Violinist and composer Mark O'Connor. (credit: Deanna Rose)

A message from Mark O’Connor at the outset of this crisis

Mark O’Connor | 20 MAR 2020

Hello everyone. We are devastated just as every other person in America and around the world is, that we are experiencing a global pandemic in COVID-19. At this point the only comparison might be the Spanish Flu during WWI, one hundred years ago. I remember distinctly when I was a young boy, my mother telling me that nothing like the Spanish Flu, the pandemic my grandma lived through in Memphis, will never take place again because we now have “modern medicine” today. She told me this in the 1960s. We are left to wonder what happened. What we all are going through has been so utterly tragic and really frightening in so many ways. So far, I and my family are healthy, but like every other musician, our concerts have been cancelled right and left, all of them for the foreseeable future. When the cancellations first began to happen a couple of weeks ago, we were hoping we could hang on to at least a few shows, but of course the last week has told us clearly that all public gatherings needed to be banned in order to prevent the spread of this coronavirus.

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I think all musicians at least hoped that this will be gone in a month or two at least, and the summer season would be saved for music and fun. As of the last couple of days, the official word is that this virus could be with us for quite some time, at least though the summer. There are models where it could surge again for a 2nd time around, even after these draconian “shelter in place” protocols are lifted eventually. This could all be some kind of new norm for not just many weeks but months. Even if many of us don’t get sick, or others get sick but have a normal flu-like reaction to the virus, I do not know how many people will earn enough money to make a living. As a performing musician, this is nearly an impossible situation for our livelihoods. But it’s also such a shame to not have music in concert venues for audiences around the country and the globe for many months either, especially in the time of crisis where I always believed that going out to see great music heals the souls. The beautiful concert venues where the music and musical experience is the most glorious. But of course the likely amount of sickness and death associated with this contagion dwarfs any glorious feeling we could have now. The totality of it all is absolutely sobering.

Mark Maggie O'Commor. (credit: Jason Goodman)

Mark Maggie O’Commor. (credit: Jason Goodman)

Maggie and are going to make a commitment into staying around the house, but going for walks in the park keeping 6 feet of distance from folks. We’ll only go into the public for weekly groceries and necessities from the drug store – if that even. We are going to practice social distancing although it is difficult for musicians like me to do that as we usually come into personal contact with literally thousands of people each year with handshakes, hugs, taking pictures etc… We have been washing our hands constantly, using hand sanitizer when out on the essential errand. Today I even wiped down all of the groceries we bought with Lysol wipes. It only took another 15 minutes to accomplish it, and well… what else are we going to do – we have a lot more free time on our hands with everything cancelled in sight. Might as well be a neat freak, which by my own habits I am really not! It could save our lives though, and maybe the lives of others in this scenario.

Mark and Maggie O’Connor perform “F.C.’s Jig” by Mark O’Connor.

Here is what I am going to do during this crisis. The music has to keep coming in some ways. I have a bunch of YouTubes and live videos I want to create. Some really cool music, both new and old. So I will have more time to get those out and add them to my YouTube channel. I want to work on writing my musical history and memoirs again. I have stopped and started a few times due to getting involved with something else that took me away from it. I have my Facebook page fully employed with my daily social networking and even with my music videos there too (my Bach video on Facebook has now climbed over 1 million views during this). But here is the big music announcement here from me: One of the things that deters most people from taking up an instrument, or continuing the study of an instrument, is that there is just no time to practice in our busy daily life. I assume like me, you will have some extra time on your hands to look at that instrument that has been calling your name for a while. Playing the violin or string instrument is really a true a blessing, and goodness knows we need some more of that in our world today. We all need to play some music I believe, not just to consume music as viewers of YouTubes or Facebook live etc… I think we all have done that quite a bit already… and if that is as far as we go into some music for a while, it will get a little old.

Mark O’Connor: What Bach sounds like when played by a violinist-composer. (“Presto” from Sonata in G minor)

Let’s face it, nothing replaces a great live concert, or in my view, a great professionally recorded album. I think most of us know this. Social media is good, keeps people in touch and an exchange of ideas and thoughts, and you can check out some music and cool little snippets here and there. But what is really profound is digging into some music ourselves, on our own. Learning to play an instrument, or simply getting better at an instrument that you have been at arm’s length with for a while, and no matter what age or level either. You would be surprised at how many adults are learning the fiddle. We hear from so many. Learning the violin and related string instruments reinforces your spirit, strengthens your heart. Together, we can withstand one of the worst tragedies ever to hit our generation, with the blessing of learning music. ■

Mark O’Connor began his creative journey at the feet of American fiddling legend Benny Thomasson, and the iconic French jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Now, at age 55, he has melded these influences into a new American classical music, and is perpetuating his vision of an American School of String Playing. Mr. O’Connor has won three Grammys, seven CMA awards as well as several national fiddle, guitar and mandolin champion titles. A longer version of this article firs appeared in the Mark O’Connor Newsletter on wednesday, Match 18, and can also be found on his blog.

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