Archive for April 18th, 2012

Author: Margaret
• Wednesday, April 18th, 2012


WORKSHOP: 3-5 pm, Willard Straight Hall

BRUCE MOLSKYMusic Room (Room 411), Cornell University

CONCERT: 8 pm, 165 McGraw Hall,

Central Ave., Cornell Arts Quad, Cornell University

Widely considered the premier old-time fiddler of his generation (by fellow virtuoso fiddlers including Alasdair Fraser, Jay Ungar, and Darol Anger, and by audiences worldwide), this Grammy-nominated musician is also outstanding on guitar, banjo, and vocals. Bruce Molsky is most closely identified with Appalachian music (Darol Anger calls him its “Rembrandt”), but over two decades he’s also absorbed and transmuted traditional music from many cultures—Celtic, Scandinavian, Eastern European, Delta blues—into his unique sound. He has “a mystical awareness of how to bring out the new in something that is old,” says composer Mark O’Connor, who credits Molsky’s spirit and drive as the inspiration for O’Connor’s remarkable String Quartet No. 3 and Concerto for Violin, Cello and Symphony Orchestra. Perhaps Molsky’s greatest influence is as a teacher. “Young people realize this is a guy who’s tapped into the real deep emotional wellsprings of this music. Young people are very hungry for something real. Bruce has that in spades,” writes Matt Glaser, director of the American Roots Program at Boston’s Berklee College, where Molsky is on the faculty this semester.

Bronx-born, Molsky encountered blues and jazz as a teen, but credits Cornell University with his introduction to old-time music. In his twenties, he moved to Virginia and began to learn from traditional players like Tommy Jarrell of Mt. Airy, North Carolina, for whom music was integrated into daily life as work, play, and an expression of regional culture. At age 40, in the thick of his career as a mechanical engineer, Bruce Molsky decided he did not want to wait until retirement to make music full-time. With full blessings from his wife, Audrey, he took a year off in 1997 to explore his passion and never looked back. We are all blessed by that choice.

Molsky’s approach to performing is without pretension: “I talk to an audience the way I talk to people in my house; and I play for them just like we’re all in the living room together. I want to present myself as who I am; and this music as what it is.” The songs he writes depict the strengths and hardships of communities, as in Peg and Awl, in which shoemakers lose their jobs to automation. An April 20, 2011 headline from Bloomberg News humorously shorthands Molsky: “Bronx Fiddle Master Designed Drainage System, Made Ronstadt Cry.” Peg and Awl made her weep, admits Linda Ronstadt, because of the honesty in Molsky’s singing: “It’s pared back to only the essential architecture of emotion.”

Whether performing solo or with a vast list of friends (including Mike Seeger, Liz Carroll & John Doyle, Dirk Powell, Kevin Burke, Mick Moloney, Bill Frisell, Donal Lunny, Darol Anger, Nikola Parov, Rens van der Zalm, Rafe Stefanini, Michael Doucet, Andy Irvine, Aly Bain, and Ale Möller), he’s a warm, compelling musician, equally at home on world tours, at Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and backporch house concerts and jams. He’s made at least 16 recordings, including 6 solo, some with Big Hoedown, Mozaik, Fiddlers 4, and others, and some instructional. He’s in high demand as a teacher at Ashokan, Mark O’Connor’s camps (where he’s taught every year since 1990), and Berklee. To celebrate Bruce Molsky’s return to his alma mater, the Cornell Folk Song Society is sponsoring both a fiddle workshop and concert.

Concert Tickets: Ithaca Guitar Works, GreenStar, Autumn Leaves Bookstore, Bound for Glory, and online at $15 advance/$17 door; $3 rebate at the door for CFSS members, seniors, and teens; children 12 & under free. Cornell students $10 advance/$12 at door. [Discount for workshop participants, see below.] Info: 607-351-1845 or website. We anticipate a sell-out, so get tickets early.

Old-Time Fiddle Workshop (3-5 pm): Bruce describes the afternoon as follows: “The workshop takes a hands-on approach to old-time fiddle. Tunes are taught a phrase at a time, first melody, then bowing, and then piecing things together. We’ll dig into old-time music’s unique phrasing, rhythm and syncopation, intonation, etc. The tune is the vehicle, so mostly we’ll be playing! Suggested experience level: If you’re comfortable with the instrument and have at least a small repertoire of tunes, you’ll be fine. A recorder (minidisc, hard disk, tape, 78-rpm acetate cutter or wire recorder) is highly recommended.  Since developing ear training skills is one of the workshop goals, written music will not be provided.  *No video cameras, please.*”

Workshop limited to 25 participants; please pre-register to reserve a spot (E-mail Laura Taylor at Payment at the door is fine: $15 for students, $25 for non-students. Discount price for combined workshop plus concert: $20 students, $35 non-students (an amazing deal!).


– Margaret Shepard

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