EXCLUSIVE: Mark O'Connor Talks Method, American Music and Summer Camp

By Ian Holubiak on Nov 17, 2015 11:10 AM EST

Mark O'Connor has allotted himself the time and patience to craft an entire new perspective on American string education. A Grammy-winning composer and violin virtuoso, his ability to revolutionize an entire genre of performance teaching is unfettered. And he brings his methods to New York City for a summer camp program devoted specifically to his teachings this summer.

The O'Connor method takes a different approach, utilizing classic violin techniques juxtaposed with theory and combined with American music, history and creativity. Yes, the program may teach Bach but it also incorporates the foundations of American music too, including blues, spirituals and more.

Thus, children in the city and around are invited by Mr. O'Connor himself to attend his summer camp devoted to his new method. From August 3-7, youths are invited to Turtle Bay Music school to learn the basics in a different environment--one that is more socially inviting and caters specifically to the aspiring American string player.

We were lucky enough to catch a few words with Mark O'Connor and how he came to this concept, what it means to him and how it's revolutionizing the way we look at and play orchestral music.

Classicalite: Thank you for joining us, Mark, glad to have you. We've all dabbled in the musical arts and learned from various instructors once before, that's safe to say. So, what are you doing to change the way we learn?

Mark O'Connor: Thank you, Ian. Well, the O'Connor method was released as an alternative to the Suzuki approach. It's charged with creativity and improvisation and ensemble playing along with cultural diversity within the musical styles and methodology of the 21st century string player.

The method, which came out with the first few books in a very strong way, already has tens of thousands of children learning to play violin and related string instruments from the O'Connor method.

C: Do you feel this new way of learning is successful among children?

MO'C: Ya! It's hard to gauge what would be possible when you're introducing something brand new, however, but everybody seems to be excited about its progress. I certainly am. We're asked to appear in many different presentations. For example, we just did one in Wilmington at an art school and another in Seattle. There's already teacher training on the O'Connor method around the country.

C: Fantastic! So what do you mean exactly when you say you're taking an "American approach" to the curriculum you've laid out?

MO'C: Well, American music is based on a diverse sect of people coming together to play and I think that's a strong message for our time, especially in an increasingly diverse world. The American music materials, thus, are very strong and it hooks a lot of people in many different ways. The social applications, too, are really quite profound for anyone of all ages.

A lot of the American music, also, comes from Europe. There's a natural bridge to Europe as well as Africa--coming with African-American music and early slavery.

So the music that is American actually comes from the rest of the world and is organized by our subsets and populations, which is an incredible story for children today, it's about the musician and not the master or composer.

C: As we become a more globalized society, yes I can agree that your method captures the essence of being "American." So what do you teach the kids, then? Do you introduce them to Americana at all?

MO'C: Yes, we cover what I call the "foundational staples of American music," which include blues, spirituals, hoe-down and ragtime and then from that point there's all kinds of tributaries that lead to Hispanic music, Canadian music, South American music and so on. So I think it's this incredible tree that blossoms as the approach continues. And it's actually a very similar concept to Western classical music. we also have some Bach in our musical method too.

C: It sounds like all ends of the curriculum have been calculated. This method seems to be quite accommodating to an aspiring player and promotes the idea of creativity instead of learning a composer exactly. What message do you have for any player wanting to adopt your method?

MO'C: It's all just about people coming together to make music. I want strings to be a part of that. Later on if people want to specialize and play more bluegrass or, say, Beethoven then these students who have used our method will be better prepared to make better choices since they have a broader range of musical expertise that will launch them to anywhere they want be.

For those students who don't have an opportunity to take private lessons, they can still learn to play their stringed instrument at school or social event with the music materials we provide.

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TagsMark O'Connor, Turtle Bay Music School, O'Connor Method, New York City, Suzuki approach, string education, 21st century, Bach, Blues, Americana