Saturday, May 28, 2011


A few weeks ago I came to discover that our break this past week was going to coincide with a Mark O'Connor Method Teacher Training Seminar...and I immediately took the chance to sign up.

Mark O'Connor is one of the most innovative musicians of this era, renowned originally for his work as a fiddler, mandolin player, and guitarist. Two-time Grammy winner, and six-time recipient of the Country Music Association's "Musician of the Year" award, he has been gaining notoriety in the classical world over the past twenty years for his numerous genre-crossing compositions (including a symphony and six violin concerti).

What makes O'Connor such a compelling composer is that, more than any composer since Aaron Copland, he is succeeding in capturing a musical aesthetic which is ultimately "American." [If you're not familiar with Copland's name, you probably know his music from this commerical. By the way, that tune, "Hoedown," was actually transcribed by Copland from an early recording of a fiddler named William Stepp.]

And, more personally, O'Connor has been one of my musical idols since I was in 6th grade, when I first saw him in concert.

With Mark O'Connor as a 6th grader in 1998!
Two years ago, O'Connor released a set of method books for beginning string players, modeled in the style of the classical Suzuki Method. The defining characteristics of O'Connor's method are that multiple styles (not just classical) are included, and students are encouraged from an early age to experiment with improvisation.

Every month or so, seminars are offered where you can learn how to teach the tunes in the method books, allowing you to become a certified teacher of the method. What this means, essentially, is that I'm now equipped with the skills to teach beginning violinists in the O'Connor Method, should they choose. If I were to compare learning methods to learning languages, American fiddling would be English, the Suzuki Method would be Spanish, and the O'Connor Method would be some Spanglish hybrid (with an emphasis on developing fluency in both languages).

I don't want to spend too much time talking about the method in detail, so I'll just wrap this up by strongly recommending anyone who teaches strings to attend one of these seminars, even if you're a die-in-the-wool Suzuki advocate. I think he's really onto something, and the videos you'll see in the seminar will show you the proof. And, even if you don't like it, you'll probably still learn some good tools and tricks. [If you're a parent of a beginner, consider checking the directory on his website for a teacher near you to find out more!]

So, after we wrapped up on the road, Daniel, Kristina and I flew to San Francisco for the seminar!

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.
Green tea and mochi.
Daniel and Kristina hugging a giant tree in Golden Gate Park.
Stow Lake (Golden Gate Park).
Next to the freeway -- Golden Gate Bridge is on the right.
A view of San Francisco from Telegraph Hill.
A shot of the hills from Telegraph Hill.
Visiting my friend Dave at Google!
Google bikes -- the employees ride these between the different Google campuses.
Recreation room, complete with a ping pong table, Foosball, and old-school video games.
Google Bowling Alley
I ran into my friend Lindsay, who also works at Google! We had been trying to coordinate schedules to meet up, but weren't able to find time. You can imagine my surprise, then, to randomly see her eating lunch -- and she didn't even work in this portion of the campus!

After having lunch with my friend Dave (pictured later) at Google, we still had some time to kill before heading up to the seminar on Friday evening. As we were driving on the freeway to head back up to San Francisco, we saw signs for Stanford University and decided to stop by!

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to get to the seminar.
Dinner at Sol Food in San Rafael. It was easily among the greatest restaurants I've visited.
Daniel, Kristina, and me with Mark O'Connor after the seminar!
When the seminar finished on Sunday, Daniel and Kristina went home and I stayed two extra nights to visit some friends who lived in the area.

After I visited Matt in Zacatecas and stood on his balcony and roof for amazing views of the town, I could never have imagined visiting the homes of two other friends just weeks later and having the same experience. But, somehow, this tour ended up becoming the tour of friends who have incredible views from their rooftops and balconies! What are the odds?!

From Dave's roof. [Click on this to see it larger.]
With Dave, my friend who works at Google.
From Katie's balcony, overlooking the bay. (Somehow we managed to spend 24 hours with each other and not once take a picture together...Katie, how did we let this happen?)
At Classical Revolution, a classical/chamber music event that takes place every Monday night at Cafe Revolution. Founded in San Francisco a few years ago, other chapters have popped up all around the country--check out their website to see if there is one near you!
Overlooking the Mission, a neighborhood in San Francisco.
A mural in the Mission.
Katie and I grabbed sandwiches from the incredible Tartine Bakery, and headed to this nearby park to eat--an afternoon activity I'd highly recommend!
[Before I forget, if you're a coffee drinker, I implore you to visit Philz Coffee -- it was the best coffee I've ever had. We loved it so much that we stopped by every morning before the seminar for coffee and breakfast!]

I still can't believe how much sight-seeing and education we packed into one weekend. The three of us shared one hotel room to cut on costs, so having a third person (Kristina) really made it feel like we were away at camp. We'd get back to the room, exhausted from a long day of learning (which can be legitimately hard!) and would all be so excited to sleep. But, we'd start talking, lose track of time, and then suddenly realize that it was way past midnight! A hilarious experience, for sure.

Thanks to Dave and Katie for letting me stay and visit!


Nichole said...

It's about my day meeting you guys(:

Katie said...

Ah! We failed at self portraiture. The park pictured is famed Dolores park, and you left out the part about traveling mushroom saleswomen. Your balcony panorama turned out great! Come visit again!