My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another "only in the hills" performing experience

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Back in March of 2011, I blogged about an incredible experience accompanying a young violinist and her friends and family virtually on top of the world, on a ridge in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia.  Thanks to this same family, I was back in their neck of the woods right before Christmas, and was given yet another set of musical gifts.  Not quite on top of the world this time but close, this most recent performance was given at the Country Store in nearby Floyd, Virginia.  

Some things you might not know about Floyd and its Country Store...

  • Floyd is in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most spectacular drives in the Unites States that I've ever been on.  
  • Floyd is also located on the famed "Crooked Road" that weaves throughout towns where Bluegrass, Old Time, and Traditional Country Music are part of the lifeblood of the people. 
  • The Floyd Country Store is 100 years old and is the place to be and is officially a heritage music venue for the Crooked Road.  On Friday nights it's home to the "Friday Night Jamboree" but there's music and dancing going on other times as well.  In the summer you can drive by and see bands just jamming in the streets, one band right in front of the store, another down the's a crazy and fun place to be, especially for a straight-laced gal like me! 

With all that said, when I found out we were going to be playing a recital in this incredible community venue that oozes American music history, I was thrilled, excited, but also a bit nervous.  Floyd has recently started to open its doors to classical music thanks in part to the National Music Festival that had its start just this past summer, but it is mostly known for the fiddlers, the banjo players, and the cloggers.  I found myself wondering how a Suzuki book recital, plus a few other classical add-ons, would fare in such a non-classical venue.  

As I sat waiting in the store for the young violinist and her family to arrive and as I contemplated what I would perform on since there was no piano in sight, I amused myself by trying to guess how the evening was going to go and how it would be received.  Silly me.  I should have known that was a big waste of time and that music, no matter what genre, would always be well received there.  

The evening was, not surprisingly, different from my standard performance.  There were the external differences - the more informal venue, playing on an electric keyboard (although that's not so rare anymore), and the audience members, many of whom I guess frequent the Friday Night Jamborees.  What stuck with me more, however, were some of the musical interactions that took place that night, specifically those with the local fiddler and mandolin player, Mike Mitchell.  Mike decided to play on his fiddle Bach's famous "Air on a G String" and he did so playing solo, without me accompanying.  It was interesting to hear him play, especially since I had never heard him before and I had no idea what to expect.  He sat down on a beautiful wooden stool to play and introduced me to a completely innocent, simple way of playing Bach.  And then, as his last note started to die away, he evolved that one tone into the start of an upbeat, wonderfully free fiddling improvisation.  As he got going Mike's whole demeanor changed and his body and sound opened up, transporting me as a listener from one musical land into a completely different one.  It was fantastic!

And if that wasn't enough, we followed that with a performance of the first movement of Vivaldi's double violin concerto with Mike on the mandolin and a friend of mine on violin.  This was an on-the-spot performance since the three of us had never rehearsed together, but that made it all the more thrilling and it's exactly the kind of experience that I thrive on.  In the course of 6 minutes I got to play one of my favorite pieces while getting to know another musician through music alone, and I got to experience classical music as seen through the eyes and ears of someone that lives and breathes bluegrass and mountain music.  I think it was a new experience for him as well.  As we finished our acknowledgement of the applause, he said quite audibly to all, "That's the first time I've done anything like that!"  He said that with a beautiful smile on his face so my hope is that he was feeling the same way I was feeling - thrilled and moved by yet another new musical experience. 

The audience was small that night but they were all there with a desire to hear some good music and to watch some talented young (and a few old) people play.  They spoke in between pieces and shared with us what impressed them and what moved them.  One audience member, who struck me as looking like your stereotypical mountain man complete with long white beard and gnarly walking staff, reminded me to never judge a book by its cover, by piping in now and then with facts about the composers whose pieces we were playing or about the instruments themselves.  In the end, I walked out of the Floyd Country Store feeling still a little out-of-place, but blissfully aware that classical music is just music and can be played and enjoyed everywhere.  I also walked out plotting when and how I could perform there again.  

I think that's a good sign.


  1. Such a nice story Erica, and so complimentary! Thanks, and I look forward to another time.

    1. Oh wow, Mike. Thank you for reading the post - I'm glad you came across it! And yes, let's do it again some time. Any time!!

      All the best,

    2. And Mike, next time I'll have to give non-classical music a try. I've always wanted to and who better to do it with than someone like you? As long as you're brave enough to put up with me that is.