Jan. 18, 2018
An inspiring duo collaboration with vocalist Megan McConnell has emerged out of our successful Christmas tour. Megan and I have several regional and national appearances planned this season unveiling our newest arrangements of ancient songs from the Hebrides and toe-tapping puirt a beul (mouth music) from the Scottish Highlands. [Details here]
Nov. 26, 2018
Thanks to 121 kind supporters, I am delighted to announce that our Kickstarter campaign reached and exceeded its goal. Production of the new Christmas album is now commencing at a vigorous pace.
Oct. 28, 2018
I'm excited to announce the launch of my Kickstarter campaign to fund the completion of the new Celtic Christmas album. Time is of the essence. We have just 21 days to reach the goal of $10,000. If the goal is not met within that time, we get nothing – zero (obviously contributions are returned to the backers. So it's all or nothing. Please consider getting involved by pledging your support for creating and releasing this beautiful and interesting new album.
Oct 18, 2018
I'll be returning to Peebles, Scotland on Nov. 3 & 4 to team teach with Rosemary Warren-Green at the progressive Nomad Beat Community Music School. We'll give a series of four workshops and perform a culminating concert at the Eastgate Theatre & Arts Center. Registration and info [HERE].
Aug 28, 2018
My new concerto is finished. Orchestration completed and scores and parts delivered. Now it's time to practice like a fiend for the premiere on Sept. 27 with the Davidson Orchestra. Details here: https://goo.gl/BHSQWJ
July 29, 2018
It all starts with great leadership.
I'm just back from a magical week teaching with the team at the O'Connor Method String Camp. Both students and faculty bonded in a most remarkable learning environment which fostered creativity and genuine care for each other.
Unlike other music camps at which I have taught, Mark and Maggie laid out a clear objective of what the camp is meant to accomplish. Gathered together were 21 like-minded faculty who share a universal vision and were able to engage and connect with students to help them grow as musicians and human beings. The teamwork was clear from the way each of the faculty connected with one another, both professionally and personally.
It is not surprising, then, that the students who were drawn to this type of environment should themselves be such lovely people. Every one of the 150 students I met was fascinating, motivated, genuine, loving, and kind.
The experience was so positive that I am thinking of revisiting a long-forgotten dream of starting my own fiddle camp someday. Meanwhile, I wish every success to the O'Connors for the future growth and continued magic of their fantastic O'Connor Method String Camp in Charlotte.
June 16, 2018
This Fall I have the unique privilege of performing with Rosemary Warren-Green, one of Great Britain's preeminent classical violinists. We will first perform my new concerto for violin & viola with the Davidson Orchestra in North Carolina. A couple of weeks later we meet up in England and Scotland to teach and perform some of my other duo pieces plus some classical duets. Click here for details.
May 18, 2018The New England tour was a heartwarming success. My first appearance in Boston and Northampton, MA was attended by knowledgable audiences who graced me with rapturous praise. WGBH radio host Brian O'Donovan gave me his musical endorsement and invited me onto his program Celtic Sojourn. A cozy concert and workshop in rural Peterborough, NH provided an airy, relaxed reprive from the bustling city. The final engagement was a teaching stint in the beautiful Berkshires, where Erika Ludwig has built an affectionate community of ardent adult fiddlers. I can hardly wait to return to this stunning part of the country.
April 6, 2018I'm so looking forward to my upcoming tour to historic New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I adore the mansard-style architecture from days of old and the cozy, walkable neighborhoods. I'll be in Boston on May 9, Peterborough (pictured) on May 11/12, and Northampton on May 13.
Mar. 20, 2018
It's heartwarming to see one's legacy taken up by the next generation. Thanks, young Sophie!
Mar. 6, 2018
Rosining up my bow for 4 upcoming St. Patrick's-themed performances!
3/17 - Dahlonega, GA (https://goo.gl/2DYToz)
3/18 - Charlotte, NC (https://goo.gl/huq97i)
3/22 - Defiance, OH (https://goo.gl/qexBor)
3/24 - Fletcher, NC (https://goo.gl/gxMcmG)
Dec. 26, 2017
Our Celtic Christmas tour starts tomorrow in Southern Pines, NC and continues in Asheville, Charlotte, and Tryon. Info and tickets [HERE].
Nov. 26, 2017Rehearsals in progress for the my Celtic Christmas tour playing in Southern Pines, Charlotte, Asheville, and Tryon, Dec. 27–30. [Click here for info and tickets]
Nov. 14, 2017
My 8-week tour finished on a high note in Dublin, Ireland. Destined to become London's replacement as the business epicenter of English-speaking Europe once Brexit happens, I found Dublin to be a vibrant, exciting cultural mecca. RTÉ One invited me to perform on the "Today" show, one of their most-listened-to radio programs. Tune sessions ensued every night lasting into the wee hours of the morning. The final concert at Áras Chrónáin Irish Cultural Center was met with some of the warmest, most sincere and welcoming attendees of the tour. On two separate occasions an audience member stood up and gave an impromptu speech to the assembly about how moving they found the concert to be.
Nov. 1, 2017
Just finished a 4-week tour in Scotland. As always, the lush green in the deep, misty glens of Argyll uplifted my spirit. But this trip also acquainted me more than ever with the delights of the great city of Glasgow with its vibrant music culture and handsome, historic stone buildings. A trip south to the Scottish borders brought me for the 4th time to idyllic village of Peebles for a superb teaching experience. Between gigs there was plenty of time to hear other musicians and visit several magnificent historic sites. Tour photos [HERE].
Sept. 4, 2017
Writing my own music has been one of the extremely satisfying and rewarding outcomes of deciding not to follow a conventional career path in music. I am very happy with my two new scores which I will perform for the first time with the Hendersonville Symphony on Saturday, Sept. 9. [Info here]
July 11. 2017
Just home home from a blissful 18-day concert tour in New England. (Car’s odometer now at 353,869 mi.)
The concerts took me through some of the most scenic places I’ve yet seen in the U.S., including Portland, ME; Montpelier, VT (Bernie country...yay bernie!); the sublime Berkshire Mountains of western MA; upstate NY; and the vacation paradise of Sunapee, NH.
Erika Ludwig of Berkshire Strings organized a magical welcome at the Dewey Hall, a magnificent stone community meeting center built in 1887 and lovingly maintained by the Sheffield community (near Tanglewood).
Jane Bradbury and Ed Rosenburgh put together a smash success at the Unity Hall, an historic meeting hall of the Unitarians, located in a tiny town called Barneveld near Utica, NY. Tons of people attended and the audience connected with me in a beautiful way that I’ll never forget!
And what a wonderful surprise: Francestown and Sunapee in New Hampshire! That was a new area to me, and I was delighted to connect with countless people who are environmentally conscious, brilliant and worldly, art-loving, musical, social activists, and deeply humanitarian.
Special thanks to Vic Reno, Susan Reid, Donna Hopkins & John, Marcy & Ted, Francelle & Bix, Jane Bradbury, William Bradbury, Erika Ludwig & Tony, Alex Ludwig, Paula Moore & John, Dean Bradbury, and extra special thanks to Jonathan Bagg & Laura Gilbert at Electric Earth Concerts.
July 4, 2017
Musical directors Jonathan Bagg and Laura Gilbert invited me to perform in their distinctive, concert series, Electric Earth, based in Peterborough, NH. Within the magnificent acoustics and postcard-perfect, early American architecture of Francestown's Old Meeting Hall, we performed the premieres of two new compositions – one by Cal State Univ composer William Bradbury (standing next to me), and one by me based on traditional tarantella tunes from Brittany. The event was an inspiring musical achievement and a taste of classic New England. http://electricearthconcerts.org
June 22, 2017
If you live in New England, please join me in southern NH, western MA, upstate NY, or middle Vermont during my tour starting this Sunday. I’ll be performing the world premieres of two new compositions (one by me, one by William Bradbury of Cal State Univ.) in lovely, historic venues such as the Francestown Old Meetinghouse. Tour details here: https://jamielaval.com/events
May 20, 2017
Classical Idol was a fund raising event for the Charlotte Symphony in which I was invited to participate a few years ago. During the performance I premiered my new composition, "The Sea Is My Delight", which was orchestrated for the large ensemble pictured below. Later I revised the score and performed it with the Hendersonville Symphony [click here to watch video]. Thanks to the great musical and personal chemistry with the orchestra and maestro Thomas Joiner, I have been invited back as soloist this September [details here].
April 20, 2017
How fun ... I was on T.V. tonight.
Mar. 16, 2017St. Patrick's Day concert tomorrow in Dahlonega. I'll be wearing my new kilt and playing bombard music from Brittany (Celtic France). My good friend Damian Morrissy (from Canada) will join me on guitar for a few tunes. Only 14 seats left. http://www.thecrimsonmoon.com
Feb. 5, 2017
Shot this vertical pano on my iPhone while sightseeing around Duke University campus. This is the interior of Duke's iconic chapel.
Feb. 4, 2017
Couldn't have had a nicer time working with the Ciompi Quartet. Eric, Hsao-mei, Jonathan, and Fred are all superb players and showed me the most genuine warmth and respect. We nailed a polished and compelling performance of David Garner's challenging composition Skye & Glass (world premier) in the stunning Baldwin Auditorium. Hearty thanks to Duke Performances for presenting the event.
Jan. 18, 2017
I am honored to be performing the world premiere of a new composition by David Kirkland Garner on Feb. 4. Written especially for me and the acclaimed Ciompi String Quartet, the work bravely blends traditional Scottish music with classical avant-garde. The event will be presented by Duke Performances at the fabulous Baldwin Auditorium, Durham, NC. I, along with the composer and the members of the quartet, will present a free lecture/symposium on Feb. 2 discussing the inspiration behind the creation of the piece and how classical string playing differs from folk fiddling.
See details about both events.
Dec. 31, 2016
Every one of our 10-member troupe outdid themselves with an amazing performance on our final night of the tour in Tryon, NC. Song after song gave me goosebumps. I am so proud of everyone for working so hard to create such a work of Christmas magic. See full gallery of photos.
Nov 14, 2016
Back in North Carolina busily writing new symphony scores, preparing for my annual Celtic Christmas tour, and sharing my tour adventures in a series of intimate concerts around the region such as the upcoming performance in Brevard, home of the rare and adorable white squirrels.
Aug 19, 2016
Edinburgh Fringe Festival is off to a bustling start with a nice little first performance at Venue 123 and another today on The Royal Mile Lower Stage. The city is absolutely humming with energy.
June 7, 2016
Watch this 60-second Promo Video to find out about the world's largest music & arts festival, The Edinburgh Fringe.
May 26, 2016
May 1, 2016Music festival in a castle! How about visiting Inverary, Scotland on Sept. 10 where I'll be performing on the Whisky Stage during BOWFest 2016. www.bowfest.co.uk
April 20, 2016
I'm delighted by how many people have been wearing my new t-shirt. People say the Celtic knot reminds them of a candle flame. The outline of the design is the actual outline of my Widenhouse violin. Thanks to Farley Snow for conceiving the original design and managing the production.
April 11, 2016
History is in the making! It is fascinating to see multiple layers of our kaleidoscopic society mobilized by Pat McCory's wretched NC HB2 bill.
Apr 9, 2016
Magical house concert in Athens, GA. Ellen's beautiful 150-year old converted church set the stage for a gathering of some of the most appreciative and music saavy listeners I've met anywhere. A super fun tune session following the concert was a perfect chance to enjoy hearing many of the local players. Thanks, Athens, for showing me such a great welcome.
Apr. 3, 2016
“Dear Jamie: I just wanted to tell you what an unexpected surprise and delight is was to see you join in our local Celtic tune session last evening at the pub! I have attended several of your concerts in the Charlotte area. It was so great to see you mixing it up with some of our local talent!”
“Dear MH: It is fun and fulfilling to join in with local sessions, and I also feel it is important to help carry on the Celtic tradition by playing music with people from all walks of life. The genre has evolved for centuries through a process of community participation and collective invention. The ‘seisun’ format of playing simple tunes in unison in a group is a perfect forum for community-building.”
Mar. 26, 2016It was community synergy at its best.
Mar. 15, 2016
My little lane in Tryon, NC comes alive this time of year! The RR track is the famous Saluda Grade, steepest standard width rail line in the U.S., decomissioned in 2001. I cross it walking from my front door to the bakery one block from home.
Mar. 8, 2016
Just finished composing several new symphony scores which will premiere this weekend with the Lee County Community Orchestra, Triangle, NC.
Jan. 28, 2016
Alas! 6 inches of snow shut down the southeast last weekend (stop laughing, you folks up in Manitoba!) and forced the cancellation of two performances. All the more reason I am looking forward to this coming weekend's 4 events honoring Robert Burns. • Friday and Saturday Burns Supper & Ceilidh (Newnan, GA) • Sunday my Solo Unplugged concert with several excellent young Celtic players opening up for me (Sandy Springs, GA) • Monday Scottish Ceilidh dance (Sandy Springs, GA). Details [HERE]
Jan. 20, 2016
Starting off the New Year by getting back to basics: solo fiddle, no accompniment, just the beauty of Highland tunes and the whimsy of imagination. Upcoming performances [HERE].
Jan. 1, 2016
The final show of the Christmas Solstice 2015 tour took place in the Tryon Fine Arts Center just one block from my home. By now the company had become tightly knit and finely hewn and were able to capture the magic and atmosphere of the midwinter solstice and the changing season. It was a great feeling to play such a successful performance to my local friends and neighbors.
Best wishes and all my love to the wonderful troupe of 12 musicians and dancers. During the run of six performances, each of us—I as much as anyone!—made a big leap forward in personal growth and musical prowess. Hugs and thanks to Rosalind, Maddie, David, Michelle, Emily, Michael, Jenny, Ana Carolina, Lindsay, Mary, Kelly, and Amy for your wonderful spirit and skill. Special warm thanks to Farley Snow for your production advice and countless volunteer hours.
Sept. 22, 2015
TEDx Tryon last week was amazing. I had been very intent on improving my public speaking skills while at the same time getting out the message of the importance of arts in our communities. After practicing 4-hours per day for two months and doing much soul-searching, I feel the goal was successfully acheived. Enormous thanks to the TEDx team including the curators, technical staff, and army of lovely volunteers.
July 13, 2015
Midnight sun was all that illuminated the elegant dining room of Hannesarholt as Ragga, owner and restorer of this interesting historic site, served a delectable post-concert meal of smoked lamb, traditional Icelandic pastry, and red wine. Earlier in the evening attendees had supped and sipped here during the intermission. It was my last night in Reykjavík and I listened enthralled as Ragga recounted the history of Iceland’s comparitively recent development from a huddled, thwarted, underdeveloped colony into a modern, independent nation.
Ragga’s passion to preserve the home of Iceland’s first prime minister and make it a center for arts events, music, and history struck a familiar note with my own conviction for following a meaningful artistic vision. She has spared no expense in bringing the house back to its pristine, original condition so that the general public might not forget the dramatic leap Iceland made in the early 1900s. If you are ever in Reikjavík I heartily recommend a visit to Hannarsarholt to attend a concert or to enjoy a superbly prepared meal.
Earlier in the week found me performing at a music festival in a unique little fishing village called Siglufjörður, some 5 hours up the northern coastline. An old fishing boat which had been retired within the walls of a large museum served as the concert stage. I was joined by one of Iceland’s best guitarists, Asgeir Asgeirsson, who did a great job assimilating Celtic fiddle style for the first time. Pairing an American who plays Scottish music with an Icelander who plays Balkan music aptly illustrated the international flavor of the festival which also featured classical, traditional Norwegian, non-traditional Finnish, and the ancient vocal a cappella tradition known as Rímur which reminded me very much of Appalachian shape note singing.
The final day of the festival had seen the clearest skies and warmest weather (78ºF) of the year, brilliantly displaying the magnificent mountain slopes which rose steeply from the edge of the fjord. It seemed full daylight as the final midnight dance got underway. I taught (called) numerous popular Scottish ceilidh dances to a room packed with energetic school kids alongside other festival attendees and townsfolk, providing dance music with naught but my lone fiddle—thus fulfilling a long standing desire to play for dancers in the old tradition without a backup band!
Thanks to Gunnsteinn Ólafsson for inviting me to Iceland; Monika, Hildur, and Maria at the Folk Music Center of Siglufjörður; Asgeir for the fine musicianship; Ragnheidur and Marinella Arnor for your vision at Hannesarholt.
May 27, 2015
Thank you Doug Plummer & Robin Shapiro for hosting the charming house concert in Seattle last night. Several attendees told me they have been fans for years, but I had never met them. Thanks to the intimate living room setting for this concert I was able to get to know them personally for the first time. Doug is a fantastic photographer and terrific cook. Now off to Portland for Abbie Weisenbloom's concert tonight with concert with guitarist Dan Compton.
Feb. 22, 2015
My musical mentor, Sydney Humphreys, passed away last week at age 89. Mr. Humphreys was unlike any other teacher I have had in that he taught body movement and violin mechanics as an integral part of music making. His extraordinary accomplishments as a performer daunted me when I first began lessons with him at the Victoria Conservatory of Music at age 17, but it didn't take long for him to reveal his gentle kindness and matter-of-fact working method which put me at ease. Since then, whenever I take up the violin, whether to perform, practice scales, or pass along my knowledge to the next generation of budding fiddlers, I call upon the indelible imprint of his teachings which is still clear in my mind and my fingers. Read more about Sydney Humphreys' musical legacy in this lovely [obituary].
Jan 1, 2015
Until recently I was always pretty much "bah humbug" about the Christmas holidays. The rampant consumerism of our present-day culture has always alienated me. Could we not champion a more introspective holiday season by revelling in good conversation, food, and music amidst the company of loved ones in a cozy domain as the stormy Winter rages outside?
Happily, the sense of community and holiday cheer which has begun to coalesce around my Celtic Christmas shows has lit a glowing advent candle within me. For the first time the Christmas spirit is begining to make itself known.
John Maschinot's beautifully conceived Atlanta Celtic Christmas kicked off the festivities. I was just a side guy in this annual production at the Rialto Theatre which brought together a multitude of the best and brightest Irish and Scottish performers in the greater Atlanta area. Joe Craven and Jessie Edgerton stitched together a theme of two street musicians warming themselves by the fire while interjecting amusing social commentary and observations about Celtic music. John Doyle and I sailed through my most recent composition The Camellia. Playing with John is like a ride on a rocket ship! John always thrills me with his fountain of inventiveness which seems to spring up out of nowhere during the heat of performance. [video]
My own Scottish Solstice Holiday Celebration show started to take on a life of its own this year. The continuity of sold out shows in Fayetteville, NC; Duluth, GA; Asheville, NC; and Tryon NC helped glue the band of 9 merry tinkers together. Each dancer and musician seemed to discover how best to present themselves within the context of the whole. It was lovely to behold. During the 26 hours folowing Christmas Day we clocked 15 hours of stage time along with a four-hour drive on just 4 hours of sleep; yet at midnight after the audience had gone home and the lights were down, everyone was still full of laughter, hugs, warm comradery.
Rosalind Buda scored a home run with her amazing bombarde playing, not to mention her sublime poetry reading which I find incredibly atmospheric. Kelly Stewart Brozozwski enchanted us with her fairly-like Celtic harp. Lindsay Recknagel came out of retirement (age 21) to dance a razzmatazz solo of the sailors hornpipe. Huge thanks to soprano Katie Baughman, highland piper Bill Caudill, guitarist Gil Draper, and Amy & Maddie of the Annandale School of Highland Dance, all of whom delivered wonderful performances.
A special call out of thanks to PA sound engineers Shalom, Alex, and Jimm. Warm and kind thanks to Mary Recknagel for the beautiful evergreen decorations that adorned the stage at every show. And much gratitude to Derek Prescott of Lochgoilhead, Scotland who provided the stunning photos for the backdrop.
Now it's time to start planning for an even more wonderful show next year!
Sept. 16, 2014
Finished three lovely concerts with Irish bouzouki & guitar player Vincent Fogerty. Observing Vincent's unqique backup style taught me a lot about harmonic and rhythmic possibilities which I could utilize when it's my turn to take guitar in hand. Kudos to Rodney and Loraine, the new owners of The Strand Theatre in Waynesville. It was a sellout show and they are running a first-rate venue with highest professionalism. In Johns Creek were graced by a cameo performance of a Fling and a Flora by Aeri Baker, the charming young dancer who studies at Atlanta's Glencoe School of Highland Dance.
Sept. 6, 2014
Congratulations Annika Bowers, the new U.S. National Junior Scottish Fiddle Champion. Best slow air, best reel, best set, overall winner in a large field of competitors. The event took place Sept. 6, 2014 in Edinboro, PA. Annika lives in Charlotte, NC and has studied fiddle with me for 5 years.
April 23, 2014
My students are often amazed when I demonstrate that there is not just ONE place to put their finger to make a correctly-tuned note, there are FOUR. I call them: sub, tempered, super, and leading tone, chosen depending on the musical situation or key. All professional wind players and most professional string players know this. When my students ask about a piano having only one "G", one "G#" and so on, I point out that in days of old harpsichord keyboards had additional notes to help them try to play chords better in tune. Nowadays, we have been socialized (supposedly) to accept the sound of modern-tuned pianos and fretted instruments, in which the 3rds of the chords are 1/7th of a semitone out of tune and the 5ths of the chords are 1/49th of a semitone out of tune.
April 16, 2014
Gave two presentations and taught private lessons at elementary schools in Burke County, NC. A vital axiom of mine is that my students don't limit themselves to just the robotic skills of going through the motions of playing the right notes, but that they learn a deeper sense of what the music is about, how it is constructed, and how we can communicate emotions and ideas through music.
Feb. 27, 2014
The veil of heavy rain and gray skies peeled back today during my long drive from Portland, OR to Bellingham, WA to reveal vivid views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, and the Stuart Range.
Upon arriving in Bellingham, what awaited me was a an evening of magic I could not have predicted.
I had played a few small engagements in Bellingham several years ago, but I had no real sense that anyone would remember me. David and Grace Harris fashioned an intimate concert on my behalf in an old parish hall. And what do you know, but a lovely gathering of attendees showed up! I was astonished to discover, by show of hands, that 2/3 of the audience were themselves musicians. Playing solo without accompaniment and recounting the early days of my music career in the Pacific Northwest, I felt uniquely connected with the perceptive and informed audience, many of whom tapped their toes discretely with the music and chuckled understandingly at my stories.
In addition to the gracious hospitality shown me by David and Grace, several new and auspicious musical connections were made, thus setting into motion a full-scale plan of concerts and teaching for next year's return visit. Thank you, Bellingham, for welcoming me with such warmth and sincerity!
Jan. 5, 2014
The absurdity of extreme musical contrast nearly makes me laugh.
With no time to revel in the happy success of my Scottish Solstice concerts I’m already immersed in the icy waters of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, which I’ll be performing with Franklin Keel next month at the Haen Gallery. Latticed with pungent dissonance and prickly virtuosity, this modernistic score seems a world apart from the Gemütlichkeit of the holiday shows.
The Yuletide season kicked off with John Maschinot's annual Atlanta Celtic Christmas at the Rialto Theatre, during which two shows I got to perform with the mighty John Doyle, a human hurricane of a guitarist powered by rocket fuel!
Christmas day came and went like a puff smoke as rehearsals got underway for my two Scottish Solstice Holiday Celebration shows. The troupe was a literal dream team of performers. Rosalind nearly stole the show with her electrifying bombarde playing, not to mention her elfin poetry reading and a hilarious cameo appearance on the bass drum. Alexandria Carrico mesmerized us with her champagne soprano voice, one moment deftly lilting a jig rhythm and the next moment going guttural with a Gaelic Noël from Brittany. Gentle genius David Brown locked down the groove with his guitar. In the true Christmas spirit, EJ and I reconciled our previous misunderstandings and he provided some of the most stirring piping I’ve heard! Lindsay Recknagel was assisted by two of her dance students from the Glencoe School of Highland Dance in a set of prancing strathspeys and a cheeky sailor’s hornpipe. Just as I was about to step out of the wings onto the stage I was informed that this was to be Lindsay’s farewell performance; she will be retiring from dance to finish grad school and pursue other interests. Rounding out the troupe were two Celtic harpists, Christine Vanarsdale and Kelly Brzowzski, who added an impression of snow and fairy dust to the deep mid-winter atmosphere.
The Asheville Citizen-Times did us proud with two terrific spreads. Hats off to writers Carol Motsinger and Carol Rifkin, and editors Tony Kiss and Bruce Steele.
No sooner had the Solstice candles been extinguished, holly branches bagged up, and the last of the goodbye hugs doled out, than I found myself in Old Knoxville’s Jig & Reel pub shredding bow hair during their raucous New Year’s Eve bash. Two days later I stepped onto the Grove Park Inn’s Grand Ballroom stage alongside singer/songwriter Danny Ellis for the unfolding of a magnificent performance of Danny’s poetic song cycle chronicling hardship, discovery, and reconciliation.
And here I am now preparing for back-to-back concerts of Highland fiddle tunes one day and classical chamber music the next.
Thus ends—and begins—another year of musical adventure, humbled as I am by the privilege of artistic ambassadorship, grateful for the unique view of our world afforded an artist who walks seamlessly between many strata of society. This is my shout out to everyone I have met throughout the year: “Thank you, each of you, for the meaningful contribution you have made to me and to others around you. Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night!”
Oct. 12, 2013
Just finished a 13-day run with the brilliant Irish-style guitarist Dan Compton. Our final concert was the best. Brevard, home of the rare White Squirrel, has been a musical home run every time I've played there. Leading up to our pair of concerts at the Transylvania Community Arts Center, Dan and I had already spent 11 hours in the recording studio and performed 5 concerts plus 2 contra dances. The workings were well honed by the time we arrived town.
One of the qualities that is so special about working with Dan is his rich harmonic sense. This is partly due to his classical training. He doesn't, for example, just lay down any old F# minor chord; he'll explore a dozen or more different voicings of any given harmonic space to capture just the right atmosphere. When we rehearse, I can use language like, "In this passage can you create a progression that travels from the flat-6 to the dominant by way of a 5-of-5?", and he knows exactly what I'm talking about. Yet at the same time, he doesn't over-do multiple chord changes just to prove he can.
Among my favorite new arrangements we created together is a suite of tunes from Brittany (Bretagne) known as Gavottes. Bearing no resemblance to their classical music namesakes as might be heard in a suite by Bach, Breton Gavottes are characterized by a pulsing, swingy rhythm with stress frequently placed on groups of 3+3+2. A slow section in the middle of the dance allows dancers to promenade casually in a circle around the room with their partner before striking up again at full tempo. I love the minor mode of many of these tunes.
The new album won't be ready for release until just after the new year, but I'll try to post a short preview soon. In the meantime, here is a video of me performing Gavottes in a different configuration. [Gavottes]
Sept. 8, 2013
A blood red crescent moon reclined nonchalantly above a torn paper silhouette of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thought-provoking conversations, visions of smiling children, and harmonious strains of orchestra music flickered through my mind as I neared home. A freshly-picked apple which had been placed on my dash just before my departure from Hendersonville reminded me of the mutual affection shared with my gracious hosts and all of the lovely people whom I befriended during the week.
Impressions such as these can make a memory last forever.
“Success is infinitely divisible,” declared Symphony president Jules Hagymassy, responding to my assertion that my own contribution had not constituted the whole of the success of Hendersonville Symphony concert. Ushers had to show up and do their jobs. The bagpipers had to rehearse and march into the auditorium on command, peeling off into formation to the crowd’s delight. Refreshments were needed, box office organization was imperative. There were emcees, program graphics, CD sales (thank you, Farley!), payroll, media promotions ... the list goes on and on...
Symphony manager Eric Scheider was super human. Maestro Joiner: what else can I say besides “Bravo, you are a visionary!” Soloists: fantastically well-prepared. And to the rest of the orchestra: you rose to the call brilliantly and sounded great. Thank you! Mine was only one piece of the equation – a large piece, yes – but I am thrilled to report that the show was an unqualified success on every level due to the fine teamwork shown by all.
Planning for the event began a year ago when conductor Thomas Joiner discovered me on YouTube and asked me to be the soloist with his orchestra. Most of my performances utilize an improvised accompaniment of guitar and other instruments, so working with an orchestra requires an entirely different approach. The 70 or so players in a symphony need written out parts to play, and since all the compositions are my own, it’s my job to provide these parts.
I began by reworking many of the scores which I had created in the past, bearing in mind the strengths of the Hendersonville Symphony, which, much to my pleasant surprise, played at a very high level. There were also the brand new compositions to consider, “The Sea Is My Delight” and “Journey Through Mist And Mountains.” My goal for these was to raise the bar of my orchestration skills by writing material that was fun to play and would showcase the unique sonority of each instrument of the orchestra. Composition and typesetting took about 10 weeks, working on an average of 4 to 12 hours per day. Near the end I had to really turn on the juice by staying up all night for several nights in a row until the writing was finished.
I called upon my favorite musical comrades EJ Jones (bagpipes), Rosalind Buda (bombarde and bassoon), Roger Gold (guitar), Alice Jamison & Pearl Shirley (step dancers), and Aaron Price (PA sound engineer) to help fill out the front line. The Montreat Pipe and Drum Band provided an exhilarating atmosphere to open the show. As a final tribute to the skills of the orchestra musicians, we devised a medley of soloists who stepped out from the orchestra to join me at the front of the stage. Congratulations Kyra Zhang (clarinet), Beryl Lemmons (piccolo), Mary Irwin (violin), and Matt Waid (bass) for doing a brilliant job with your solos! (Matt, I apologize for making a silly boo-boo in the middle of your solo..let’s try Take 2 next time!)
The show sold out at 770 seats well before concert time and it seemed everybody went away with huge smiles. It was heart-warming that so many of the orchestra players approached me afterward saying how much fun they had had playing this program.
A special nod to the Hendersonville Symphony’s mission of educational outreach to the schools. I was asked to perform for a student assembly at Apple Valley Middle School on the morning before the show. A hundred enthusiastic kids attended and gave me a glimpse into the vibrant strings education program that is going on in Henderson County. Thanks to journalist Nancy Tanker for writing the beautiful article about that school presentation [read here] which graced the front page of the local paper – positioned above the conflict in Syria! Now THAT’s what I call support for the arts!