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Samuel Thompson

Van Cliburn, Fifty Years Later - and The Blues

March 11, 2008 at 8:52 AM

While not about the violin and violin playing, this is a very interesting article that sheds some light into the life of one of the most renowned pianists - and competition winners - of our time, pianist Van Cliburn.

In other news, I am now in Knoxville, Tennessee rehearsing "Between A Ballad and a Blues", a new play written by Linda Parris-Bailey about the life of Tennessee string band musician William Howard Taft "Louie Bluie" Armstrong that premieres next weekend. My first experience in the theatre as an actual "presence" was in 1994 during my undergraduate studies at Oklahoma State University - I was a well-lit offstage "fiddler in the wings" during a production of The Glass Menagerie and while I have done the "requirements" since then I have also missed the theatre and am incredibly grateful for this opportunity.

Being one who has spent a lot of time "doing the rounds" of music festivals both as a student and a professional, I am well aware of the fact that we as humans enjoy these collisions with life as they are great opportunities for us to confront some aspect of our psyches as well as do some good work. Regarding this play, all of the actors, musicians, and staff members are amazing. Regarding karma, however: this is a bit of a challenge, albeit a welcome one, as I am not simply a "musician" playing the soundtrack (if I may) for this one.

I'm actually "in" it.

The main character, born William Howard Taft Armstrong and nicknamed "Louie Bluie", was a fiddler and bandleader, and this story - about his travels - also travels, from past to present. During these travels there are reminiscences of other fiddlers and other times for which I am to be onstage, and there is other staging about which I am not aware just yet, but I have been told that I am going to be "quite busy". This was brought to my attention again this evening as we had preliminary costume fittings and mine is to be the same as that of the main character as I am his "alter ego" or "dream figure".

Those who know me well are very well aware of the fact that I have struggled with performance anxiety throughout my life. Through a consistent yoga practice and the required deepening of my involvement with the craft of violin playing and performing - as well as the events of August/September 2005 - I do have to say that while I am still conscious, much of the angst involved with "stage fright" (which is more often than not rooted in issues involving one's ego) has disappeared, thankfully. Still, having participated in so many orchestra festivals and played as an orchestral musician for many years, it is a challenge to "step out of the box" while still using the skills that one was taught years ago.

Other than that, Knoxville is a very peaceful place, and the schedule here is such that I actually have time to do a lot of work - and go to the gym, which is where I am heading right now.

More information on this production can be found at Between A Ballad and a Blues.

From Jon O'Brien
Posted on March 12, 2008 at 1:00 AM
Thank you very much for pointing me in the direction of this article. The greatest victory of Van Cliburn would appear to be that he is a modest, normal, great human being.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on March 12, 2008 at 6:04 PM
There's an interesting book about the place of blues that Amazon carries titled "Hole in our Soul".
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on March 13, 2008 at 7:22 AM
That sounds like a lot of fun to me. It's one more role to play and then put on your resume.

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