|Photograph by Jim McGuire, used with|
Mark O'Connor's kind permission
Some concerts reap cheers and applause from feats of technical virtuosity and brilliance but this past Friday evening my husband and I attended a recital given by the violinist, Mark O'Connor that managed to get the same reaction, and possibly a more heartfelt one, by presenting a recital that seemed to defy what we typically hear in the classical music world. Except for a few pieces at the end of the recital, O'Connor presented music that came straight out of his method books for young violinists and that can now be heard on his recently released album, American Classics. This means that each selection was very short, only a minute or two each in length. And it was music that could be played by an intermediate violinist. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. Nothing that made my jaw drop for technical reasons. But that doesn't mean that my jaw didn't drop. It did, but for very different reasons.
My jaw dropped because the music was played exquisitely, energetically, and personally. The tunes, mostly American ragtime, jazz standards, fiddling tunes, blues, folk, and some of his own compositions, were introduced by O'Connor in a way that instantly infused life, meaning, and value into each one. It gave me the sense, even before he set bow to string, that he was sharing something of himself with us. About halfway through the performance I sensed that O'Connor was sharing something even more than just tunes he happened to like. He was sharing a vision that he has for American music which is one that places it in a more prominent position - one that matches more closely the importance that other countries have given our music since we first began creating it. It was a vision that I found exciting and a bit of a relief because I have often struggled with feeling a need to use more of our own musical heritage to build a bridge between myself and the audiences for which I regularly play. We don't live in the big city; we don't play for folks that have been steeped in the classical music world. We live in a small town in Appalachia where those tunes that Mark O'Connor played the other night carry with them more than just good music. They carry with them memories of faces, places, and history.
On Friday night, I saw memories coming alive in the faces and bodies of many of those in attendance. O'Connor would name a piece he was about to perform and there were audible sighs surrounding us. The first time I heard that, I turned to my husband with a big smile on my face and I believe I actually giggled thinking of how often that had happened in our own recitals - not an everyday occurrence, I'll just say that. And in so many of the selections where O'Connor laid on his fiddling magic, he had the audience tapping their feet and wanting to break the typically silent audience mode to clap along. I kind of wish that someone had.
To top the night off and to give us a good dose of the unique magic he can produce on his violin, O'Connor was joined on stage by another violinist, Ashley Liberty, to perform a movement from his double violin concerto. My jaw dropped yet again with this piece. It was a tangible, aural example of communication through music, especially towards the end. It was fascinating to hear O'Connor's musical statements, made in his more folksy style, answered by Ms. Liberty's, which to my ear had a little more of a classical accent. As in verbal communication, those different accents made absolutely no difference in how well they could be understood. In the end it was all great music and exhilarating self-expression.
It's no wonder the audience presented O'Connor with a standing ovation. He had given us a simple gift in musical form and so often it's the simplest gifts that mean the most.