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Mark O'Connor's Wide-Ranging Music

Grammy Award-winning violinist and composer Mark O'Connor is a musician of enormous range. He has merged the traditions of folk and jazz fiddling into his classical compositions and unique performance style, and he has collaborated with many of the foremost artists of our time, such as Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, and Renee Fleming. During his appearance on From the Top, O'Connor talked about his musical beginnings as well as a music camp he founded, the Mark O'Connor Fiddle Camp:

"My first instrument was guitar, and I studied classical music on the guitar for seven years, starting at the age of five. My mother wanted me to play guitar so that's what I did. I didn't see a violin until I was about eight years old, on PBS television, and I started begging my mom for a violin. It wasn't until age 11 that I finally got one, so I started a little bit late on the instrument, but I had all the love for music and some of the musicality from my classical guitar training. I started learning folk music at that point on the fiddle, and then I also added jazz music training throughout my teen years, so by the time I was out of high school, I had equal parts of things — the pillars, I refer to them — that kind of instruct me in my music-making today.

I decided to start putting on string camps about 15 years ago, and they're flourishing to this day. We have two camps in the summer, and they both last about a week. The idea is that all the different styles that I can imagine being in one place are there. We have great classical masters of the instrument, and then, alongside those teachers, we also offer great blues players, jazz, all kinds of world music components and all the indigenous American fiddle styles that I grew up loving along the way. The path that I've taken is unusual, and I wanted to share that because I don't think it's readily available out there. I think the camps fill a little bit of a void with the idea that string playing and teaching can be really connected all around the world.

Regarding some of the great world music, we have a Klezmer teacher there and we have one of the great string players from the Persian music scene coming over playing a two thousand year old string instrument called the kamancheh. That's fascinating, and people who play the violin, the viola or the cello will be able to learn some of these folk tunes from these people and see how they bend in their notes and how they phrase differently. I think it's all very fascinating. I think the world of classical music is embracing world music as we speak, right now, and a lot of new composers are embracing some of these styles."

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