Rebecca Raney - The Reckless Violinist

The Madcap Method: Hillbilly Mozart

Published almost 2 years ago • 1 min read

Good afternoon!

I’m happy to report that I’m still playing the violin. But I’m definitely pursuing my playing in a way that my teachers would not have liked.

Earlier this year, I abandoned plans to dissect two of the major violin concertos – the Khachaturian and the Mendelssohn. If I had pushed forward with the plan, it would have been a very “Juilliard method” thing to do.

However, I’ve got more serious obligations than a 15-year-old phenom, so I’ve had to take this project off-road a bit.

What do you do to move ahead, when your world has been defined by Juilliard method?

You play Hillbilly Mozart.

That’s right. I took the “Queen of the Night” aria and turned it into a bluegrass riff. The music wasn’t the goal, initially; after my return from my ancestral homeland in Missouri, I wanted to produce a dark family story on video about a near-lynching, and I needed a backing track.

The video with the story is at the top of my Twitter feed. Here's the link:

For the backing track, it wouldn’t have made sense to record anything other than bluegrass.

It’s not easy to play bluegrass, when you’ve been classically trained. In fact, the two forms run at cross-purposes. If bluegrass fiddlers complain that classical violinists have heavy bow arms, well then, they would find my “Russian heavy bow” impossible.

Nonetheless, Mozart came to the rescue. I realized that the woman in the story who was nearly lynched was very much like the Queen of the Night in "The Magic Flute." So I adapted her aria.

Once I started, it was clear that Mozart’s trademark use of syncopation converts fluidly into the “Run, Pony” figure in bluegrass.

Here’s how I put it together:

Thank you for riding along on this adventure.

I will be traveling for much of the rest of the summer, but I will be back in the fall to find out if I can bluff my way through the hardest part of an audition. That's right -- sight reading.

Until then, have a great summer!

Rebecca Raney - The Reckless Violinist

Respectable journalist. Terrible waitress. Reckless Violinist. Noir novelist. Longtime contributor at The New York Times. Sign up to follow my cross-platform project about money, merit and music in the turmoil of America.

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