Deadly Gentlemen

Whatever you do, just don’t call them a boy band.  These guys are more raw, creative and talented than any 5-piece male musical group ever conceived.

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Listening to The Deadly Gentlemen’s “Carry Me To Home” album makes me really want to pretend to be a guy just to hang out with them and not throw off the ‘dude’ vibe.  It’s something about that atmosphere that jives so well with their out-of-time-but-in-time shout rhythms and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants melodies.  You can’t find this kind of synergy in just any old group;  they all feel the same saunter in their swing, the same laid-back attitude ingrained in their playing. Their tight interaction feels casual, as if they’re tossing these tunes over their shoulders while walking away from an explosion.

“You’ve got to wake up and work, But I mean that sucks, What about love, Why green back bucks? I know you need them, But if you’re lonely, bored, Give it up and come with me, Freedom is its own reward.”

– From “Slaughter Me, Baby.”

“Slaughter Me, Baby” is playful and walks with a spring in its step, the beat of the bass and banjo enhanced by the casual textures of the  half singing, half sighing voices.  The band itself states their “songs have kind of a rock ‘n’ roll feel, despite the acoustic bluegrass instrumentation.  The melodies tend toward the anthemic side, and the upright bass is usually pretty in-your-face.  The album does have a slight sense of humor but no real jokes, per se.”

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When I hear them sing and play these songs together, it sounds like five brothers singing about shared experiences; they all celebrate together, they lean on each other to lament, they face each others’ conflicts as a group, and they freak out about shit the same way.  Perhaps it’s this sensation of brotherhood that shines through in their “Carry Me To Home” album that strikes the “boy’s club” chord in me.  I don’t just feel it, I want to be a part of it because I sense how strong it is, and how strong it’s made these guys. This band.  What a rarity.

If you want to hear a band truly interwoven more than just musically, open yourself up to The Deadly GentlemenGreg Liszt, banjo and vocals; Stash Wyslouch, guitar and vocals; Mike Barnett, fiddle and vocals; Dominick Leslie, mandolin and vocals; and Sam Grisman, double bass and vocals.

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Casey Driessen at Berklee

I don’t know what it is about the telepathy of master musicians, but it transcends just making brilliant sounds together.  Casey and Tony both seem to favor bright red, lace-up sneakers – Tony in Converse, Casey in white-striped kicks.  Does it have something to do with pushing the boundaries of modern bluegrass music to its limits, and blazing new paths for both genre and instrument, as both players have done in their careers?

Maybe they just both like wearing sweet shoes.

Casey Driessen 3D Album Cover

Casey Driessen paid a visit to the Berklee String Department’s famous 5E classroom at 1140 Boylston Street on Friday morning November 18th.  As is typical with most string clinics, the visit was 50% playing, 40% talking, and 10% making jokes at Matt Glaser’s expense.  I entered the standing-room-only location as Casey was improvising on a fiddle tune, using excellent theme and variation interspersed with blues notes and some jazzy licks.  Of course, his famous chop was a repeated theme as well.

Casey is very skilled at his own version of chopping, the percussive, scratching bow strike prominent throughout bluegrass and American folk string playing.  Casey’s music has had a huge influence in refining the sound, including a special triplet chop of his own that many have tried to imitate but few can repeat.  It was a recurring theme throughout the clinic, as was the root of the chop itself.  Hanneke Cassel, a celtic fiddle master who stopped by to see her Berklee classmate and friend’s demonstration, mentioned the study of a “chop tree,” which traces the ancestry of the sound throughout recorded fiddle music history.

Hanneke Cassel, Celtic Fiddler Extraordinaire

For the past few years, Casey has been playing with his own crew the Colorfools and guest artist-ing it up with a number of fantastic music stars, most recently and notably, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.  In Casey’s travels to Madagacar, he met a percussionist with a very special drum – it gave Casey an idea for a three-part chop.  NOT the triplet, mind you, but a way to introduce odd meters into the pattern, creating bars of 5, 7, 9, 11, etc.

The basic overview:

  1. chop down,
  2. slide across the strings,
  3. chop up.

In developing it, Casey also trained himself to chop BOTH ways across the strings – towards and away from the bridge.  It was an enlightening moment when he called out Hanneke for chopping ‘backwards’ – towards the bridge on the down beat, a reverse motion from the commonly taught method. I guess it was Karma coming back at Casey for always shaking his head and poking fun at Hanneke’s backwards chop style.

Casey is starting a solo tour this year, he says, after years of working on his own stuff for hours in a practice room and wanting to expand it into a project.  The Singularity Tour is a simple concept: Man + Fiddle + Loop Pedals = Infinite possibilities.  Check out videos in the link above.  It’s a truly interesting concept, and a great challenge.  I see it as a great move for violinists everywhere.  The pedal board has already given lots of players the chance to be a one-man band.  Similarly, Zoe Keating has been playing several gigs as a one-woman orchestra with her laptop.

Zoe Keating

Visit Casey’s website and you’ll see that his Singularity tour is the opportunity to hear a showcase of all of his musical training and skill, developed over years of study, practice, and experience.  It’s a culmination of the style he’s been creating and using to be a force in the world of innovative bluegrass and jazz.

Casey said about his practice habits that he prefers to concentrate on one area of playing if he has a short amount of time in the day.  If an hour is all he has, he’d rather spend it all on technical patterns and scales, or working on a song, tune or solo.  Breaking up time to cover all the bases is spreading it too thin, he feels, and I understand the practice.  Focus hard and develop one thing for an hour if that’s all you have.  Make it count – quality of playing, not quantity.

I really liked his ruminations about chop practice – developing this new 3-part sound takes a lot of work and diligence.  Matt Glaser had asked him jokingly, “So you just sit in a room with a metronome and practice your chop three hours a day?”  But that’s basically right.  Casey does dedicate hours of his shedding time just to rhythm.  He mentioned working with all pattern combinations for his new 3-part chop – a series towards the bridge, a series away from the bridge, a series of back and forth, towards, away, and several more combinations.  He wants to be prepared for any possibility.

“I’m trying to be in control of it mentally, instead of my hand being in control,” Casey said of his diligence.

Casey and Tony

To close out the clinic after a few questions, Tony joined in for a few choruses of Bill Cheetham and a rhythm-changes sounding ditty, Salty.    Tony answered a question about the difficulty of playing banjo tunes on the fiddle with a suggestion for juicy double stops.  Truly, imitating the arpeggiative style of banjo is not easy on fiddle.  Juicy Double Stops sound like a good way to get the fast and flying notes across.

It was areal treat to listen to Casey Driessen sing and speak about playing, both with his voice and his fiddle.  Berklee is lucky to call him a graduate and friend, and our string students certainly appreciate his time, sharing his stories about life and career, and how playing fits it all together.

Read all about his career and adventures at caseydriessen.com, and keep in touch as his Singularity Tour takes wing!

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Two Words: Crooked Still

Two more words: Freakin’ awesome. Crooked Still just celebrated 10 years as a band.  10 years.  Ten!  I had no idea that they had been playing together for so long.  Rather, I had no concept of just how long their music had been shaping the sounds of folk.

Crooked Still

Ten years ago, I was entering eighth grade.  I barely knew what jazz was, and my close-minded idea of fiddle music was something that dumb hicks played in the hills of the south.  Not exactly high standards.  If someone had played me a crooked still album back then, with their brilliant instrumentation and original interpretations of tunes, I would’ve taken the quality and potential of folk music more seriously.

In order to celebrate their ten years as a band, and thus throw a last huzzah before separating to pursue individual musical projects, C.S. decided to have a ten-show tour in October, ending up with a two-night spectacular at the Somerville Theater in their hometown of Boston, MA.  I snagged a ticket for the second evening and was whisked away to a passionate world of newgrass fans. I heard that the musical lineup was different each night, so here’s the rundown of the tunes played at my evening, and their albums:

  1. Little Sadie – Shaken By A Low Sound
  2. The Peace Of Wild Things/Dayblind – Friends of Fall (EP)
  3. When Sorrows Encompass Me ‘Round – Friends of Fall (EP)
  4. Sometimes In This Country – Some Strange Country
  5. Half Of What We Know – Some Strange Country
  6. Distress –  Some Strange Country
  7. Flora – Hop High
  8. Locust In The Willow – Some Strange Country
  9. [Some tunes I missed after Intermission]
  10. Ain’t No Grave – Shaken By A Low Sound
  11. You Were Gone – Some Strange Country
  12. Orphan Girl – Hop High
  13. Last Fair Deal Gone Down – Hop High
  14. Mountain Jumper – Shaken By A Low Sound
  15. Can’t You Hear Me Callin’ – Shaken By A Low Sound
  16. Encore: You Got The Silver – Some Strange Country
  17. Encore: Shady Grove – Hop High

And after the show, the band marched out from backstage through the crowd in front of the theater to jam on Angeline the Baker, on their Hop High album.

I had a lot of different reactions to the tunes that night.  By the second half my ale had sunk in, and I was pleasantly sinking deeper myself into the tunes and amorous mood of the crowd.  I remember being struck by the lofty beauty of The Peace Of Wild Things/Dayblind because the harmonic choices are unexpected.  The lyrics are the poem by Wendell Berry, with original music and fiddle tune by Crooked Still.  It’s an interesting composition, and characteristic of Crooked Still in that it pushes the definition of the style and genre that the band plays.  This is a full-out through composed piece of music with a groove and a banjo.

The Band! It is comprised of Aiofe O’Donovan on vocals and guitar, Brittany Haas on 5-string fiddle, Tristan Clarridge on cello (and Rushad Eggleston in the first incarnation, who was reunited with them that weekend for the anniversary), Dr. Gregory Liszt on banjo, and Corey DeMario on bass.

Crooked Still

One wonderful moment from the evening that stands out (Besides the double cello action of Rushad and Tristan together, or Dr. Gregory Liszt’s sweet dance moves on each banjo solo) was right after the second song, when Aoife O’Donovan said into the microphone, “I feel very calm, and it’s not just the tequila I have onstage with me.”  Delightful!  And also, thought-provoking for me.  One characteristic of this music and other sounds and concerts like it, is the relationship between players and audience.  It’s familiar, close, and intimate in a way not many other musical forms can create.  I can’t say whether it’s the open, you’re-welcome-in-my-house attitude of the players, the sincerity of the fans, or the origins of the songs themselves that creates this ambience.  The fact that Crooked Still and Friends (that includes fans) can re-create the feel of a house party in the 900 seat Somerville Theater main stage room is nothing to be scoffed at.

Though I didn’t consider myself a hardcore Crooked Still fan (definitely not one of the people who has been following them all 10 years), I felt welcome by the environment, and encouraged to let my voice be heard with a whoop or whistle at each hot lick and hum of approval at a familiar ballad.  I felt that Crooked Still introduced me to some new favorites from their albums that I hadn’t listened to enough. It was clear by the audience’s reaction that any song that was only half-familiar to me was one that should be committed to memory.  I thought each player’s performance was emotional and vibrant.  They were giving it their all on every tune, and loving every minute of it.

I’ll leave you with a neat story: After the second half, which I came back late to due to a long line at the ladies’, I walked down to my seat in the dark to find someone sitting in it.  No big deal, there was a free one right in front of it.  The woman asked if she was in my seat, and gladly gave it up after I affirmed.  I sat down and was about to enjoy the next song, when the couple sitting next to me hurredly got my attention.  The husband was waving me over, trying to tell me something.  Not sure what the urgency was about, and noticing he had been heavily enjoying some beer himself, I prepared to ignore him.  The wife leaned over and whispered, “He wants to tell you that that woman that was in your seat is Brittany Haas’ mother.”

Oh.  Well.  That changes EVERYTHING. The mother of the old-time fiddle champion of the world can sit wherever she damn well pleases.  So I moved over and signaled that Ms. Haas could have her seat back.  I think the view was better from there.  As she sat down excitedly, I leaned over and told her that I had taken a few lessons from Brittany a while ago, so letting her mom have a good seat was the least I could do.  It was a much more entertaining second half sitting next to Barbara Haas, who snuck a few pictures (didn’t we all?) and gave behind the scenes details on some songs as they came up.  Delightful!

I’m very happy I got the opportunity to see Crooked Still live, because it helped me appreciate the skill of those amazing musicians, and appreciate what a unique and fantastic experience seeing a live show is, too.  Live music is definitely losing popularity, and though it does have something to do with the convenience of television and the internet in your own home, I’m tempted to make an argument for people just not having the emotional energy or stamina to deal with the event of going to see a band play beautiful, sorrowful, vivacious music at a show and cheer madly alongside fellow fans.  It’s a big thing to put yourself through, and I feel people are slowly becoming emotionally distanced thanks to the safety of home entertainment.  I encourage everyone to see live music at least once a month if you can – just for the sake of exercising your spiritual and emotional energies!

In conclusion, enjoy live music, and check out Crooked Still’s new EP, Friends of Fall.  It’s fantastic, and it’ll definitely whet your appetite for their next appearance, whenever in the distant future that may be.  To C.S. I say, good luck with each of your musical projects next year!  Get together again soon.

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Jeremy Kittel

I like Jeremy Kittel.  But honestly, I feel like I know very little about him.  I like how he plays, I like the classes of his I took at Mark O’Connor Fiddle camp in the past, I like the fact that as a Scottish/Irish fiddle champ, he’s now playing jazz viola as a fixed member of the Turtle Island String Quartet.  But every time I read a little bit about what he’s doing now, I feel like I’m reading about a brand-new guy.

The Jeremy Kittel Band concert from Club Passim is streaming live on concertwindow.com right now, and I’m catching the tail end of it. This is the bio for the band on the concertwindow page:

Jeremy Kittel Band, early lineup: Jeremy (top), Bodek Janke (left), Tristan Clarride (right), and Kyle Sanna (bottom) 

“Jeremy Kittel is one of the foremost of a new breed of fiddlers and violinists who easily navigates between a multitude of musical styles and traditions. Fluidly mastering this rich musical heritage, he also breaks exciting new ground while helping to redefine the role of his instrument.

Currently a full-time member of the Grammy-winning Turtle Island String Quartet, Kittel also leads his namesake group, the Jeremy Kittel Band, into exciting new acoustic music territory. He has toured and recorded with such musical giants as Mark O’Connor, Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, Paquito D’Rivera, the Assad Brothers, Stefon Harris, My Morning Jacket, and Darol Anger. He has appeared on the NPR radio show A Prairie Home Companion, has been a guest performer with multiple symphony orchestras, and has performed at venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Bonnaroo, and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.”

The originals that I’ve heard tonight are definitely sounds of a new breed of fiddle/folk music, with juicy otherworldly harmonies that make me say, “What the hell was that sound that just happened between these instruments?” And make me want to transcribe even more.  If I had ten minutes with Jeremy, all I’d want to know is, where do you and your band find inspiration for your compositions? Where do these sounds come from? And how do you keep it new to you, this creative process?  I figure once you get sounds and styles like these under your belt, you want to pass over it in your hunger for the next new thing.

Jeremy Kittel

Quick Kittel bio: US Scottish Fiddle Champ, Masters in Jazz Violin from MSM, studied undergrad at U Michigan where he graduated at age 20, and at least two solo albums out – one Irish tunes, one Scottish tunes.  I first met Jeremy Kittel on faculty at Mark O’Connor fiddle camp in San Diego, summer 2007.  At the time I knew him as the Scottish Fiddle guy.  The thought of Jeremy playing jazz was brand new to me, but if you follow his career, not to him.  He’s been studying and jamming with the pros in New York and beyond for many years.

If you haven’t yet, check out his latest album, Chasing Sparks – Listen to “The Chase” and “Remember Blake.” This 2009 recording is off the charts, and does a great job of representing Jeremy’s current sound and style.  Enjoy!

JK Band woot! l-r: Josh Pinkham (picks the mandolin), Jeremy Kittel (fiddles the fiddle), Simon Chrisman (hammers the dulcimer), and Nathaniel Smith (drags horse hair on vicious metal wires).  

Just for fun, here’s the Jeremy Kittel band’s Tech Rider and Stage Plot.  And you can see the page for the band on their tour agency’s site.  Very informative.

Check out more Jeremy Kittel, Turtle Island, and the JK Band on Jeremy’s website, too.

And I just gotta say…man, Jeremy’s playing is smooth as a baby’s bum.  Creamy and rich, like the favorite latte that you only treat yourself to about once a month, because it’s special and expensive.  Jeremy’s got it going on with fiddle and bow in his own sly, sweet way, a lot like his shy-guy smile.

So enjoy as much Jeremy Kittel as you can, folks.

Sweetheart

More vids and tunes on jeremykittel.com

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Mike Block – After The Factory Closes

Let’s talk about Mike Block, shall we?

Yesterday I sat in my car for a drive out to Weston, where I currently teach Jazz Strings.  First student of the year!  On the way back, I decided to give Avenue Q a rest, and sifted through some disks on my cd tower.  Down on the bottom was this album:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/MikeBloackBand

Which was burned for me by a friend and avid Block-er.

After the Factory Closes – The Mike Block Band

I’m glad I found it again, as I’ve been meaning to give it another listen. So I popped it in and once again marveled at how a group with no high-end lead instrument could still sound so melodic and play such singable tunes!

Mike Block’s playing is a testament to the range of the cello.  No questions asked.  If you want to hear flawless proficiency in the higher positions of the cello, listen to “The Moose Escapeth,” a tune just ripe with string ensemble arrangement possibilities… with a melody that Mike plays in four octaves throughout the tune, you can really see the possibilities for writing with a few instruments in mind.

The Moose Escapeth! Is not on Grooveshark, sadly.  But listen to the samples on his CD Baby page, linked above!

The opening track, 8th of January, shows off looping and layering lines on cello, and how it blends with bass and some soft-playing drums.  You can hear Mike’s lyrical tone around splashes of cymbals and the hypnotic bass arpeggios.  When the melody comes in, the sheer skill of his cello playing washes over you almost surprisingly.  Sweet, sincere, and  very fluid and continuous is his tone, without a single nick or crunch from the bow.

The Colorful Stylings of Mike Block

It’s like a swell of joy at hearing the unbridled laugh of that cute girl you like.  Mike’s playing has a beautiful sound, a beautiful tone, and it gives you a happy feeling without warning.

My favorite track, hands down, if only for the title, is “The Earthquake Fell In Love With The Tornado.” It sounds uplifting AND experiments with 7/8!  Score!

Mike Block Band Words R Words

“After The Factory Closes” is the only album I have of the Mike Block Band, but they do have another on CD Baby.  Mike himself has some other projects out there as well – He plays with Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings, The Knights, and the Triborough Trio.  He’s released an album with the Sirius Quartet, which IS on Grooveshark.

Find out more about Mike Block and other awesome cellists by tuning back in soon! Happy Surfing in the meantime!

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Strings on Dancing with the Stars?

I don’t usually watch Dancing With The Stars, but it’s a favorite at the cast house and has been gracing our tv weekly. Tonight was Results night, where the couples are whittled down by one pending the outcome of judges’ scores and viewers’ voting. To fill time around the 5 minutes it actually takes to announce who wins, they fill the 2-hour show with more dance routines, and in this episode’s case, clips of past season’s performances from artists, dance teams, and some surprising musical ensembles who used a bunch of rockin’ string players. I was pretty impressed, not just by the players and their sound and choreography, but by the fact that live tv showed strings in a non-traditional setting NOT used as a gimmick.

One group, a platinum-selling violin duo called Nuttin’ But Stringz, performed with Tiler Peck, the lead ballerina for the NYC Ballet. This duo had a solid sound and contained choreography, nothing too outlandish or flashy. The song they performed is one of their hits, “Thunder.” Go here for a little opening clip of their song, starting at 4:16.

I also found out through some research that David Garrett has performed on DWTS as a guest artist on their classically themed night. I don’t follow Garrett as closely as some of my fiddle friends do, but I have learned that he is a) extremely talented and performs mostly pop music of his own arranging, and b) extremely good looking and constantly wears his shirts half-open. I’ve heard his interpretation of Smooth Criminal, and I have to say I enjoy it. It’s very opera-rock, definitely grandiose, while still remaining virtuosic violin-wise. I can imagine many high-school string players begging their orchestra directors for the chance to perform this as their senior solo with drum kit, rock band, everything. I think Mark Wood would give a nod to this guy’s style for sure.

Now I could get all on my high horse and say the only impressive sounding thing about David Garrett is his effects and his ability to play really high. And truthfully, that’s basically it. But from a production point of view, I enjoy how he arranged the tune. I like all the parts of all the sections: the strings filling the song out, the core line being played by a mega-flanged guitar and beaten out on a drum kit. It’s an enjoyable tune. Would I personally buy this album? No. I don’t like processed violin sounds being run through effects generators and compressed to high heaven. But I have to tip my hat to both these artists for helping bring the violin a little more into the mainstream. It’s not the ideal way I want people to get to know the instrument, but it’s a start.

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Baton Rouge

A few weeks ago I gave a masterclass at LSU Baton Rouge for the weekend of the Louisiana Viola Society Competition.  The weekend comprised of a blind listening competition, guest artist concert, various master classes, and culminated in a performance by three student finalists competing for the grand prize of $600, time in a recording studio for their own album, and awesome bragging rights.

I was invited by my friend Ruth Navarre, the violist from my quartet at Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival in Vermont a few summers ago.  Ruth always showed an interest in the other styles I played at the time: swing jazz, bebop, a little world music, and a lot of Turtle Island String Quartet sounding music.  We kept in touch over the years and updated each other on our musical endeavors and lives whenever we could.

Me and Ruth in Baton Rouge

Ruth (right) and me in Baton Rouge

At the end of last year she explained that her viola professor at LSU Baton Rouge, Matthew Daline, would be organizing this Viola Competition and she thought it would be a neat idea if I came and gave a masterclass on Jazz and Folke styles.  I jumped on it,  eager for the opportunity to spread alternative styles to classical stringers.  I worked out a masterclass that would teach basic fiddle tunes and give an overview of folk and jazz techniques.

I was thrilled to be invited to instruct at this event, especially after arriving and meeting the other visiting artists: Bruce Owen, Assistant Principal of the Louisiana Philharmonic; Kim Fredenburgh, Professor of Viola at the University of New Mexico; and Timothy Deighton, Professor of Viola at Penn State.  All three of these amazing players and teachers were warm and welcoming, and eager to talk about their own professional experiences and lives.

Ruth also suggested throwing together a string concert while I was in town, something String Revolution-inspired.  I thought up some tunes and asked if she could get some players, and we set a date for the Thursday night before the Viola Competition.

I arrived Monday of that week and set to rehearsing.  I met two incredibly talented players while at LSU: violinist Raul Gomez and jazz cellist Marcelo Vieira.  They both joined me in a string quartet performance of Skylife by Turtle Island, and Marcelo and I performed a duo set of his brilliant arrangements of jazz standards.  That man is a one-man band, a very impressive solo performer and vocalist with serious chop and accompaniment skills on cello.  Check out his website!

Marcelo

Marcelo

A few nights later I had the pleasure of performing with him again, as we both helped kick off the Viola Competition weekend with a saturday evening concert after the guest performers’ concert.  Highland Coffee graciously hosted our jazz string night, donating their outdoor patio for a casual evening of music.  At first I thought Marcelo and I would provide more background music for listeners, but it quickly turned into a private concert with a rapt, attentive audience.  We had a great time going through our two-day-old repertoire list, and when that ran out we improvised some arrangements on favorite tunes out of a borrowed Real Book.  On a personal note, we realized after two minutes of flipping through pages that The Real Book Volume II may not have all the recognized standards that you traditional jazzers are familiar with… But it turned into a successful evening, culminating in a very spirited improv on “The Nearness Of You.”  I remember lyrics better than I thought!

Highland Coffee

The next day I had two hours to give my masterclass on jazz and folk string styles to a class of nine eager students.  I successfully taught an old-time fiddle tune “Leather Britches”, a Mark O’Connor transcription of “Jerusalem’s Ridge”, led the ensemble in a groove string arrangement of “Cissy Strut” by The Meters, a blues tune I wrote and honorably dubbed LSU Blues, and gave a quick chop lesson.  Halfway through, Tim, Bruce and Kim entered and were trying out the chop techniques with air-bow motions themselves!  Afterwards I got great positive feedback from students and viola professors alike.  Looks like this masterclass thing might work out for me!

I hope that I at least left the students with an opening into the other worlds of string playing, and most importantly, a good impression.  There’s nothing wrong with having a passion for classical music and giving it your all, but I can never approve of rejecting another style of music based on the principle that you don’t think it’s “good” or “official” enough.  I hope to teach that just because a style of music doesn’t have a well-rehearsed conservatory-style pedagogy doesn’t mean that it should be taken any less seriously.  I’m learning more and more how different styles of music for strings are taught, and how truly difficult they can be to master, more than years training for a doctorate in some cases.

I read an excerpt from Mark O’Connor about his most recent concert series in San Francisco with the New Century Chamber Orchestra.  He talks about the premier of his work “Elevations,” saying, “Indeed, the complexity of indigenous American string music is often overlooked; mastering the techniques required to perform it well is an immense challenge to string players irrespective of training. “Elevations” offers classically trained musicians, in particular, just this challenge – and those who overcome it unlock the door to a compelling American musical world.”  Props to those classically trained violinists who challenge themselves to harness the true essence of the “fiddler” in their playing, instead of just assuming it requires a dumbing down of their technique.  For example, have a listen to Joshua Bell on this Edgar Meyer album, Short Trip Home.  Long, smooth phrases, crystal clear sustained tone, and a musicality in each bow stroke that tells us he’s listening and deeply connected to the sound he’s making with himself and the players around him.  There’s no automatic pilot going on here.  Way to lead by example, Josh.

My time in Louisiana put me back in touch with the conservatory-styled string world.  I had to think of alternate ways of describing the sound I wanted, instead of just saying, “Chop it.  Sound like a horn.  Lay back on the beat.”  I wanted to try a variety of descriptions that the players would relate to, not just demand they understand my lingo.  We met somewhere between two worlds, past the edge of private lesson classroom rigor and into listening and feeling something brand new, and exploring it for yourself.  At least, I hope I brought them that experience.  I hope they feel better off by seeing it.

It was a week I’ll never forget.  I hope to return to LSU again soon, or at the very least return to the south.  It’s mighty friendly down there, and I love the biscuits and gravy.

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