Utne Reader is proud to premiere violinist Mark O'Connor's version of the Duke Ellington standard "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" off his new record, MOC4, out June 10 on OMAC Records.
According to a press release, MOC4 finds Mark O'Connor reinterpreting an eclectic collection of classic American songs, proving that the violin, though often praised for its triumphs within European classical music, can be given new life in the realm of American classical, blues, jazz, bluegrass, spirituals, rock, ragtime and more. The album also features collaborations with six of his past violin mentees, and coincides with the release of Mark's latest music education book as part of his revolutionary teaching program the O'Connor Method. The method bases string-centric music education on American musical literature and creativity to attract and engage students, as opposed to the study of mostly all European classical pieces emphasized in alternative programs. His annual string camp at the Berklee College of Music will be held June 23-27. While you listen to the song, learn more about the man behind the music and the method:
Can you give a brief recap of your experience as a child prodigy and how you developed as a musician growing up? How did your perspective of the violin and string music evolve?
Mark O'Connor: I was able to learn about what I refer to as the "four pillars of string playing" all by the time I was a mid teenager: Folk Fiddling, Classical, Jazz, and World Music. I was astonished when I found out there was almost no string player in the U.S., or in the world for that matter with those wonderful combinations of experiences. I always thought it was a strength to have that kind of background in learning music and I wanted to share the gift I had with the world of string students. I realized that it was simply what the "American School" should be all about. No one had ever come up with what the American School of String Playing should be. And so I did. Our strength in America has been our diversity and as it should be here with string music education.
Can you briefly explain the O'Connor Method and what your goals are with it?
MO: There are many goals with any methodology, but the set of goals that a great music methodology should provide includes a track towards being a professional musician, an excellent musician or an average musician, but one who also falls in love with music. They all need to be covered within the same lesson plan and approach to learning. I am lucky that I have American music materials at my back, and there are no better materials in 2014 to accomplish this goal with. Creativity is universal - we all want it. And we can get it through American music literature, performance settings, improvisation, cultural diversity, rhythm, tune writing, band playing, orchestra playing, and personal expression. This is going to make a difference in string education.
What are you trying to say with MOC4?
MO: MOC4 represents the staple music for the American violin, but here in the advanced levels. This really is for string players to see the nuts and bolts of American string music language and all of its wonderful tributaries. I am stating that this CD and the companion, O’Connor Method Book IV, is the new essential. To ignore all of these styles, preventing the student from learning these things, is to discount musical knowledge now. The musical bridges are not only present between American styles, but they are essential. If knowledge is essential, than the musician must cross the bridge.
MOC4 features collaborations with several young violinists you mentored. What sparked these collaborations and what was it like recording with them?
MO: One of the strengths of my educational concept for string playing is to get people playing together. Not imitating each other in unison, but complimenting each other with harmony and rhythm - the other two definitions of music aside from melody. My violin duos play a role in this. My hope is that you will see these violin duos pop up all over the place in student recitals or on the professional stage. Inspired by the series of Bela Bartok violin duos (oddly he used to live in the 1940s, next door to where I live now in Manhattan), but it is my American fiddle version of this approach. To share the six duo recordings with six violinists who I have mentored, taught and shared my other music with for many years was quite a treat for me to have happen. What a great message to present, one of nurturing, sharing and giving thanks, and of course celebrating their excellence as players.
What was your favorite thing about arranging and recording ‘MOC4’?
MO: It was simply this: That it could quite possibly influence a million violin players in the coming years. And to think of how many people those million violinists will in turn perform for, to put a smile on people's face. It was exhilarating to be in this position and try to deliver.