method man

mark o'connor

 “It’s been an incredibly busy year.”

With that summation of activities, one has no choice but to interrupt Mark O’Connor and pose this question to him.

“When was the last time you experienced a year that wasn’t incredibly busy?”

That sends the usually soft-spoken O’Connor into laughter. But the truly funny thing is the Grammy-winning fiddler, composer, performance artist and educator can actually pinpoint an answer.

“Around age 22,” he said. “I don’t think I was doing much that year.”

That was around the time O’Connor was setting out on a career that would simultaneously make him one of Nashville’s most visible studio musicians and a solo artist crafting albums that ran the stylistic extremes from fusion to bluegrass to country to classical.

The latter field has kept O’Connor especially occupied over the past two decades. He helped forge a prestigious merger of chamber and Americana music on 1996’s Appalachia Waltz and then amassed a library of compositions ranging from fiddle concertos to string quartets to full symphonies. Oh, yes. He also played swing music – the kind immortalized by one of his mentors, the great French violinist Stephane Grappelli – on the side.

Such adventurous compositional and performance activity has very much changed the way contemporary audiences listen to fiddle music. But of late, O’Connor has also been changing the way people play it, as well.

He has just released the third instructional book detailing the O’Connor Method, a means of violin instruction that, unlike older and more widely utilized learning systems like the Suzuki Method, draws its inspiration from American music – specially, scores of fiddle tunes, folk material, pre-bluegrass country songs and more.

Also new is the aptly titled American Classics album, a recording of fiddle and violin duets that highlights the repertoire featured in the third O’Connor Method book.

“I was always hoping that, at some point, I was going to release a professional CD from my Method,” said O’Connor, who will put his Method on display at Monday’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Kentucky Theatre.

“I felt the recording is another message that I wanted to put out there, one that boasted, especially to teachers, that this American music method, even at intermediate levels, is still professional music. It’s ready for the stage. There is nothing that prevents a professional musician from walking onstage and playing my transcription of Deep River or Old Folks at Home or Simple Gifts.

“But it offers a great message for students, too. It says that this is not just kids’ music or beginners’ music. This is music that professional musicians have historically played.”

O’Connor has invested much of the past seven years not only in designing the O’Connor Method, but in promoting it. His WoodSongs performance, for example, teams him with pianist Melissa Tong as well as with Lexington violin students from the Carwile String Studio. He has also collaborated in classrooms and with youth orchestras in bringing the O’Connor Method to life.

“It’s almost like any other project I’ve done,” O’Connor said. “I have a mixed bag of feelings. I always hope things can move faster and that people can become involved with the Method more quickly. Then when I put my objective hat on, I realize that everything has really gone quite far in a fairly short period of time.

“What I’m basically trying to create is a school of music that uses our entire American string language. It doesn’t choose bluegrass over old-time music or jazz over Texas fiddling. It’s not designed to indoctrinate students by saying, ‘Okay, you’re going to be a bluegrass player.’ The essence of this string method is to make sure they can play well. And once they play well, they can make their own choice about what direction to go in.”

The O’Connor Method, however, represents only one of the components of the fiddler’s most recent “incredibly busy year.” Others include premieres of an improvised violin concerto (“the symphony orchestra part is completely scored, but the solo violin line is made up on the spot”) and an orchestral overture titled Queen Anne’s Revenge (“Blackbird’s ship was discovered recently off the coast of North Carolina, so I wanted to immortalize that event”).

“You could argue that the 18th and 19th centuries belonged at the music that exploded out of Europe,” O’Connor said. “But you can also make a great case that the 21st century is not going to follow suit. This is the American century of music. And my biggest responsibly, especially with my method, is to make sure that string playing is relevant to music – not just to Mozart or even old-time music but to music that happens right now.”

Mark O’Connor performs at 7 p.m. April 23 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Admission is $15. Call (859) 252-8888.

Geoffrey Jennings: lawyer/bookseller wary of e-books, loyal to print.(CHANGE MAKERS)

Publishers Weekly February 23, 2009 | Kirch, Claire [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] “I’m 40, right in the middle of Gen X; I can look forward at all the people younger than me, how they read, how they use technology, and I can look back at older readers, and how they’re using it,” declares Geoffrey Jennings, a bookseller at Rainy Day Books, the independent bookstore his mother, Vivien Jennings, owns in Fairway, Kans., a Kansas City suburb. here chinese food menu

“Customers look to the book in all its multiple formats. They want to be able to experience all of those different things,” Jennings insists. “But it all comes back to that one original product: the [printed] book.” While his sentiments are certainly not unusual among those in the book-retailing business, Jennings is not your run-of-the-mill bookseller. Not only does he claim to read two or three books every night at a rate of 300 pages per hour, but he holds both an M.B.A. from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a law degree from the University of Oklahoma.

Almost seven years ago, Jennings gave up his thriving solo practice specializing in small businesses to work the floor as a bookseller at Rainy Day, when he’s not representing the retailer as its corporate counsel. Rainy Day, launched by Ms. Jennings in 1975 as a 450-sq.-ft. used bookstore, has transformed into a full-service general bookstore occupying a 6,000-square-foot building that “easily grosses seven-figures” in revenues each year. The store is renowned for hosting upward of 250 author events annually, with audiences ranging from 50 to a record 3,000.

His business savvy and legal background come in handy for Jennings’s personal mission: to vociferously advocate for traditional print books in a rapidly changing industry focused on digitizing content for consumer use on Kindles, Sony Readers, even cellphones.

The publishing industry is “definitely having to adjust to alternate revenue streams and alternate outlets for books,” Jennings admits. In the next breath, however, he describes the trend toward making literary content available to readers in digital formats as “a problem” that will not add to, but will, instead, detract from publishers’ revenue streams.

“Once you flip something into electronic media, there’s nothing to stop someone who has the electronic version of the document from doing knock-offs back into the traditional form,” Jennings argues, pointing out that while this might not be feasible in the U.S. because of the economies of scale, it would be possible elsewhere.

“What’s to prevent someone from taking the e-book version of the latest James Patterson, knocking off 200,000 copies and selling them in the Hong Kong airport?” he asks. “Publishers haven’t thought much about piracy. It’s not sexy.” It’s really all about the actual book, Jennings maintains, suggesting that publishers would create a more viable business model if consumers were compelled to purchase the print edition, rather than purchasing only the cheaper electronic versions.

Purchasing a book should not be like “ordering off a Chinese food menu,” he says. “You can’t just say, ‘I want the $2 version for my Kindle, because the $25 hardcover is too expensive.’ Publishers can’t afford that. Nobody can make any money off that.” Emphasizing that the customer’s initial book purchase would have to include the e-book version and/or the audiobook, because “they aren’t going to keep paying for it,” Jennings points out that the retail price for this bundled product would have to remain the same to make his proposal viable from the consumer’s perspective, with the book’s format as either a hardcover or a paperback affecting its price. Hardcover sales would provide immediate access to electronic versions, and paperback sales would offer later availability. “Publishers are all trying to adapt,” Jennings insists. “But they’re failing to take into account we’re not all going to shift to e-books.” Despite Jennings’s contention that publishers are “cutting their own throats by disconnecting the revenue stream,” when it comes down to it, he remains optimistic about the future of the industry. web site chinese food menu

“Independent booksellers close the loop between readers and books,” he says. “And they do it better than anyone else. No amount of technology, no amount of money, no amount of hype is going to defeat being able to close that loop.” Profile Name: Geoffrey Jennings Age: 40 Job: corporate counsel/bookseller, Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kans.

First job: Salesclerk, Peaches Audio Video, Kansas City, Mo., 1984-1986 Publishing in the future will be … “similar to what publishing is now. The difference is, a small percentage of the market will deliver content through electronic media.” Kirch, Claire



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