String Program Spans Generations

Matt Glaser, director of Berklee’s American Roots Music Program, and Joe Walsh, the program’s managing director, talk about the intergenerational connections of the Mark O’Connor/Berklee Summer String Program. The annual program was held June 25-29.

Mark O’Connor is a transformative figure in American string music who has demonstrated that it’s possible to play fiddle music, jazz, and classical music, all at a very high technical level.This is something that many of us thought was impossible. Among the many great things that Mark has done in his life, certainly the greatest is the creation of his fiddle camps. These camps bring together string players of all idioms and ages to study and play. For the last two years Berklee has hosted Mark’s string program, and we (Joe Walsh and Matt Glaser) are writing from the thick of the week to give you a sense of this incredible program.

Matt Glaser, Casey Driessen, and Laura Orshaw at the Summer String Program. (Photo by Kelly Davidson)

Matt Glaser, Casey Driessen, and Laura Orshaw at the Summer String Program.

This is the largest string camp ever held in the United States, and simply listing all of the faculty and their accolades would quickly turn this into a very long blog. But suffice it to say that among the faculty are some of the great legends of all styles of American violin playing (both North and South America), as well as brilliant cellists, mandolinists, bassists, violists, and others. 

One aspect of this program that both of us have been moved by is the generational connection. Septuagenarian masters like Bobby Hicks, Buddy Spicher, and Texas Shorty are playing music alongside barely 20-year-old geniuses like Sarah Jarosz and Alex Hargreaves. Watching Bobby and legendary fiddler Texas Shorty meet (for the first time!) and play a few tunes, backed up by musicians decades younger then them, was a particularly moving part of the week. Another beautiful moment was when young Berklee virtuoso Mike Barnett played the ravishing harmony parts that he had learned from Buddy Spicher, with Buddy playing the melody. Gary Burton has said that when Buddy Spicher played “Faded Love” on Tennessee Firebird (an early Burton LP), legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes was moved to tears, because Buddy’s playing reminded him of playing with Lester Young.

Bobby Hicks and Jim "Texas Shorty" Chancellor (Photo by Phil Farnsworth)

That Mark’s camp—which touches on so many varied styles of string playing (from Texas contest fiddling to Mendelssohn) and bridges so many generations— should happen at Berklee is very appropriate: the Berklee String Department is a microcosm of many of the same pan-idiomatic and pan-generational elements that are such a big part of the camp. It’s a fitting and inspired collaboration, one that will hopefully continue for many years.

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