the reflection of the community in which they serve. Maybe it’s a different type of concert to accommodate to your local community. Maybe it’s a shorter concert. Maybe it’s a longer concert. Maybe it’s a concert for moms with kids. It’s always thinking about your community first and how you can make a connection with them as an orchestra. And I often worry that too often planning by orchestras is kind of made in a vacuum — just from one side of the table rather than really considering the audience. And so in designing these two specials, I think we reflect that. We show many types of performers from different walks of life, from different backgrounds. We play many different types of music that have an emotional connection to people across our country, because of course these will be nationally broadcast, but at the end of the day, when someone watches a performance of an orchestra, whether it be the American Pops or another orchestra, I want them to feel like they’re having a better time in their life — that something’s come to mind that makes them have a great memory that they want to share — some sort of joy.  I want them to have that emotional takeaway. And that’s when we know we’ve done our job, that someone feels moved by the work.