One day when I was three years old, mom came in with a picture of someone playing the violin. She asked me if I wanted to do that too. Heck yeah, if omnipotent mom thinks it’s going to be fun, then yes! That was the start of a long Suzuki violin career. (Incidentally, it was probably around the time of the moon landing that all of this happened. July 20, 1969 — forty-seven years ago today.)
The Suzuki method (basically learning by ear with lots of repetition) was brought to the US by Bill Starr in the 1970s. Bill was based in Knoxville, Tennessee, 89 miles from where I grew up in Kingsport. In Kingsport William Birch was the Suzuki instigator. He was my first teacher.
I was still part of the Kingsport kids when Suzuki came to the US in 1976. He brought 50 Japanese kids to play violin in concerts and I was one of the 50 American kids asked to join that group. We played Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center (I shook President Carter’s hand on stage), the Omni in Atlanta, and Disney World. I remember flying between concerts on Delta. I remember Dr. Suzuki’s terrible teeth. I remember playing the Bach Double and switching parts whenever Dr. Suzuki clapped his hands. I was 10.
After that, mom started driving us to Knoxville every Tuesday for lessons. My teacher was the esteemed Linda Case. Bill Starr taught group and reading. We were intense. I had to be cajoled into practicing and into not quitting. My mother prevailed. Summers meant music camp in Ithaca. Violin was as natural as breathing.
In High School I was an orchestra geek in two states, playing All State orchestras all four years. The move from Texas where I spent my first two years of High School was a shock. The Texas All State orchestras were astounding. Tennessee? Well, lets just say it was Tennessee.
At 18, I decided not to go to music school. I watched amazingly talented people work very hard only to be thwarted by the arbitrary prevailing winds of a career in music. My teacher in Texas was a prime example. Fantastically talented and sentenced to a life playing with a mediocre local symphony and teaching kids. I went to UVa (eventually to study Philosophy) and put my violin down for 4 months.
My first year of college was tough at the beginning. Mom was the one who figured out that what was missing was violin. I joined the Charlottesville symphony second semester and played throughout college. The mix of professionals, students and professors was very interesting. One season, my stand mate was the Chair of the Philosophy department. I was better than he was. I remember my friend Andy coming to every Sunday “blue hair matinee” sitting in Cabell Hall in the auditorium barefooted with a tie dye. He was a huge classical music fanatic.
Around that same time, I met Rhine Singleton. While we were on one of our many backpacking expeditions, we started improvising together. I’ve been playing music with Rhine since 1985. We formed the band Where’s Aubrey in 2002 and started playing our own music. Rhine is the master song writer. I am the arranger and the person who writes many of the hooks.
So you see, I’m the violin player for the Bitter Liberals, a band that I adore. But there is a long story behind the scenes. Countless hours of practice. Incredible joy. Life changing current.
Come see Where’s Aubrey perform this Friday in White Post. We’re playing an impromptu show in the Duvall’s barn. All original music.
Who: Where’s Aubrey is Gary McGraw (fiddle, mando, vocals) and Rhine Singleton (guitar, vocals)
What: Benefit Barn Concert (BYOB/BYOC)
When: FRIDAY July 22nd, Parking 7:15pm, music 8:00pm
Where: White Post, VA
Tickets: RSVP and reserve yourself space (we are counting noses)
We’ll be playing songs that the audience wants to hear from our repertoire. Have a listen to our music on the Where’s Aubrey website.