Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Welcome to the 110th Season of the Walla Walla Symphony

What do you do with 130 orchestra students from Walla Walla's two middle schools and the high school? You invite them to perform in the Walla Walla Symphony's season-opening concert "American Classics" with guest string musicians Mark and Maggie O'Connor. 

Here the young cellists can be seen with their shiny red-brown instruments seated across the front of the Cordiner Hall stage with the violinists standing on both sides along the ramps and continuing in front of the stage. Under the direction of Julie Woods and Caleb Contie, the orchestra teachers at Pioneer and Garrison middle schools, the students performed along with the Walla Walla Symphony a rousing opening number entitled "Fiddler's Dream," an original piece composed by Mark O'Connor. 

O'Connor and his wife Maggie also played along on stage, and from my seat I could see a smile of sheer joy and pride in their faces as they heard the music come alive with these young Walla Walla string musicians.

This photo is by Greg Lehman for the Walla Walla Symphony
The audience was enraptured as well and expressed their approval with a thunderous applause at the end during which time the students exited the stage, instruments and sheet music in hand. After tonight's concert and yesterday's Master Class with Mark and Maggie O'Connor, these string students have had what could be considered a transformational experience.

According to the Program Notes, Mark O'Connor is a multiple Grammy winning musician as well as a six-time winner of the CMA Musician Of The Year award. He was also the youngest person ever to win national fiddling competitions, competing against all ages, amateur and professional, and still is the only person ever to win national titles (open to all ages) on fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. 

Along with his wife Maggie, they are co-directors of of the O'Connor Method Camp NYC. "The O'Connor Method was released in 2009 as 'an American-grown rival to the Suzuki method.' It takes an American Classical approach to modern violin playing, offering a technical foundation using American classics. The groundbreaking method is the first string methid to feature all American music, including violin duos, found in the advanced level of Books IV and V of the series." 

To this concert-goer, tonight's "American Classics" concert, including the students' first piece "Fiddler's Dream" followed by "Appalachia Waltz," "Strings and Threads Suite," and "Double Concerto, Movement 1 'Swing,' was a lively, toe-tapping performance by Mark and Maggie O'Connor and the Walla Walla Symphony. Kudos to all involved!