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Samuel Thompson


November 10, 2010 at 4:04 PM

My how the seasons are flying... a few days ago I was reminded that life is bigger than "us" at times, and larger forces may be at work while it may seem that we are knocking our heads against walls. This reminder came upon picking up the November 2010 issue of Strings Magazine, in which there is an article about Terry Zwigoff's film Louie Bluie. This documentary, which was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the 1986 Sundance Film Festival, chronicles the lifes of fiddler Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong, who was billed as the last of the black string-band players. Born in Tennessee, Armstrong toured the world (including performances at the 1933 World's Fair Exposition in Chicago), and his 1995 solo album won a W. C. Handy Blues Award.

After joining Alternate ROOTS in 2007, I had the pleasure of meeting Linda Parris-Bailey, Executive and Artistic Director of The Carpetbag Theatre, a touring company based in Knoxville, Tennessee. At our initial meeting she asked me to audition for a role in "Between A Ballad and a Blues", a play about the life and work of Howard Armstrong and his partners. While I was a bit skeptical - this was not "classical music", after all - I did take the plunge, and was cast as both a musician AND "Blind Roland Martin".

Doing this play - and learning "old-time fiddle music" for the first time - was indeed a challenge, with everything from improvisation (which I had only done in Bach sonatas) to learning blocking (for the stage?!?!) being required of me. Additionally, the initial rehearsal period leading to the premiere of the work consisted of eight-hour days (which wasn't ideal considering that I did have two concertos to play a month later). Nevertheless, the premiere performances were successful and subsequent performances in North Carolina, Seattle, and throughout Tennessee were met with great admiration and acclaim.

Someone somewhere did say that Bach himself was probably inspired by street fiddling that he heard in various German cities....again, while it's very easy to get caught up in ourselves, we have to remember that we are ALL a part of something much larger - a continuum - and that is the beauty of being a human being.

Much coming up in the next few months, including a trip to Dallas for the National Performance Network Annual Meeting....

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