Magazine article Strings

A Slice of Fiddle Heaven

Magazine article Strings

A Slice of Fiddle Heaven

Article excerpt

It's the first week of August, and I've just arrived on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University for Mark O'Connor's strings conference. The skies are deep azure, and from the promontory on which the campus sits I see the mountains in the distance past the San Diego skyline. As I look down 400 feet to the Pacific, about a dozen sailboats splash in the waves and a cool ocean breeze carries a chevron of pelicans slowly by.

It's just past eight in the morning and the music swirls. There are four or five jam circles of mostly bluegrass and Texas fiddling, and I'm told that these sessions are an almost 24/7 phenomenon. Brooks Huffman, 13, of New York City, takes five from what seems to be a Texas bluegrass cello duo to admit to me that she had stayed up late jamming and didn't get much sleep the night before.

At nine, I tag along with a group of intermediate violinists for the Fiddlers Shuffle. Designed by O'Connor to shift, bend, and bounce paradigms, the Shuffle requires all violinists who are past the beginner stage to attend classes in all styles of music. Bluegrass fiddlers must attend classical instruction and classical performers must learn some Texas fiddling and jazz.

Today I'm dumbfounded as George Gao runs us through a class on the two-string Chinese erhu. I don't think I'm getting many of the finer points, but Gao continues his encouragement. "Good! Very good!" punctuates our attempts to mimic his instrument.

At ten, Jon Burr, Sara Caswell, and Hans Holzen have us try our hand at jazz improvisation. Perhaps the class could be subtitled "Aristotle meets Charlie Parker meets Albert Einstein," as Burr takes the class topic from jazz to music's relation to physics and psychology.

As I take a break to enjoy the sunshine, violinist Michelle May tells me it was the Shuffle that brought her here from her home in Detroit. "It's an incredible and rare opportunity to immerse yourself in so many styles," she says. …

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